The Big Bang Theory Versus Friends: Comparing the Couples
My wife and I are currently binge-watching the show The Big Bang Theory (first time for her, second time for me) and, as we watch/re-watch the episodes, we find ourselves comparing the series to another favorite, Friends.
While I do think the former has a slight edge overall, partly because the material isn't as dated as the 90s sitcom now is, there were also some things Friends did better, making me want to attempt some comparisons. After some thought, I decided to start with the shows' couples.
For simplicity purposes, I am focusing solely on the primary pairings. In the case of Big Bang Theory, it would be the seven starring characters, and, with Friends, I am using the show's couples at the end of the series.
Ross and Rachel (Friends) versus Leonard and Penny (Big Bang Theory)
At first glance, there are a lot of similarities between these two couples. Both Ross and Leonard had crushes on their future romantic partners long before the romantic interest was returned and, once they were in relationships, the couples had their ups and downs, including breakups.
The similarities pretty much end there though. Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny's (Kaley Cuoco) relationship seemed to be one of mutual respect throughout the series, even when they weren't dating. Leonard was quick to help the struggling actress when she needed a free meal, assistance with her rent or a replacement car while she found ways to pay him back, including picking fights with bullies on his and/or his friends' behalf. He also pushed her to be a better person, especially when she started a new career selling pharmaceuticals, and continued to be supportive even when she was technically more successful than he was.
In comparison, I always felt Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) settled for Ross (David Schwimmer) at the end. The two of them spent just as much time fighting as anything else and there was nothing that made me believe that relationship would work, especially since Ross tried to sabotage her career and, of course, cheated on her (yes, I know they were supposedly "on a break," but he didn't waste any time hooking up with someone new regardless). Frankly, if it weren't a comedy series, I would expect Ross' list of faults to include being a girlfriend beater and I think Rachel made a mistake in the final episode when she gave up her dream job in Paris for him.
Winner: Leonard and Penny by a lot.
Howard and Bernadette (Big Bang Theory) versus Chandler and Monica (Friends)
I am bumping these two couples up against each other because, much like Chandler and Ross, Howard and Leonard were long-time friends. So, it seemed reasonable to have a matchup between the best friends.
Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Monica (Courteney Cox) were always my favorite Friends couple. I loved how they started out as acquaintances (she was Ross' sister), became friends, and gradually developed romantic feelings for each other. I also feel like they made each other better. Chandler seemed to eventually become much more mature and, while Monica maintained many of her compulsive habits, they did seem to tone down a bit. Plus, even though they were dating and eventually got married, they remained best friends.
In comparison, Howard (Simon Helberg) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) were my least favorite Big Bang Theory couple. They had some funny and touching moments, but the relationship honestly seemed one-sided with Howard never quite growing out of his mama's boy persona, even after they had kids. And this is before taking the fact she is the primary breadwinner into consideration. Basically, Bernadette was the best thing that could have happened to Howard but she, herself, could have done better.
Winner: Monica and Chandler by a few lengths but I'll still put Howard and Bernadette in front of Ross and Rachel.
Phoebe and Mike (Friends) versus Sheldon and Amy (Big Bang Theory)
I ended up comparing these couples because they feature the "eccentric" group members from their respective shows. In the case of Big Bang Theory, both Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) fit this category with Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) filling this role on Friends.
This one, truthfully, was a bit of a no-contest. Sheldon and Amy are by-far my favorite couple on either show. I love how both of these characters grow after meeting each other, with Amy coming out of her shell and Sheldon stepping outside his comfort zone when he realizes he wants to be more than just friends with her. Amy one of very few people who was quick to tell him when he was wrong and, while he didn't always express it very well, Sheldon seemed to understand and respect her -to the point he was even willing to lose out on the Nobel Prize if she wasn't going to win it with him. It seemed only fitting the accepted that prize together at the very end.
While I loved Phoebe, her relationship with Mike (Paul Rudd) kind of seemed forced in my opinion, almost as though the writers felt the need to end the series with her married and just picked one of her former boyfriends out of a hat. Had this relationship been given more time on the series, my opinion of it might have changed. As it stands, I'd still rank it above Ross and Rachel but not further than that.
Winner: Sheldon and Amy way out in front and leading the rest of the pack.
Raj (Big Bang Theory) versus Joey (Friends)
As a bit of an honorable mention, I am also going to matchup the two odd men out, the main characters who ended their series without being in a serious relationship.
Joey (Matt LeBlanc) is a bit of an intriguing one because, in a perfect world, he would have been paired up with Pheobe and they might have been the best couple out of the group. However, since Phoebe did end up getting married to another guy, that didn't happen. Still, I feel he deserves some credit because, had he chosen to, he legitimately could have ended up with Phoebe, Rachel or Monica at various points throughout the series. However, even though he would be considered a bit of a womanizer, he always seemed to know when to draw the line with his friends and avoided the romance to protect the friendships. Though, to be honest, I still think he should have been the one to end up with Rachel.
I kind of feel like Big Bang Theory dropped the ball a bit with Raj (Kunal Nayyar). Unlike Joey, Raj had to overcome a lot throughout the series. This included a crippling fear of talking to women. Yet, despite everything he eventually accomplishes, he still winds up being the only one of his friends not in a serious relationship at the end of the show (and, no, I am not counting him taking Sarah Michelle Gellar to the Nobel Prize ceremony). Adding insult to injury was this was a group of friends that included the often-rude Sheldon and a somewhat creepy Howard (who once put a web cam in Penny's room).
Winner: Joey, who didn't get invited to the race but had the better seat in the stands.