12 seasons. 280 episodes. 46 Emmy nominations. Seven Emmy wins. A ratings monster. AW’s Catherine Springer embarked on a near impossible mission to pick out the best of the best.
I will confess two things right here and now: yes, I have seen every one of The Big Bang Theory’s 280 episodes and no, there’s no way I remember them all. What I do remember is I loved the show from start to finish, it ended up being one of the only shows on network television that I watched without fail, and I dare say it might be the one sitcom that truly never jumped the shark. Even Cheers, my favorite sitcom of all time, had a couple wobbly seasons. But The Big Bang Theory was always fresh and, most important of all, funny.
While I may not remember all 280 episodes (the most for any multi-camera sitcom in television history), there are a few that really stand out. Here are my personal top 10 favorite episodes of a television series we may never see the likes of again.
10. The Opening Night Excitation S9 E11
Star Wars is the one thing that makes me geek out, so Star Wars episodes are always my favorite. In this one, the guys are feverishly anticipating the release of the new Star Wars movie and when Sheldon realizes the premiere is on Amy’s birthday, he has to decide which is more important. After a visitation from Professor Proton (Bob Newhart) in a dream, he realizes that Amy deserves to have a special night, so not only does he decide to spend her birthday with her, but he decides it will be the night they have sex for the first time. Of course, Amy’s reaction is priceless. That and three appearances by Bob Newhart propels this one into my top 10.
9. The Bakersfield Expedition S6 E13
The guys head to Bakersfield Comic Con, leaving the girls to hang out. After deciding to read some comic books to try to understand their boyfriends better, they end up getting sucked in and debate the intricacies of Thor and the gravitational pull of his hammer. Meanwhile, out in the desert, the guys take a side trip to a remote spot where Star Trek filmed some scenes so they can have an impromptu photo shoot in their cosplay outfits. When someone steals their car, they are forced to hike to the nearest phone. The costumes are great, the makeup is great and the comedy is great all around. It’s a nerd paradise.
8. The Junior Professor Solution S8 E2
When Bernadette and Penny have a fight, Amy takes advantage by living out a high school rite of passage she never got to be a part of: gossiping. It’s hilarious seeing Amy relish the conflict and stir the pot. Mayim Bialik found a way to bring a real sense of mischief to the character of Amy and it’s on full hilarious display here. The main story of this episode has Sheldon being forced to teach a class and when Howard ends up being the only student, he uses the opportunity to torture Sheldon, which is profoundly satisfying.
7. The Robotic Manipulation S4 E1
A great Howard episode, as he “borrows” the robot hand from work and discovers many other uses for it. This episode also serves as our introduction to Amy Farrah Fowler, as she and Sheldon go on their first date, chaperoned by Penny. I love going back to this episode because it really lets you see how Mayim Bialik eventually grows into her character, who, at the beginning, was so stilted and was designed simply to be a female version of Sheldon. But Amy would instead become her own fleshed-out character and Amy Farrah Fowler would finish out the series as the show’s MVP.
6. The Champagne Reflection S8 E10
It’s the last installment of Fun with Flags and Sheldon and Amy go all out. Absolute comedy perfection. It doesn’t hurt that Stephen Root and Levar Burton guest star.
5. The Proton Transmogrification S7 E22
When Sheldon’s mentor, Professor Proton (Bob Newhart), dies, Sheldon has trouble coping, even though he insists that mourning is a waste of emotion. When Professor Proton visits Sheldon in the form of a ghost/vision/dream—and is dressed like Obi Wan Kenobi because it’s Star Wars Day—it begins my most favorite recurring segment of this series. Newhart’s dry delivery contrasted with Jim Parsons’ robotic exactitude is the comedic chemistry we never knew we needed. Plus, we get to see Sheldon in a moment of vulnerability and show genuine compassion, which is rare and precious indeed.
4. The Scavenger Vortex S7 E3
So much to love about this episode which gives every member of the cast a chance to shine. Raj creates a scavenger hunt for the gang and everyone’s competitiveness (or lack of) is brought into the light. They team up in pairs and we get to see characters interact who don’t normally get to share scenes together. Bernadette and Leonard are a highlight, as Melissa Rauch goes all out portraying Bernadette’s fiercely aggressive desire to win and Johnny Galecki’s Leonard withers under the pressure. Penny and Sheldon are paired, which is delightful as always. Howard and Amy end up discovering the one thing they have in common: Neil Diamond. (I won’t admit that the real reason I love this episode is because every time the show cuts back to them they are listening/singing along to a different Neil Diamond song). There’s lots of physical comedy which I love and a perfect scene with Stuart, who never gets enough love.
3. The Zazzy Substitution S4 E3
An episode that’s got it all, we see how the guys are annoyed by Amy because she’s just Sheldon in a skirt. But when Amy stands up to Sheldon and gives it as good as he does, they start to come around. The episode peaks, however, when Sheldon, distraught over the fact that he broke up with Amy when she didn’t agree with him, brings cats (who multiply!) into his room, revealing how heartbroken he really is. As if seeing Sheldon surrounded by cats isn’t enough, we get a Laurie Metcalf sighting as Leonard calls in Sheldon’s Mom for a pep talk. It really doesn’t get much better than this.
2. The Closet Reconfiguration S6 E19
One of the most compelling things about The Big Bang Theory is how it has created a group of characters who genuinely annoy each other and genuinely belong together. What it doesn’t always show is their compassion and love for each other. But, like any family, which these friends have created for themselves, they rally when one of them needs to be lifted up. This is perhaps the most emotional episode in the series, as Sheldon, while cleaning out Howard and Bernadette’s closet, finds an unopened letter from Howard’s father, who abandoned Howard and his mother when he was a child. Howard doesn’t want to know what’s in the letter, so he is very upset when he finds out that everyone knows what’s in the letter except him. As an audience member, I was pretty sure this would go the way that most sitcoms would go—someone would give a pep talk to Howard and he’d come around, read the letter, and everyone would be happy. But the writers here found a much more interesting, original and emotionally satisfying way to play it out. If you haven’t seen this episode yet, I don’t want to spoil it. And if you have seen it, you’ll probably want to watch it again.
1. The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis S2 E11
All of Sheldon’s oddball charm rises to the top in this particular episode, as he expresses his clear distaste for the tradition of gift-giving, saying it fills him not with joy, but rather a sense of obligation. Sheldon struggles to find the right gift for Penny that would satisfy his need for reciprocity, however, when she gives him something that is truly priceless (a napkin signed by Leonard Nimoy), he nearly collapses from happiness, shock and a lack of understanding of what to do. It’s Jim Parsons at his best, making us love Sheldon not in spite of his weirdness, but because of it.