Written by Katie Constantine
Edited by Morgan Moore
If you’ve seen The Big Bang Theory (TBBT), you know about the legendary broken elevator in Leonard, Sheldon, and Penny’s apartment building. It’s a staple in the show until the final few episodes when the crowd cheers as the doors finally open to reveal it’s been fixed. While some may write it off as just a fun anecdote, it is so much more than that. From a screenwriting perspective, that broken elevator played a strategic role in defining many important aspects of the show.
Key Character Traits
Using the broken elevator, the writers define key character traits in ways that are quick and easy for the audience to absorb. Because Leonard has to climb so many flights of stairs to get to his apartment, we sometimes see him struggle with his asthma and lack of athletic ability. This makes him seem even more like a dork and even less likely to obtain a relationship with Penny, who normally only goes out with athletic popular men. The first time we meet Leonard’s mom, Beverly, she is dissecting the mentality of the tenants based on the traits of the broken elevator. Immediately, this defines her as a critical person who likes to psychoanalyze even the smallest thing. When Penny runs into her during this scene and tries to tell her that it’s just a broken elevator, nothing more, we gain an understanding of the juxtaposition between these two important characters who shape the different sides of Leonard’s personality and actions.
The reason behind the broken elevator helps us buy into the concept that Leonard would remain roommates with Sheldon for such a long time. In season three, we discover that Sheldon breaks the elevator by saving Leonard’s life, which then in turn creates a strong connection between them. This is extremely important because the whole show revolves around their friendship and their shared apartment. Since Sheldon is so difficult to live with, something needed to happen that would bond them to the point where, even when Leonard gets extremely frustrated with Sheldon’s roommate antics, he still chooses to stay.
Shows can become dull when characters spend most of their time standing around talking, so it’s important to find places where there can be functional exposé. The broken elevator creates that space because it forces the characters to interact while climbing the stairs. This creates more avenues of entertainment available for the scenes that contain a lot of expositional dialogue. We see them walk up the stairs in funny costumes, have awkward encounters, and live their normal lives all while discussing different plot points. This moves the story forward while providing both entertainment and the feeling of relatability as they do everyday things like drag their laundry baskets upstairs.
Since the brokenness of the elevator is such a staple in the show, there is truly a feeling of closure in the final season when the doors open to reveal Penny standing inside it declaring that it’s fixed. It provides the people who watched the show for twelve seasons that bittersweet feeling that it’s finally coming to an end, but that satisfaction that indicates the show is wrapping up in a positive way. That touching moment shows the importance of the broken elevator and the world it’s encapsulated in.