How to Watch 'The Big Bang Theory' Season 9 Finale

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Nerd-celebrating CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory wraps up its ninth season tonight. Whether you love it, hate it, or just tolerate it, the show's ballooned into an unstoppable ratings juggernaut and become the biggest half-hour comedy series in the country in the coveted 18-49 bracket. It's found success in a cocktail of familiar sitcom tropes, geek culture around science and pop culture, and the eccentricities of its socially inept characters. Here's how you should tune into tonight's finale for free, in real time, if you hadn't already nailed down your own strategy.

How to stream it live, for free

You read that right. If you need a viewing solution, you'll want to head over to CBS All Access. You can even do it on the day-of to watch The Big Bang Theory (or any other show) live as it airs, and it should take less than 15 minutes to set everything up. CBS All Access gives you a one-week free trial available on several devices including your standard desktop web browser, iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. After that week the standard rate is $5.99/month, but you can cancel after sampling, if needed.

Failing that, if you have any TV set, it's on CBS -- among the most basic of basic cable stations. Try finding either good ol' fashioned rabbit ears or look into these other options if you don't have an internet connection.

Before you do all that, let's catch up...

To radically oversimplify matters, The Big Bang Theory is a comedy about nerds living in Pasadena. They collect action figures and Justice League posters, attend Q&A screenings for Joss Whedon's Avengers films, and often express their opinions or emotions in unsubtle ways. Take Sheldon Cooper, the show's breakout role, played by Jim Parsons. A genius-level intellect who struggles with empathy, it took Sheldon years to have sex ("coitus," as he puts it) with his girlfriend Amy and follows up his jokes with "Bazinga!" (you're welcome, WB and John Oliver).

Cooper lives with Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki), an experimental physicist who at the start of season nine married their neighbor Penny (Kaley Cuoco) in Las Vegas. The key tension of the season finale should come from Penny and Leonard preparing to formalize their marriage with a larger ceremony, executive producer Steven Molaro told The Hollywood Reporter.

"We leave [the season] in typical Big Bang fashion  --  on bit of a cliffhanger with Leonard, Penny and Sheldon in the living room making sense of everything that's going on," Molaro said in the interview.

Wait, isn't Christine Baranski on this show too?

Ohhhh yes she is, and the legendary actress who just enjoyed one of the most powerful moments of The Good Wife series finale will also appear in this one. On The Big Bang Theory Baranski plays Leonard's hysterically caustic mother, Beverly Hofstadter, a psychiatrist without much of an emotional compass. It makes her a bad mom and a hysterical guest star. In the finale, she'll be seeing her estranged husband (Judd Hirsch) for the first time in a very long time.

"I don't think things are going to get as physical," Molaro told TVLine. "But verbally she will slap him a few times." (So maybe something like the video above.)

It's smarter than it seems

The Big Bang Theory's caught some heat over the course of its run -- mostly due to comparisons to creator Chuck Lorre's other sitcom Two and a Half Men (which sucked), and the worry that it laughs at nerd culture more than it laughs with it.

To that we say, draw your own conclusions. Not everyone feels that way, certainly not Megan Garber of The Atlantic, who praised the Sheldon characters for his slow-burn development from empathy-challenged narcissist to caring boyfriend. "That kind of stark transformation may be standard when it comes to prestige dramas and the shows that aspire to be counted among them," she writes: "It is, however, a relatively rare thing in network sitcoms, whose formulas generally rely on characters who remain reliably constant."

Even if (obviously) the cast is not solely made up of actual nerds. (And don't forget Mayim Bialik, who plays Amy and has a PhD in neuroscience. Nerd cred achieved.) This show may traffic largely in sitcom slapstick, dashes of bro humor, and mining the reserves of geekdom, but it wasn't conceived to deconstruct those elements and isn't artistically beholden to doing so. After nine seasons, the characters have had time to evolve while staying funny.

Do this tonight: Pop some corn. Leave your phone in another room. Consider a short meditation. Then flip this show on. This is not Community or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. This is your distraction, because you owe it to yourself to disengage.

The Big Bang Theory finale airs tonight at 8 p.m. on CBS.

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Eric Vilas-Boas appreciates television of all shapes and sizes but has never owned one of his own. You may direct any anxiety-inducing notes to his Twitter.