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As TV goes, The Big Bang Theory is out of this world

By Eamonn McCann

Published 30/12/2015

Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting
Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting
Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting and Chris Hart
5 Kaley Cuoco from Big Bang Theory.
Kaley Cuoco
Kaley Cuoco
Kaley Cuoco
Kaley Cuoco has married Ryan Sweeting (AP)
5 Kaley Cuoco from Big Bang Theory.
Kaley Cuoco is married to tennis player Ryan Sweeting
5 Kaley Cuoco from Big Bang Theory.
Kaley Cuoco

Kaley Cuoco was the highest-paid television actress in the world in 2015. She picked up $24m (£16.2m) plus add-ons, endorsements, syndication rights and all manner of bibs and bobs. Tot it up and she wasn't far behind the sort of banker who would be locked up for life if there was any justice.

Nobody is worth the sort of money Cuoco is raking in. We are entitled to begrudge her. On the other hand, if somebody's going to have to use a wheelbarrow to carry their mazooma home on a Friday night, it might as well be Ms Cuoco.

She seems a warm and giggly woman. Admittedly, you can never tell with actresses. Maybe she's just playing a part - but it's hard to believe that she could act so lovable if all she was doing was acting.

Cuoco is Penny in The Big Bang Theory, the only show on television which, over the year on a regular basis, managed to take my mind off the news.

In 2014, she, Jim Parsons (Sheldon in the show) and Johnny Galecki (Leonard) negotiated contracts for $1m each per episode for 24 shows a season until the end of 2017.

CBS calculates they are worth such wacky wages because The Big Bang Theory has become the most-watched regular programme in the world.

It's about people with brilliant minds but no interest in politics, the arts, sports, or anything else apart from scientific theory, Star Wars, video games and superhero comic books. That is to say, geeks.

The geek factor, I suspect, provides both the key demographic (I am told that's the phrase) and the reason for a certain coyness about admitting to being a fan. A glance at the queues for the latest instalment of Star Wars showed that every geek in town had turned out to mingle with ordinary movie-goers drawn in by the high-pressure marketing.

Penny, Sheldon and Leonard hang out with an odd couple, Indian astrophysicist Raj Koothrappali and his Jewish best friend, Nasa engineer Howard Wolowitz.

Here's how it goes. Sheldon objects to Leonard having begun to go out with physicist Leslie Winkle and appeals to Leonard to back him up in an argument about the merits of string theory as an explanatory tool for understanding the subatomic nature of gravity as opposed to Leslie's preferred loop quantum gravity. Leonard, squirmingly, honestly, admits: "I guess I'd rather have my theories stringy than loopy." Leslie storms off in a huff: "And how are we supposed to raise our children?"

Leslie is played by the wonderful Sara Gilbert, formerly Darlene in Roseanne, in which Galecki played her boyfriend, David. Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne's sister Jackie, makes occasional appearances as Sheldon's fundamentalist Texan mum. Stephen Hawking has a regular guest-spot. Wil Wheaton - Wesley Crusher in the first four seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation - plays himself.

String theory is notoriously difficult to grasp. It's not so much a theory as a theory about how to mesh together other theories with the aim of discovering the theory of everything.

But the college where the geek quartet works takes Sheldon off string theory and redeploys him to dark matter. He decides to sell his string theory books. Leonard reckons nobody will want to buy them and suggests: "Why don't you just burn them?"

No, says Sheldon firmly and replies: "The smell of burnt books always reminds me of Christian picnics in east Texas," which may be my favourite line ever in television, apart from Haley's final words to Roy in Coronation Street.

The Big Bang Theory is in its ninth season, but there's no need to catch up. Like the study of string theory, nothing much moves forward. There is no overarching narrative. Every episode is self-contained. You can drop in, drop out, miss nothing.

The main reason for dropping in is that this has been the funniest programme on television for years and shows no sign of slacking off on the guffaw count.

Plus, there's the best theme song since the never-to-be-bettered Mike Hugg (Manfred Mann) classic for Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? - "Hey what happened to you/Whatever happened to me?/What became of the people we used to be?"

The Big Bang Theory, by the Barenaked Ladies offers, appropriately, a materialist account of the history of the universe in 20 seconds flat: "The whole universe was in a hot, dense state/Then, about 14 million years ago expansion started/Wait!/The Earth began to cool/Autotrophs began to drool/Neanderthals developed tools/We built a wall! We built the pyramids!/Math, science, history/Unravelling the mystery/That all started with a big bang!"

Penny is a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory and the only character around with cop-on, which on any rational assessment makes her the smartest cookie in the biscuit tin.

If you've never checked into Penny's world, you'll find it on E4, 8pm, Thursdays.

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