It’s been a little over a year since The Big Bang Theory aired its final episode, so the writers recently scheduled a little get-together to mark the anniversary. In a normal world, they might have gathered at a nearby pub next to the Warner Bros. lot, but during this time of quarantine, they relied on an often-used plot point for Sheldon, Leonard, Amy, and even Stephen Hawking: video conferencing. “It felt both like a long time had passed and not at all,” executive producer Steve Holland says of the reunion.
Of course, Holland and fellow executive producer Steve Molaro see each other—and a lot of the same crew—on Young Sheldon, The Big Bang Theory prequel they also produce. But both miss Big Bang, so much so that they still haven’t watched the series finale since it aired. “I still get emotional when I see it, so I need a little more time,” Molaro says.
Now that the entire series run of The Big Bang Theory is available with the launch of HBO Max, though, this could be the time. “I’m excited to go back and rewatch the episodes now that it’s been a year,” Holland says. “But just the thought that it’s out there, especially now to give people some comfort and joy, feels nice.”
A year ago Penny and Leonard found out they were expecting, Sheldon and Amy had just won the Nobel, Bernadette and Howard were juggling work and kids, and Raj was on a date—well, sort of—with Sarah Michelle Gellar. After devoting more than a decade of their lives to these characters, you’d think Molaro and Holland would have an idea of what the crew might be doing now, but they say they haven’t gone there. “We’re so grateful that we got to do it and so happy we didn’t screw it up by the end that I just live with the peace of that,” Molaro says.
Holland agrees. “I’m incredibly proud of the whole run,” he says. “There was lots of pressure, but it was a show that I know we both loved and characters we loved. It was important for us to give these characters the closure we thought they deserved.”
But that doesn’t mean you can’t reminisce. So to celebrate Big Bang’s launch on HBO Max, I picked the 12 best. It wasn’t easy: The series ran for 279 episodes, so 12 episodes accounts for less than 5%. And my final picks weren’t about finding the best moments or scenes, of which there are plenty, but rather the funniest episodes overall. I loved Shamy’s wedding episode, for example, but it was so guest-star heavy that it took away from the rhythm you get when the seven main characters are involved. From 279 episodes, I narrowed the list down to 40, then 20, and then 14. From there, I called in reinforcements—Molaro and Holland—to weigh in on my choices and narrow it down to 12 (in chronological order).
For over an hour, they laughed and reminisced with me and took turns guessing what each episode was about based on the those hard-to-remember episode titles. Since we’re not going to get a Friends-like reunion just yet, this was the next best thing. From never-before-heard-stories to the inspiration behind various plot points, get ready to revisit Big Bang’s best—and learn something new in the process.
1. The Pilot (season 1, episode 1; September 24, 2007)
In the series premiere, roommates Leonard and Sheldon meet new neighbor Penny, whom Leonard has a secret crush on.
The first scene starts out at a sperm bank, where Sheldon is planning on making a donation. When I mention that I can’t believe Sheldon would do that, Steve Holland jokes, “Neither can [cocreator] Chuck Lorre!” In fact, it was so out of character that the scene was later cut from reruns. “I’m sure it’s on the DVDs,” Holland says, “but Chuck felt that scene was a mistake.”
It’s still an iconic episode high on laughs as Penny, Leonard, and Sheldon meet for the first time and go back and forth saying hi and bye. Other great moments: a MySpace reference, Howard’s Nintendo-controller belt, and Penny unknowingly sitting in Sheldon’s spot. “I look at them and get emotional because they’re babies,” Molaro says. “It’s like looking at old movies of your kids.” It’s also when Leonard says he’s going to be the father of Penny’s babies and they’ll be “smart and beautiful”—a line echoed in the finale when Penny and Leonard find out she’s pregnant.
Fun fact: Chuck Lorre wanted Howard Wolowitz to have a Beatles-style haircut, Molaro reveals. Also, the episode as a whole wasn’t a favorite of Molaro’s. “It’s been years and years since I watched it, and I remember my wife liking the pilot more than I did,” he says, laughing. “I thought it was okay.”
2. The Adhesive Duck Deficiency (season 3, episode 8; November 16, 2009)
Penny dislocates her shoulder in the shower and Sheldon has to come to her rescue. Meanwhile, Leonard, Howard, and Raj get high while camping in the desert.
“Boy, that’s so good,” Steve Holland says of the episode that saw Sheldon awkwardly come to Penny’s aid. Whether it was driving Penny to the E.R. or helping her get her shirt over her head (and accidentally touching her breast), Sheldon had to come to terms with his fear of intimacy—both physical and emotional. And unlike “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis,” which saw Sheldon and Penny separated for most of the episode, “The Adhesive Duck Deficiency” put Kaley Cuoco and Jim Parsons together, which is always advised. If there was ever an odd couple, this was it. Says Cuoco of the episode, “Jim and I laughed so hard while shooting the scene where he puts my shirt on. We couldn’t keep a straight face.” Oh, and Penny asks for a “Soft Kitty” duet at the end. Says Holland, “We didn’t try to overuse it, but every time we brought it out it felt good and fun.”
Meanwhile, Leonard, Raj, and Howard got high in the desert, which turned out to be the perfect place for all sorts of secrets to come out (Howard lost his virginity to his cousin; Leonard hates his name). The whole thing was absurd and perfect.
Fun fact: This episode was the first time we saw Sheldon drive. According to Holland, that plot point came back later in the series when Sheldon got a ticket in the mail and went to jail for contempt. “That ticket was because of that car ride,” Holland says. “I’m pretty sure we had gotten him running a red light on camera. He misses Stan Lee because he ends up in jail.”
3. The Lunar Excitation (season 3, episode 23; May 24, 2010)
This episode technically changed the trajectory of the series, as it introduces Mayim Bialik as Amy Farrah Fowler when Raj and Howard try to set up Sheldon with his perfect match.
The entire episode is gold, starting with Raj’s obsession with The Good Wife. Meanwhile, Leonard has trouble coping with Penny’s breaking up with him, made harder by the revelation that she’s now seeing idiot Zack. Eventually, Penny uses Leonard for sex, which doesn’t bode well for him when he tries to turn the tables on her. To help Leonard get over her, Raj and Howard try to get their friend back in the dating game, but then turn their efforts to Sheldon since this “great new dating site says it can find a match for anyone.”
As it turns out, Amy Farrah Fowler is the female version of Sheldon and an instant fan favorite. But the producers didn’t know if the couple eventually known as Shamy had what it took to go the distance. “We knew we were going to bring her back for at least a few episodes the next season,” Holland says, “but there was no plan that this relationship was going to be a huge thing. We didn’t know how Sheldon would feel being in a relationship.”
Molaro agrees. “Like we did with most storylines, we tried to let things happen organically, just like there was no great plan for Bernadette,” he says. “When Melissa Rauch showed up and we loved her, we were like, ‘Let’s use more of her.’ It just sort of took on a life of its own.” Holland says that without the castings of Bialik and Rauch, the show wouldn’t have made it 12 seasons. “It was a fortuitous bit of casting, and what they brought to it and what we brought to what they were bringing to it...it just felt real.”
Fun fact: While “The Lunar Excitation” marked Bialik’s first episode, it wasn’t the first time she was referenced on The Big Bang Theory. In 2008’s “The Bat Jar Conjecture,” Raj mentions that the actor (Bialik) who played Blossom on television went on to get a degree in neurobiology.
4. The Tangible Affection Proof (season 6, episode 16; February 14, 2013)
It’s Valentine’s Day, but no one is happy. Sheldon doesn’t want to do anything Amy wants to; Bernadette is frustrated by Howard’s lack of effort around the house; and Penny’s ex-boyfriend gets engaged—while she’s dining a few tables away with Leonard.
Poor Leonard. All he wants to do is be Penny’s perfect Love Ninja, but she’s got other things on her mind—namely her ex proposing to the woman he dumped her for. “That’s when Leonard gets down on his knee at the restaurant [to propose to make her feel better], and Penny says, ‘Get up,’” Molaro remembers. “That was so great.”
What wasn’t so great was that just a day before during rehearsal, Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki decided to stage a more intense fight between Leonard and Penny that swiftly went off the rails. “They thought it would really be funny…. Johnny pretended to hit Kaley and she threw herself on the floor and accidentally cut her eye open on a chair,” Molaro remembers. It was so bad that Cuoco had to get stitches. “The rest of the episode, we had to make sure her hair was in front of her eye, and she was mostly angled to show the other side of her face.”
Fun Random fact: There’s actually video of the moment, Molaro says. “I think since the crew knew [the prank] was happening on a preshoot night, they were recording it. So somewhere there is shaky video of that moment.”
5. The Proton Resurgence (season 6, episode 22; May 2, 2013)
Sheldon and Leonard hire their childhood TV hero, Professor Proton, to perform science tricks just so they can spend time with him. Raj enlists Howard and Bernadette to watch his beloved dog, Cinnamon.
Two words: Bob Newhart. Guest stars—especially iconic ones—are great, but sometimes they slow down the story rather than help drive it. Not in the case of Newhart, who was absolutely brilliant as scientist Arthur Jeffries, the star of Sheldon’s favorite kid’s show growing up. From his trademark deadpan delivery to his wise-cracking sarcasm, Newhart stole the show (and won his first ever Emmy as a result).
“Bob’s first scene in front of the audience was in the stairwell,” Holland remembers. “When he came out, he got a huge standing ovation from the audience. Afterward, between takes, he was choked up because he said he wasn’t sure if people would remember who he was, which was so surprising and sweet. Getting to work with him was incredible.”
Fun fact: Newhart’s Professor Proton character is based on Molaro’s childhood TV hero, Uncle Floyd. “There was a cult-like show in New York and New Jersey called The Uncle Floyd Show that aired in the ’70s and ’80s,” he said. “I heard he was still around and available for benefits and parties. So while I was laying in bed next to my wife, I said, ‘Hey, would it be okay if I hired him so he could come hang out with us?’ My wife was like, ‘Do whatever you want.’ So I was just thinking what if Leonard and Sheldon have something like that with a science show and wanted to hang out with him as grown-ups? That’s where all that came from.”
6. The Scavenger Vortext (season 7, episode 3; October 3, 2013)
A dejected Raj proposes a scavenger hunt for the gang after no one RSVPs for his murder mystery party. Thanks to random pairings (Amy and Howard, Penny and Sheldon, Leonard and Bernadette) and a love of Neil Diamond, the episode ranks as one of the cast members’ personal favorites.
“That’s a great one,” Holland says of “The Scavenger Vortext.” “That’s in my top two or three of all time, definitely.” The episode literally gets started with a bang when Raj plays loud arena music accompanied by smoke bombs going off in Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment. The entire race to find a gold coin proves that Penny has the most street smarts, Bernadette’s competitive spirit could rival that of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, and Mayim Bialik should have won an Emmy.
It was also the first time viewers ever saw Bernadette and Leonard really interact. “It was an opportunity to put characters together that had never been alone before,” says Molaro. Because of the pace of the episode, Holland says it wasn’t a traditional story. “It was these quick scenes which let us play and tell a story in a way we hadn’t done before. It was really fun.”
The episode also saw another appearance by Leonard’s inhaler (all that running around—especially with Bernadette—can put anyone out of breath). “Johnny Galecki figuring out the timing of when to run out of air, and then ending a sentence with the inhale from the inhaler…all that awesome timing is him. He did it perfectly,” Molaro says.
Then there was Amy and Howard’s newly discovered appreciation for Neil Diamond and a karaoke session of his greatest hits to close out the episode. “He was very protective of certain songs, so he had to give his okay,” Holland says. “But he did, and it was great. Those scenes were a love letter to him. Amy and Howard bonded over his songs, and it turned out amazing.”
Fun fact: Molaro says the writers room spent a long time discussing who should win the scavenger hunt before eventually deciding Koothrappali would deem everyone a winner. “Johnny and Kaley and Melissa, whoever that group was that runs to the couch to get the winning coin...I remember being taken aback by how hard they went for it. We only filmed that two times. The first time they went for it, and then the second time they really jumped on each other. They were fully invested.”
7. The Troll Manifestation (season 8, episode 14; February 5, 2015)
In this, otherwise known as the Ms. California Quiznos episode, fans witness Bernadette’s pageant past in all its peachy glory. Amy admits she writes Colonial fan fiction based on her and Sheldon. And an anonymous online bully—who turns out to be none other than Stephen Hawking—destroys Leonard and Sheldon’s physics paper.
When this episode aired more than five years ago, I wrote that it “was so epic, so amazing, so out of this world, that my brain pretty much exploded and sent me shooting straight up Sheldon and Leonard’s elevator shaft into some other planet.” That’s certainly high praise, and a half decade later, the episode still stands as one of the greatest.
Who could forget Melissa Rauch proclaiming, “I’m Bernadette Maryann Rostenkowski from Yorba Linda, California!” or Penny commenting that Bernadette looked “like a talking cupcake.” Then there was Amy, so delighted by the whole thing, screaming, “Play it again! Play it again,” after Bernadette recited the lyrics to the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.” Molaro told us he could watch that one clip on a loop for an entire episode.
Then you had the guys banding together to take down a troll, who turned out to be their professional hero Stephen Hawking. “We were looking for an Internet bully and Professor Hawking seemed like the most unexpected choice,” Molaro explained. “We contacted him with the idea and he thought it was funny.”
The episode ended with Mayim Bialik as Amelia giving Jim Parson’s Mr. Cooper a bath in Colonial times, basically giving us the G-rated version of Outlander’s Claire and Jamie Fraser. It was perfect.
Fun fact: It took nearly three hours in hair and makeup to transform Melissa Rauch into Miss California Quiznos 1999. “It took a village just to hold my head straight so I didn’t tip over from the weight of the hair,” Rauch told us in 2015.
8. The Opening Night Excitation (season 9, episode 11; December 17, 2015)
Shamy has sex. The episode is brilliant. The end.
“It’s definitely one of my favorites,“ Molaro says. “Definitely. Absolutely,” adds Holland. Fans were already beside themselves when Sheldon and Amy got back together (another stellar moment), so you can imagine how they felt when Shamy finally had coitus. “That goes back to another instance of that pressure and how we can’t screw this up,” Molaro remembers. “This was such a big moment that we had been building to for years and years. We thought, We have to nail this.”
Adds Holland, “I remember early on, before we even knew they were going to sleep together, it would be Amy who got nervous at the last minute and Sheldon has to calm her down.” Molaro says the writing team decided long before they wrote the episode that when Sheldon and Amy finally consummated their relationship, it should be on her birthday or Valentine’s Day, so it could be an annual event. (They settled on Amy’s birthday.)
Fun fact: Since the much-awaited Star Wars movie was coming out that same month, Molaro wanted to play the guys’ nerves about whether The Force Awakens would live up to their expectations against Sheldon and Amy’s nervousness about sleeping together. But Molaro, Holland, and the team hadn’t been able to see the film before they wrote how Leonard, Raj, and Wolowitz would react to it. “When the guys talked about how great The Force Awakens was, that was on good faith since we shot it before we got to see the movie,” Holland says. Luckily, says Molaro, “We heard buzz that it was supposed to be good, so we took a leap on that.”
9. The Positive Negative Reaction (season 9, episode 16; February 18, 2016)
Bernadette tells Howard that she’s pregnant, which freaks him out. The episode kicks off an important year-long story arc of how difficult and scary pregnancy, birth, and raising a child can be.
Bernadette struggles with the idea that she can’t do a lot of things while pregnant, while Howard freaks out that he won’t be able to properly provide for his child, especially since he didn’t have his dad around as a kid. And because everything is always, somehow, about Sheldon, he’s naturally upset by how the new Wolowitz baby will change the group dynamic.
Molaro remembers that Simon Helberg and Melissa Rauch were also concerned what this meant for the show, while Holland says it was important for them that these two career-driven characters weren’t just “going to be stuck at home with the baby.” What transpired was the most refreshingly honest pregnancy storyline seen on a sitcom. We never really saw baby Halley when she arrived, but that was devised as a way to keep the focus on Bernadette and Howard. Molaro realized they could treat the baby similarly to Mrs. Wolowitz and never see her. That way, according to Holland, it could be a tribute to Howard’s mother, while “also making us feel a little more comfortable going forward with adding a baby to the mix.”
To help offset the heavier moments of the episode, the writers added in a bit of karaoke fun at the local tiki bar, where everyone sang a song to Bernadette featuring the word baby in it. From Leonard and Raj singing “Push It” and “Oooh, Baby, Baby” to Penny and Amy channeling their inner Justin Bieber with “Baby,” the episode became an instant classic.
Fun fact: Holland says the cast was always up for the show’s karaoke moments. “I remember an early episode where we had Jim sing, maybe it was Christmas D&D, and we were like, ‘Oh, he can sing!’ He did it in a very Sheldon way. But every time we gave the cast stuff to sing, they were excited to see themselves do it.”
10. The Cohabitation Experimentation (season 10, episode 4; October 10, 2016)
Sheldon and Amy move in together after her apartment floods, but in order for things to be on an even playing field, they move into Penny’s place. Meanwhile, Raj learns the gender of Howard and Bernadette’s baby before they do.
“That’s a great one,” Holland says when I tell him I’ve chosen “The Cohabitation Experimentation” as my next pick. “That’s the episode where we said, ‘That’s the five-week mission, but like Star Trek, it might get canceled after three!’” Molaro says. “That was a Steve Holland joke.”
Even Holland and Molaro didn’t know how the apartment swap was going to go. “We were very nervous about how the fabric of the show might change if Sheldon wasn’t living in the apartment with Leonard anymore,” Molaro says. “I was very interested in building an escape hatch in case we hated it. So Sheldon saying he’d try it for five weeks was basically us saying we’d try it for five weeks.”
“That set, and Sheldon’s spot and that couch…you never know how much you can change the show and let it grow before you break a key piece of it,” Holland adds. “But it turned out great and opened up so many possibilities for us.”
It also gave Penny and Leonard the chance to have total privacy—and a dance party in their underwear to celebrate. “We were shooting that live,” Molaro says, “When Johnny pulls his pants down, and someone in the audience goes, ‘Eww!’ Johnny was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Am I that disgusting?’”
“That absolutely happened,” Holland says. “Johnny stopped in the middle of taping. I don’t know if he even got his pants off, or if he just said he was going to take his pants off, and there was this heckler…”
Well, the joke is on that heckler, because the scene—see for yourself, below—was gold:
Fun fact: Raj’s knowing the sex of Bernadette and Howard’s baby was a storyline that mirrored Molaro and his wife when they were expecting their first son. “We were at the doctor’s office and he was like, ‘Do you want to know the sex of the baby?’ We said, ‘No.’ And he says, ‘Okay, but you might want to buy blue.’ And I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Did that just happen?’”
11. The Proposal Proposal (season 11, episode 1; September 25, 2017)
The most epic proposal: Shamy’s engaged! And Bernadette is pregnant—again!
The season 11 premiere followed a stellar season 10 finale in which Sheldon realized the time was right to propose to Amy (but only after Dr. Nowitzski kissed him—you know, small detail), flew all night to Jersey, got Stephen Hawking’s blessing, and then got down on one knee outside Amy’s door.
“I forever will remember that image of Amy when she opened the door and Sheldon was on his knee,” Molaro says. “I was ready to start bawling.” Holland says he felt the same way and still gets chills thinking about the moment. “When we filmed it live for the audience, we blocked off the hallway with curtains so the audience couldn’t see Sheldon until the cameras were on him.”
Meanwhile, to accommodate Melissa Rauch’s pregnancy, Bernadette discovers she’s pregnant for the second time in less than two years. The scene in which she tells Howard is one of the best the show has ever done, with the two of them going back and forth trading versions of “yes” and “no.”
“I remember thinking how long we can keep that going,” Holland says, “and asking Simon and Melissa to give each of those yes and nos a different meaning even though it was the same word. They kept doing it so hilariously.”
Then, as a way to not feel so alone, Bernadette asks Penny to get pregnant so they can go through pregnancy together. Even Howard is for the ridiculous idea. “Whip up a family!” he says in total seriousness.
But while Penny’s own pregnancy news was still a couple seasons off, Lenny fans still got a sweet scene with Leonard baking his wife a cake so she wouldn’t feel left out from all the exciting news happening for their friends. It’s a good thing, because both of them forgot it was also their anniversary; just another reason why this not-so-likely couple worked well together.
Fun fact: The season 10 finale and season 11 premiere featured an unusual number of video calls (Sheldon to Amy; Amy to Penny/Bernadette; Sheldon to Dr. Hawking) and a joke about Purell. “That was our quarantine episode,” Holland jokes. But in all seriousness, the one video call the writers never did was to Sheldon’s mom, Mary (Laurie Metcalf, who also guest-starred in “The Proposal Proposal”). “We never did video conferencing with Mary because we figured it wasn’t on her radar,” Molaro says. “We would always cut to her in her house on her landline phone.”
12. The Change Constant/The Stockholm Syndrome (season 12, episodes 23 & 24; May 16, 2019)
Sheldon and Amy win the Nobel. Amy gets a makeover. The elevator gets fixed. Penny tells Leonard she’s pregnant. The gang flies to Sweden for the Nobel ceremony. The show ends back in Leonard and Penny’s apartment with everyone eating Chinese food, Penny wearing the same shirt from the pilot, and a brand-new acoustic version of the theme song playing.
The series finale of Big Bang was hilarious, emotional, and nostalgic. It even tied up the biggest mystery of the series: Will the elevator ever get fixed?
“There was a lot of pressure to land this thing in a way that we wouldn’t regret,” Molaro says. “We wanted to honor the characters in a way that we could feel good about.”
Perhaps the biggest obstacle was how to make the finale about all the characters and not just center on Sheldon and Amy’s Nobel win. “It was very important for us to give Penny and Leonard closure because they were the core couple to the show right from the very beginning,” Holland says. “We didn’t want the end just to become about Sheldon and Amy, so there was this real balancing act to make all these things happen when you had this big ceremony and trip to Stockholm. It became, how do you keep the other stories alive? That was the thing that Steve and I probably stressed about the most.”
The other finale trope that Molaro and Holland wanted to avoid was having any of the characters move away. “I remember feeling strongly that the show can say goodbye, but the characters shouldn’t,” Molaro explains. “I really wanted to know that the next morning they were going to see each other and they weren’t moving out of the building. They’re still having dinner even if we can’t see it now.”
To that end, Holland says, they decided to have the last moment back at Leonard’s (and okay, always Sheldon’s) apartment. “We wanted to leave the show like we started it, with them having dinner around the table together. That last image was important to us.”
Fun fact: Fans were thrilled to finally see Bernadette and Howard’s kids, but it only reinforced the producers’ decision not to show them over the last few seasons. “Even though they were really sweet,” Holland says of the child actors that played Halley and Michael, “one kid would not sit still and kept roaming around. It took a while to shoot that one little scene. Director Mark Cendrowski used lots of shots above the kids so you didn’t have to see them in the frame, and we could just have Howard and Bernadette. But still, doing that one scene made us so proud never to show them before that.”
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Jessica Radloff is the Glamour West Coast editor. You can do a deep dive on her Instagram at @jessicaradloff14 to see plenty of behind-the-scenes Big Bang Theory *photos from over the years.
Originally Appeared on Glamour