Just when you thought my hot takes couldn’t get any more topical… BOOM! (Or should I say… BANG!?).
I hinted before that I don’t think much of TBBT (The Big Bang Theory), and I’d like to take some time explore why that actually is. Also I’m super self-indulgent and this is my blog so you can shut up.
I’m sure everyone knows what TBBT is, but just for the sake of completeness, here’s a summary: it’s about nerds. Yup, that’s it. Hilarity ensues. Because lol nerds right.
Despite this being a dumb premise, it’s insanely popular. Wanna guess the average viewing figures for the most recently aired series? 19.9 million. Yup, almost 20m people think the show is the greatest. And it just… isn’t.
Yet it’s a staple of many people’s lives. I see it on every other Facebook profile I look at (along with the ubiquitous Family Guy *shudder*), and it’s rare to ever find someone who shares my opinion. It’s shown over and over again on e4 and I even have a housemate who will happily watch it on repeat forever.
I did however manage to find one article on Salon.com that shared my reservations. Written by Emily Gould, here’s a choice quote:
Most of the show’s humor revolves around characters saying layperson-incomprehensible things that have to do with science, but in the middle of ordinary situations, like “well that’s like the difference between a photon and a neutron!” This could work well, I think, once or twice. This show has been on the air since 2007.
And I pretty much agree 100%. The two main sources of humour on the show are 1) Sheldon’s awkwardness, and 2) the nerds saying science things. For now, I’ll focus just on (2) – the science.
It’s great that there’s a show on TV that celebrates science. However, it does so in the lamest and most unoriginal way possible: making fun of nerds. Here’s a transcript from the pilot episode:
Um, me, okay, I’m Sagittarius, which probably tells you way more than you need to know.
Yes, it tells us that you participate in the mass cultural delusion that the Sun’s apparent position relative to arbitrarily defined constellations and the time of your birth somehow effects your personality.
Participate in the what?
The problem is that Sheldon has a perfectly valid point. Astrology is stupid and anyone who believes in it is stupid. But the joke here isn’t that Penny is stupid (though sadly her main role in the show is to be an dumb, attractive blonde – c’mon guys, seriously?), it’s that Sheldon is a massive nerd.
My point is that while the show could be great as a platform for helping educate people and breaking down illogical things people do, it chooses to do so via a character who is the butt of his own jokes. So we simply perpetuate the idea that intelligence is a bad thing, to be treated with scorn. The same people who are laughing at Sheldon are likely those who believe in astrology themselves. All they’re getting out of this is a confirmation of their own prejudice. It’s entirely anti-progressive.
It also feeds into a sad cheapening of science in popular culture. Of course, we should be doing everything we can to promote science in popular culture, but there’s right and wrong ways of doing it.
The worst example I can think of for this is stuff like those terrible Facebook pages about how much people “love science.” Example –
Firstly, that isn’t really science – it’s mathematics. That’s nitpicking I know, but it’s still annoying. Secondly, the word “EPIC” basically can’t be used in any serious context by anyone anymore. And thirdly, this kind of #content reduces science to fun facts, cool pictures, and – at its worst – mere clickbait. Science isn’t all flashy and attractive people making things explode, it’s laborious, methodological repetition and experimentation. There’s nothing sexy about the scientific method and a great deal of science is really not that interesting to the layperson.
Today’s headline story on the famous science journal Science? “Mosquito genomes:
Multiple Anopheles mosquito genome sequences reveal extreme levels of mixing.” I wonder how many likes that got on Facebook.
What does this have to do with TBBT though? Well, it’s my concern that we’re missing the point of science, and TBBT reveals the actual views of the majority. People aren’t really interested in science, they like cool stuff they can share with their friends. Sheldon is a glimpse into what it might actually be like to come face-to-face with science proper and we simply laugh at him.
But that’s just an aside really to my main point: the show just isn’t that funny.
There’s a number of criticisms I’d like to make of the show, so I’ll just jump right in. To begin with, the characters are one-dimensional and not interesting. We’ve already covered how Sheldon is just a mouthpiece for awkward science talk and Penny is there to push back the cause of feminism. There’s also Raj, who’s there to let the writers get away with vaguely racist material from time to time. Sigh.
And they’re just written badly. One of my favourite things to watch is footage on Youtube of TBBT with the laugh track removed.
I mean, how terrible is that? The dialogue is clumsy and awkward and simply doesn’t work without the laugh track. I know of course the point is they’d be reacting to the live studio audience so it’s not an entirely fair point. But I do think that the show just isn’t anywhere near as funny as the hysterical audience makes it out to be.
It’s the same problem I have with Friends. Watching it, I’ll laugh maybe once an episode. Yet the studio audience are killing themselves over every line. Who are these people? What’s wrong with them? Likewise, my sister will sit glued to the screen for ages, with barely a smile crossing her face – yet will swear it’s the funniest show ever. It seems far too simplistic to argue that the presence of the laugh track helps convince idiots that the show is funny when it isn’t – but there does seem to be some truth to it.
It’s also pretty lazy with how it approaches things, with most of the usual sitcom tropes playing out without all that much variation. Really the comparison to Friends is best, since it’s almost a carbon copy even in terms of sets and things. It’s a dull sitcom that isn’t really offering anything new or at all interesting.
But is “the worst show ever made” really fair, Richard? That doesn’t seem to exactly follow from your above criticisms.
Well, I’m obviously being a bit hyperbolic, but that’s simply because I hate the show so goddamn much. Of course there will be shows that are worse simply on a technical level, or maybe even on a taste level (looking at you, Mrs Browns Boys!). But for the crime of doing a great disservice to science and stigmatising awkward nerds everywhere, I’m sticking with my label of worst show ever made.
Please stop watching it. It’s just bad.
[is the lamest catchphrase ever, by the way]
EDIT: This is very much appropriate.
I fucking LOVE science.
*is handed peer reviewed journal*
Haha nonono I meant CGI pictures of space with misattributed quotes as captions
— shut up, mike ginn (@shutupmikeginn) December 17, 2014