The Big Bang Theory
Johnny Galecki = Leonard Hofstadter
Jim Parsons = Sheldon Cooper
Kaley Cuoco = Penny
Simon Helberg = Howard Wolowitz
Kunal Nayyar = Rajesh “Raj” Koothrappali
Melissa Rauch = Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz
Mayim Bialik = Amy Fowler
Created by: Chuck Lorre & Bill Prady
NOTE: This review is based on the first 4 seasons, dating to 2011.
Part 1: Who is this show for?
Years ago, I was a Radio/Television Broadcasting major. I know, who listens to the radio? But one of the perks was being able to watch several shows before they ever came out. The Big Bang Theory was one of these.
I have always wondered if it was that sneak peek that made me attached to the show; the elitism involved with, “I saw it first.” Or if it was Jim Parsons. He wasn’t particularly thrilling in the pilot, but I recognized him from Garden State with that one pivotal line, “By the way, it says balls on your face,” and then stalking away in medieval armor. Congrats, Jim, you made it.
But I was young, it was 2007, and I was just learning to think for myself. My classmates however, were ahead of the curve. When we discussed the show next week–about whether or not we felt The Big Bang Theory would succeed or fail–there was almost a unanimous consensus of, “The show will not run beyond a season.” And why?
Even the people who liked the show admitted that there is no market or demographic for this show. And although they were wrong about its success (6 seasons and going strong), they were dead-on for why.
So who is this show for?
It’s not for intelligent people because they have better things to do and it’d be strange to think they take breaks to stroke their ego for every joke they get right before Cuoco does.
So how about average people? That’d be fine, but there’s no average people on the show. They have the two polar opposites: the intelligent and the moronic.
Women? There aren’t any strong female characters. Penny is stupid; Amy is socially awkward; and Bernadette is one of those characters who is rewritten to match the show’s theme (i.e. starts as a dumb blonde waitress with Penny [also dumb blonde waitress] and suddenly becomes a microbiologist specializing in flesh-eating bacteria).
So how about dorks and nerds?
If this show has any demographic, it is aimed at dorks, but simultaneously mocking them–and not in a flattering way in the slightest. In other words, it’s aimed at nerds, but not for nerds. Allow me to explain.
There has been a recent boom in sci-fi, nerd culture, so in that sense, The Big Bang Theory is hip. The problem with this is the two main characters are super intelligent and are meant to be the focal point but the sidekicks are a truer representation of modern nerd culture. Bringing us to…
Part 2: The Characters
To best serve my argument, let me begin with brief descriptions of the two main characters and the roles they play.
1. Leonard Hofstadter
Initially, Leonard is intended to be the show’s anchor. He’s super intelligent and an enormous dork, but his self-awareness is what people are supposed to bond to.
He’s a product of his environment. Being beat up in his youth only pushed him further inside (literally and metaphorically) as he connects with people online and plays indoors.
Leonard wants to be average, he wants to be “normal.” This is primarily because he wants someone to share experiences with; he wants a mate.
Leonard is always the first to fight back against the stereotypes pushed upon him, approaching Penny’s “jock” boyfriends with a “When we were younger, they ruled the schoolyard, but this is real life and they’re not the boss anymore,” kind of mentality (forgive the paraphrase).
While Leonard does a good job, it doesn’t work because characters don’t change in this show–but I’ll touch more on that later. The reason Leonard stopped being the anchor is because of Jim Parsons.
2. Sheldon Cooper
Brilliant and proud. Socially awkward and definitively OCD. He is a diamond in the rough. Sheldon’s ineptitude as a human being is fun, adorable, and the saving grace of the show.
And this is where the argument that it is a show for dorks and not for dorks is imperative. Dorks want to be Sheldon and/or Leonard. They want their supreme, elitist intelligence to be the reason they cannot connect with people. And when insulted, they want to make snarky, intellectual jokes that point out their superiority and belittle the commoners.
Unfortunately, these characters are beyond what any person watching television can grasp. Super intelligent people are not interested in TV, sex, or money. This brings us to the audience surrogate characters: Howard, Rajesh, & Penny.
3. Howard Wolowitz
You know that joke? The one where, “Everyone has that annoying friend in the group. And if you’re thinking, ‘My friends don’t have that,’ it’s probably you.” Howard is you.
If you’re watching The Big Bang Theory for the “smart humor” and iconic nerd paraphernalia, you are Howard. You may want to be a Sheldon, but you’re a Howard.
In this television series’ universe, Howard is no more a dork than the rest of them, but from a viewer standpoint, he is the walking embodiment of nerd. He’s got the bowl-cut, the NES belt buckle, the skinny jeans, and flashy colors. Howard thinks he’s much cooler than he is for wearing his sub-culture like a badge of honor.
Essentially, if you own The Big Bang Theory merchandise, you’re Howard. Meta-textually, anyone you see with a T-shirt that has Sheldon on it, is really a Howard.
Howard is the writers’ tool for mocking their audience.
For starters, Howard is the only one without a Ph.D. While he makes a point of saying that engineers don’t need one, this is clearly a way for the writers to showcase his lack of intelligence by comparison. For this, Sheldon (the vessel for the writers to show their intelligence) doesn’t even consider Howard a friend, but an acquaintance. And, whereas Sheldon chooses not to drive, Howard is limited to a Vespa. He’s the tagalong of the group and it shows in his academic and personal life.
Howard receives far less respect at the school for not having a Ph.D. Not only this, but whenever he does get a project, its achievement is belittled by the group. For instance, he develops a product for NASA… a sewage system on the flight. Worse, it’s faulty.
To make matters worse, Howard lives with his mother. Of course, he could move out whenever he wants, but he stays for her health, never cleaning up after himself; never doing the dishes; never doing laundry; etc. And then there’s the fact that he’s Jewish. I don’t believe this is meant to satirize Jewish culture, but rather epitomize the audience all the more.
Call it hyperbole, but I don’t doubt that nerds have often felt like the world’s against them: parents, society, bullies, et al. The amount of persecution the Jews have suffered is infinite enough, so to be disparaged against for your likes and interests, only encapsulates nerds all the more. Plus, everyone’s familiar with the self-hating Jew, and in reality, there’s not a nerd out there who isn’t a little self-loathing.
Being a nerd is more than glasses, video games, and fantasy-shows –although you wouldn’t know it from watching The Big Bang Theory. Being a nerd means having a wealth of knowledge about a particular subject matter and having nothing to do with it. Every nerd wants to be paid for what they know–which is encyclopedic–but it’s rare that any of them will.
4. Rajesh “Raj” Koothrappali
As every modern American television series requires its ethnic friend, Raj fits the bill as the Indian outcast.
They make use of this by making Raj the “Questions” guy. For anyone not familiar with nerd paraphernalia, Rajesh is the surrogate for them. His role is to understand the culture more. Essentially, he’s like the guy who has seen Iron Man the movie and now wants to know where the character came from. He’ll ask all the questions for non-nerds in laymen’s terms.
But when it comes to socializing or moving the plot forward, they don’t have any use for him. So, they made him selectively mute with women. This all the more epitomizes how non-nerds will just be quiet and nod along as the geniuses exchange dialogue.
This nodding along, brings us to the final audience surrogate and the conclusion of the show.
Part 3: The Big Bang Theory is Garbage.
Penny (no last name) hangs out with the geeks for no reason other than they pay for her meals sometimes. There’s not any good reason they give outside of that, except maybe sympathy.
Penny is a jarringly stupid waitress, trying to make it as an actress.
What’s more is, despite hanging out with the geniuses, she doesn’t learn anything. Everything is over her head, but she’ll laugh at the brilliant minds because she has utter control over them–Leonard, Raj, and Howard anyway.
This is what the audience is to the creators of the show and why the show is garbage.
The Big Bang Theory is not funny. They’ve made a joke out of explaining a joke. It’s no surprise that a show about science adheres to the most formulaic of recipes.
A: (Scientific Analogy).
B: What’s that mean?
A: Explanation (i.e. joke).
These are not repeatable, you don’t share your favorite jokes with a colleague, friend, or fellow viewer because the jargon is so cluttered with scientific lingo that it makes near impossible unless you’re a repeat viewer–and you won’t be.
The show survives because it provides the illusion that you’re learning something. That all the smart, wittiness is keeping you mentally refined, but it’s not. It’s not rocket science. If you wanted to be a douche bag, you could write these jokes yourself with your own knowledge base.
In addition, Penny gawks at the mens’ intelligence in the same way that many audience members gawk at Kaley Cuoco. When that happens, she’s not listening to them, and you’re not listening to anyone, just staring at eye candy. So the show would be no different on mute.
The point is, you don’t gain anything from The Big Bang Theory. For a show centered around intelligence and science, there’s none to be had. I didn’t quit watching The Big Bang Theory in anger, I forgot about it. And this is the major problem with the show.
I don’t believe there’s even an argument to be had that they’re “jumping the shark,” because everything stays at that even keel. Characters don’t change, grow, or develop. In fact, they’re hardly people.
Take the four leading guys.
They don’t come across as adults, but big kids. They’re what would happen if a 14yo boy suddenly had all the money he could wish for. These are dorks that have every nerdy thing imaginable. Hell, even nerdy kids don’t all watch Star Trek, Star Wars, play MMORPGs, watch Babylon5, play Pokemon, etc. They are amalgamations of nerd culture exemplified in their possessions.
The culture they represent seems written by someone who is not one of them. In other words, it’s a nerd show written by a non-nerd.
If anyone presents an accurate representation of nerds, it’s Kevin Smith.
Take Smith’s Clerks or Mallrats. A true nerd incorporates his knowledge into his life; into what s/he does. A dork does not talk about Batman’s childhood, they link it to their childhood. They’re not the people who have a picture of JAWS on their T-shirt, but turn a tortilla chip into a salsa fin.
They are reservoirs of knowledge with no proper receptacle to drain it. And they talk about their nerdom because the reservoir will grow stagnate unless used.
In the meantime, The Big Bang Theory is likely to continue running. The masses will believe that they are learning something and that watching the show makes them smarter, more elite.
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