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The Guest Star Catalyst

  • Jan 10, 2012
Well into its fifth season on CBS, The Big Bang Theory has featured many prominent guest stars from television and film, as well as notable members of the science community.  In this list, I've attempted to shine a bit of light on many of these guests.  Some actors such as Christine Baranski, Sara Gilbert, Laurie Metcalf, and Wil Wheaton have appeared enough times on the program that their characters have established storylines.  For this list, I'm focusing on those people who only appeared in one or two episodes with just a couple of exceptions.  I'm also throwing in a few characters portrayed by actors who aren't necessarily well-known, but you recognize them just the same.

This is in no way a complete list, so please do not look at it as such.  I'm sure I've left off a few people that some readers might see as a major guest.  I'm just making this list to give readers a good idea of just how many guests have been on the program.

Vernee Watson-Johnson
With a career that goes all the way back to the 1970's, Vernee Watson has put her mark on a number of popular television shows.  Most readers of this list will probably recognize her as Will Smith's mother on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but older fans will know her from shows such as Welcome Back, Kotter, The Love Boat, and Good Times

The reason I placed Watson at the top of this list is that despite being in just three episodes, she portrayed the same character, a nurse named Althea, in all three and turned in hilarious performances each time.  Small roles such as this aren't kept up with much consistency.  In most cases, any actor can be thrown into a role and given the name "Nurse 1" or "ER Nurse" and we never see them again.

With Althea, The Big Bang Theory could have easily used any random actor in the role but chose to keep Watson in place.  I love this fact.  This gives viewers consistency and familiarity with characters that aren't necessarily crucial to the plot.

Danica McKellar
Bridging the gap between actress and mathematician, Danica McKellar portrayed Abby, a student at CalTech who takes a liking to Raj when they find out they have similar interests.  Like cast regular Mayim Bialik (who has a PhD in neuroscience), McKellar has genuine academic chops, as she graduated with a degree in Mathematics from UCLA and has written a number of books on the subject as well as becoming an advocate for getting young girls interested in math.

Of course, most people, particularly men who were pre-teen and/or teenaged boys in the late 80's/early 90's, will remember McKellar as Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years.  She was every young guy's dream girl back then.

DJ Qualls
Having plenty of experience playing nerds and virgins, DJ Qualls stepped things up a bit for his role as Sheldon's imaginary cousin "Leo" in the episode "The Loobenfeld Decay."  Qualls portrayed Toby Loobenfeld, a Physics/Theater double major who assists Sheldon in his attempt to give some solidity to a lie he told Penny.  The result is Loobenfeld pretending to be Sheldon's recovering drug addict cousin who goes a bit overboard with his acting abilities.  It turned out to be a very hilarious episode thanks in part to Qualls' humorous performance.

Qualls is best known for his roles in films such as Road Trip and The New Guy.  He has also appeared in a number of other films and television shows, in particular shows such as My Name Is Earl and Mama Flora's Family.

Eliza Dushku
Our fourth guest on this list has worked with number three in The New Guy, and has had quite a career starring in numerous films and television series such as Bring It On, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, and Tru Calling.  I'm talking about Eliza Dushku, of course, who portrayed a federal agent doing a background check on Howard Wolowitz who ends up finding out more information than the guys want.

I've always loved the fact that Dushku could easily take on siren or trophy wife roles but consistently picks up roles in comedies and science fiction.  She's a great actress and hopefully we'll keep seeing more of her in the future.

George Smoot
In his quest to receive a Nobel Prize, Sheldon engages in conversation with Dr. George Smoot, a genuine Nobel Prize winner for his work in Physics.  Of all of the guests on this list, Smoot has probably influenced the actual study of the real Big Bang Theory more than anyone else. 

He's also one of the only "real world" guests who has a bit of television credit to his name outside of The Big Bang Theory.  He was a contestant and eventual winner on Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader.

George Takei

In one of the funniest guest appearances on the show, George Takei teamed up with Katee Sackhoff to give Howard love advice with his girlfriend, Bernadette, in The Hot Troll Deviation.  The dynamic duo argued over who knew what a woman really wants, with Sackhoff eventually winning the argument.

Of course, if you didn't know that Takei is best known as Sulu from the Star Trek universe, you've been living under a rock for a very long time.  Takei has made guest appearances on many programs over the years, often poking fun at his Sulu past.  He has also been a strong gay rights advocate over the years, and has popularized the phrase, "It's okay to be Takei," a response he made to the Tennessee State Legislature's "Don't Say Gay" bill.

Summer Glau
Firefly and Terminator:  The Sarah Connor Chronicles fans got a welcome surprise on the episode The Terminator Decoupling, when Summer Glau became the focus of Howard, Raj, and Leonard in their ill-fated attempts to woo her.

Glau did a great job in the role, somewhat falling for Raj's "exotic" gameplan until he finds out he is drinking non-alcoholic beer and is thus rendered speechless.  Howard was the second of the group to take a shot at love with her, failing miserably and creeping Glau out.  Finally, when Leonard finally draws up the courage to speak to Glau, she unceremoniously gets off of the train at her stop.

Yeardley Smith
Dr. Sheldon Cooper squared off against Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons when that character's voice, Yeardley Smith, portrayed an agitated employment officer attempting to find work for Sheldon.  Smith wasn't on screen for very  long, but she firmly stood her ground as Sheldon shot down mulitple job offers.

While Smith is best known for her role on The Simpsons, she was also a part of the cast of Herman's Head and has had steady work in smaller roles on a number of other television shows and in many films.

Brian Greene
Brian Greene, a noted theoretical physicist who has written numerous books on string theory, cosmology and the possibilities of parallel universes, was both insulted and then praised by Sheldon (with Amy in tow) for his book, The Hidden Reality

Greene is best known for writing his books in a way that the general public can gain a decent understanding of the not-so-general topics of string theory and multiverses without bogging such topics down with technical jargon and/or boring lecture speak.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Despite having received numerous awards for his work in astrophysics, being a guest on multiple programs on radio and television, and hosting a series on PBS, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson received nothing but ill words from Sheldon after being introduced to him by Raj.  Sheldon was unhappy that Tyson's work caused Pluto to lose its status as a planet.

Tyson is no stranger to television.  He is often a guest or host of programs that air on PBS, the History Channel, and other networks.  He also has appeared on many comedic talk shows such as The Colbert Report.

Of all of the scientists on this list, Tyson is probably the most visible as far as media appearances are concerned.

Katee Sackhoff

Howard Wolowitz is no stranger to fantasies, whether they be the kind that involve sword and sorcery or topics of a more adult nature.  Unfortunately for Katee Sackhoff (of Battlestar Galactica fame), she is often the subject of some of Howard's more risque fantasies.  She has appeared in two episodes of The Big Bang Theory as part of Howard's fantasy world.  Luckily for her, though, she had the upper hand in both appearances.

In one episode, she finds herself in a bubble bath with Howard and gives him some tough and sarcastic advice on committing to Bernadette.  In her second appearance, she teams up with George Takei as they attempt to help Howard rekindle his romance with Bernadette.

Sackhoff and Takei make a great team, and her completely uncaring attitude toward Howard (although she really does help him in the long run) is hilarious to watch on the screen.

Brent Spiner

While it doesn't take much to get added to Sheldon's Mortal Enemy List, Brent Spiner goes above and beyond in order to do so.  Wil Wheaton, Sheldon's mortal enemy, gives him an autographed Wesley Crusher figure as an apologetic act for Wheaton's past actions.  For this, Sheldon gives him a hug and removes him from his list.  Brent Spiner, another Star Trek:  The Next Generation alum, then takes the figure and opens the box it is in, ruining its value.  Sheldon immediately puts the former "Data" at the top of his list.

Spiner has made numerous guest appearances over the years, and has also released many albums as well.  I'm glad to see that he has become Sheldon's mortal enemy, and something tells me that Spiner and Wheaton have a big scheme going behind Sheldon's back in order to create even more chaos in his world.

Charlie Sheen
Albeit a brief appearance at the end of "The Griffin Equivalency," Charlie Sheen makes the most of his screen time when he, in response to Raj's comment that he will be featured in People magazine, replies, "Call me when you're on the cover." 

This scene ties The Big Bang Theory with Two And A Half Men, both of which are produced by Chuck Lorre.  I now wonder if any of the other cast members will make an appearance on the show.

Ira Flatow
Fan's of PBS' popular Newton's Apple (myself included) might not have initially recognized the voice of Ira Flatow, but fans of his Science Friday segments on NPR's Talk Of The Nation most likely did.  Flatow has been a scientific journalist since the 19070's and has appeared on numerous radio and television programs.

In "The Vengeance Formulation," Flatow's interview with Sheldon falls apart when Sheldon's voice begins to become high-pitched, thanks in part to helium being funnelled into his office by Barry Kripke.  Flatow is never seen on screen, but his NPR fans probably wouldn't have it any other way.

Stan Lee
Comic book fans need no introduction to the next person on our list, Stan Lee.  The man behind some of the biggest heroes in the Marvel Comics stable (and comics in general) made a humorous appearance as himself in "The Excelsior Acquisition." 

In the episode, Sheldon misses the chance to meet Lee at his and his friends' favorite comic shop when he has to defend himself in court for a traffic violation he claims is all Penny's fault (which it pretty much is).  To make it up to him, Penny gets Lee's home address from Stuart (the hilariously subdued Kevin Sussman), who runs the comic shop, and takes Sheldon to meet Lee unannounced.  Lee gets angry and when he sarcastically suggests that Sheldon watch the Lakers' game with him and his wife, Sheldon bolts into the house and Penny flees the scene.  It was a classic treat to watch.

Steve Wozniak
Referred to as "The Great and Powerful Woz" by Sheldon via his ShelBot, co-founder and computer engineer supreme Steve Wozniak had a brief but humorous cameo on The Big Bang Theory.

A few cheap jabs were lovingly delivered to Steve Jobs as well in the episode, as ShelBot claimed he hated "showmanship" and Wozniak agreed.  He also offered to autograph one of Sheldon's computers, but only if it were there, leading Sheldon to break his self-imposed containment in his bedroom and eventually falling down the stairs.

LeVar Burton

Regular readers of my lists and reviews might know that I'm a huge fan of LeVar Burton and his work on Star Trek:  The Next Generation, but I really love him for his time on Reading Rainbow, which inspired me to explore the wonderful world of books.  Needless to say, when he is mentioned as a potential "friend" of Sheldon (he invited him to a party via Twitter), I was ecstatic. 

As the episode, "The Toast Derivation," rolled along, however, I thought that Burton would be a no-show.  Finally my patience paid off when Burton briefly appeared in the final minutes of the show, where he walks in on Kripke, Zack, and a naked Stuart (covered only in a towel) singing karaoke.  He immediately shuts the door and utters the funny line, "I am so done with Twitter."

See the full review, "The Reason I Read".
Steven Yuen
The Walking Dead fans can claim a connection to The Big Bang Theory via our favorite nerd from that series, Glenn (Steven Yeun), who makes a very brief appearance as Sheldon's former roommate who warns Leonard to "run." 

I had actually been a fan of The Walking Dead for quite some time before I got to see this particular episode of The Big Bang Theory.  Yeun is a favorite of mine from that series and seeing him warning Leonard made that brief moment from the show even funnier.

Rick Fox
Howard's manhood comes into question when he meets a former boyfriend of Bernadette's in "The Love Car Displacement."  Why?  Because Bernie's ex, Professor Glenn, is portrayed by former NBA basketball player and actor Rick Fox.  Fox, who stands at 6'7", towered over Howard, Bernadette, and pretty much everyone else in the episode.

To the best of my knowledge, Fox is the only 3-time NBA champion to have ever appeared on the show.  His performance was brief but funny, and was topped off by Amy Farrah Fowler referring to him as "the most beautiful man I've ever seen in my life."

What did you think of this list?

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January 12, 2012
Great pictures !
January 12, 2012
January 11, 2012
Awesome list, I'm just getting into the show myself and find it really funny. My friend is a total nerd for the show. Rick Fox?!? Wow...that's a strange one to have in there. #17 is super cool if you ever get to meet him in real life! Cool eclectic mix of characters.
January 12, 2012
Rick Fox threw me for a loop as well, but he was very good in the role. As far as LeVar is concerned, if he's ever within the Houston to New Orleans area, I'm going to meet him. He's my favorite Trek actor and was second only to my mother in inspiring me to read.
January 12, 2012
Definitely inspired me to read, too. Definitely meet him if he's in the area, you won't be sorry :)
January 11, 2012
I can't believe I forgot to mention the guest stars in my review of The Big Bang Theory! Great list!
January 11, 2012
Thank you, and I actually missed a couple of other guests that I wanted on the list. I'm going to add them eventually, but for now I'm sort of waiting to see if anyone can pick the ones I missed and actually wanted on here.
January 10, 2012
Wow, I've only caught a few of these guest stars. I've got some catching up to do! Awesome list!
January 11, 2012
Thanks. I'm addicted to it!
About the list creator
Kendall Fontenot ()
Ranked #16
Despite looking extremely cool, I have to admit that I'm a dork. I grew up on the outskirts of the small town of Oberlin, LA. I have since relocated to the Lake Charles, LA area.I love my home state … more
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