“The Big Bang Theory”: Sitcom Comedy for the Mindless or Social Commentary on Genius and Its Idiosyncrasies?
I will be the first to admit that I was brainwashed by the Hollywood machine and never had an interest to check out the CBS comedy “The Big Bang Theory”. Its marketing campaign billed it as another stupid sitcom to bring in money and entertain the mindless hordes of America. Why would I want to sit and watch 21 minutes of a half hour block filled with nerdy twenty-somethings and their lame attempts at getting women? To me this was a show about Sheldon, (Jim Parsons), and Leonard, (Johnny Galecki), as they temper their physics love with the attractive females that cross their paths. I expected to witness “pick-up lines” and rejections and all-around awkwardness grasping at straws to create a laugh; probably even finding each episode to just be a rehash of the one before it, slightly altered to show some form of progression. After watching, however, besides the moments of redundancy, (it is mostly about a guy and his wanting of the pretty girl across the hall so repetition is unavoidable), this is actually a very well written and orchestrated prime time show. There is a reason it came back for season two and I’d like to think that it’s because of high-brow America catching a glimpse behind the curtain of the intellectual rather than the downfall of the country’s IQ looking for soulless entertainment without a need to watch every week.
Admittedly, you don’t necessarily need to keep up. This isn’t “Lost” or “Heroes” or another serial drama such as those, however, it does make mention of events that occurred in previous episodes, rewarding those who stick with it without alienating those that don’t. I recommend watching in sequential order, though, to fully comprehend everything going on because the show does delve into the intellectual construct. One must watch the activities and idiosyncrasies of each character to create a well-rounded opinion of them. Before watching the show I had an idea of what the term “gifted” meant, but after viewing the premiere season, I think that idea has evolved. To me, “gifted” didn’t mean a whole lot; heck, I was anointed with the term growing up, but all that meant was a day away from school for more stimulating work each week, (ie. fun with Apple computers, performing plays, and solving tanagram puzzles for stickers in elementary school, extra work in middle school, and the ability to succeed in AP classes during high school). Did the experience help me in any way? Sure, probably, especially since my predilections were towards the art sphere. The problem solving skills and acceptance of alternative ways of life—learning the arts and how math and science and history help hone them—were something I may never have gotten just sitting in class with all the other students. Was I or am I at the level of the four stars of “Big Bang”? Absolutely not, those guys are on a plane all to themselves.
This show ends up enhancing my perception of the term by portraying its many heads. Yes, all four geeks are in the science realm of experimentation whether physics or engineering, but they manifest their intelligence in completely different ways. I use terms like nerd or geek, not with malice, but with endearment. I think most would carry those names as a badge of honor rather than anything else. It’s the terms like loser or retard, (come on, many are the epitome of social retardation), that cause pain and internal suffering. Nerds can supercede their own minds by seeing the world and allowing themselves to be a part of it, yet many of the more highly advanced tend to have too big of an ego to do so. Why belittle yourself by speaking with an inferior when you could be playing videogames with others of your intelligence? Most normal people would say human interaction is a good reason, but sadly these “gifted” folk seem perfectly happy staying alone. Look at Sheldon and his absolute ambivalence to the female sex for pleasure or relationship. His mind is so hardwired in creating the next Nobel prize-winning whatever that his libido is shut off. Pretty girls have no effect on him, but with his lack of a verbal filter, inability to lie, and unwillingness to show compassion, they shouldn’t mind too much.
“Gifted” in the true definition of the word applies to many different people, spanning multiple occupations. A gifted artist might not be able to add 2 plus 2, but can paint a masterpiece that could potentially bring even Genghis Khan to tears. The ones used here are in the very stereotypical sphere of high intellect and enjoyment of fantasy and science fiction above real life. Face it, these are the guys you yourself called losers growing up, whether to their faces or in your heads. We all do it because that is what we are taught to do. One thing we can’t understand growing up is the fact that our country, and the world even, will be run by these nerds that we all but instilled a life-long hatred in towards us. I by no means even touch the mind power of these creatures, but even I experience the weird encounters almost ten years past high school of seeing those who didn’t generally bother with me in school try their hardest to say hello and “catch up”. These guys have their own fraternity—Trekkies and Star Wars fanatics—to shield them from the “cool kids” that wouldn’t show them the time of day. One might say that they could learn a lot from a “normal” person, like how to interact in the world or how to succeed in getting women, but truthfully, it is the “normal” soul that could use some educating. They may rule the world when they are young, but many soon find out that success is not gained by popularity, (there are exceptions to this rule, yes). The “gifted” kids always look toward the future and see what they are capable of achieving—their social life can be honed and learned over post graduate years—an education and acceptance of people different from you, well that’s a hard thing to discover when you’ve trained yourself so fully in close-minded bigotry.
But I feel weird calling Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, (Kunal Nayyar), and Howard, (Simon Helberg), “gifted”. Gifted is just a word, a label used way too often and for so many reasons. My own mother used it to describe a mentally handicapped person because she didn’t want to be mean; many of my friends were gifted but also jocks and screw-ups. Not all kids singled out will even become the people they have potential to be. Some may take the alienation as harmful and then begin to act out against it, to wipe that stigma from their identity by any means possible, ruining their lives in order to fit in and be “normal”. It is a sad reality. Therefore, to continue talking about “Big Bang’s” leads, I must label them as geniuses, because that is truly what they are. Society will call them assholes, inconsiderate, buzzkills, selfish, and they may very well be. But what society doesn’t understand is that they call us stupid, petty, and materialistic fools. We can all learn from each other; intellectual bigotry is still bigotry and if you aren’t willing to treat those different from you as equals, you aren’t better than them. That goes for both sides.
And here is why I find “The Big Bang Theory” to be so enjoyable. With the four guys we get the absolute polar end of intellect, but with Kaley Cuoco’s Penny, we get the opposite end’s pretty girl that likes pretty things, simple jobs, impossible dreams, and muscular men. So, rather than my initial reaction to commercials, thinking this would be about nerds getting rejected by beauties, what we get is the slow evolution of the human condition. We see a materialistic hottie find out the benefits of having nerds for friends and see those nerds discovering human interaction in a way they have never been exposed to. This show is a melting pot of the minds, putting a mirror in front of ourselves to see every fault and insecurity, realizing that no one has it easy; we just all fail in different ways depending on who we have chosen to become.
There is some real biting commentary included in the daily exercise of life that these five souls share on screen. Beyond the stereotypes that a girl like Penny will never become romantically involved with a guy like Leonard, (or will she?), and the general geekery going on, (NES belt buckle anyone? How about an original “Battlestar Galactica” flightsuit?), many laughs show the fallibility of both sides and make us as an audience reevaluate how we treat others. While Sheldon may possess no tact whatsoever, many of the things he says are spot-on. If I were to compare myself to one of the creatures in this sitcom cage, I’d probably say Leonard, (I mean I don’t want to be one of the other three who can’t connect with the outside world), but truthfully I find myself relating to Sheldon much more. The things he says—the biting, sardonic, matter-of-fact observations, (they are not insults, he is just brutally honest)—are oftentimes exactly what I think, yet I have this thing called a conscience and self-control, allowing myself to repress the impulse to alienate myself from the rest of the English-speaking world. When he watches Penny buying vitamins at the supermarket and tells her she is purchasing what will become very expensive urine, or when he guesses her weight and she cringes to which he replies, “I’m sorry, does your body mass have some connection to your self worth?” I can’t help but smirk and tell myself that Sheldon is the most awesome character ever.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Penny’s reactions to his babbling intellect and confusion concerning topics and events that we “normal” people deal with on a daily basis show his faults as well. The difference between the two, however, is that when Penny has her flaws thrown into her face, she gets angry as she knows he is right. When Sheldon’s are tossed his way, he just manifests a blank stare because he doesn’t understand the error of his way. I believe that a discussion to start one of the earlier episodes brings up a valid point—is Sheldon a robot? His lack of any attraction to females, his monotone speech, and intricate use of the English language, (I have to applaud Jim Parsons for being able to recite the many long and complicated monologues he has week to week without cracking up. I’d love to know how many takes each needs), could very well lead to that conclusion. A cyborg is in our midst and his name is Sheldon Cooper.
While by far the most interesting dynamic of the show—Penny and Sheldon—the relationships between the others intrigue as well. Leonard and Penny’s frightened and unaccepted love for each other respectively is the most obvious connection, and, as a result, the least interesting. You can infer that one day they will finally get together, but watching the uncomfortable struggles each week can become redundant and cringe-worthy at times. I enjoy Raj’s inability to speak with women unless inebriated—it causes some good laughs—and Howard’s futile attempts at wooing women with his foreign languages, including the language of love, can cause a chuckle or two as well. In the end, though, it once again falls to Sheldon and how his three friends interact with him. Leonard, Raj, and Howard, while dorks, are not oblivious to the ways of civilized society. They have their idiosyncrasies building walls to separate from the “cool kids”, but they can overcome them. Even these nerds acknowledge the fact that Sheldon is of a different universe, teaming together when they know their friend is on an impossible train of thought. When he is ill, the trio have set protocol on how to avoid him; when he is going stir crazy after losing his job, they call the one person able to snap him back on course … his mother, (a wonderful cameo by Laurie Metcalf, one of two “Roseanne” alums to join Galecki, Sara Gilbert being the other); and when he refuses to join a physics trivia team, they gang up to destroy his ego and try their hardest to instill some sort of human failure in him.
I credit this all to the fact that Parsons’ Sheldon is the most extreme version of the “gifted”/genius this world has to offer. He is so far out there that everyone else must exist in contrast to him. Even those we come across on a daily basis deemed eggheads are “normal” when compared to this boy wonder. I wait with baited breath for the next time Sheldon dresses down an opponent unintentionally because that is where “The Big Bang Theory” truly excels. You may come into the show believing that Galecki’s Leonard is the main character, the star of the show, but I think that after a few viewings, you will discover that Parsons is actually at center stage. Like Metcalf says, “that science stuff … that’s from Jesus.” Sheldon is the epitome of divine intervention, the perfect mix of brain atoms to create a superior mind. The other characters live and die by their insecurities while he is the test subject control they all evolve from. Leonard, Raj, and Howard are slowly moving from Sheldon status to Penny status, mutating into these hybrid beasts of brains and social skill while Penny learns to deal with the fact that Sheldons exist in the world. The only person to never change, (Parsons), is therefore the show’s sun in its heliocentric universe, the other leads simply planets fluctuating away from, yet always being brought back to, the center after failure or insecurity reverts them to their starting points.
My favorite aspect of the show, however, becomes the fact that I start to become one of those planets as well. I join the dance as I begin to relate to Sheldon and move closer and closer to his cynical, emotionless ways. I start to watch the show so I can see creator Chuck Lorre’s vanity card after the credits, pausing the screen to read his humorous rants. I read that one was censored and feel the need to google and find out why, (his website has the answer by the way), and even look so closely that I find a typo in #191, “I would’ve have”. I begin to wonder whether Raj’s slip of “Good Story!” in episode #13 to Penny, without the ingestion of alcohol, was scripted or a happy accident left in. I even hear Sheldon tell Leonard, when the issue of money arises, that he can “always sell blood or semen”, and wonder if this is a continuity error since the show debuted with the two of them leaving a sperm bank after deciding they couldn’t do it. I get so involved that, between the laughter bringing my planet to the outskirts of the sun’s orbit and just having a good time, I slowly get drawn in by the allure of Sheldon’s mechanical perfection, looking to find imperfections in the stories to prove I’m smarter then the writers.
And I guess that right there is why “The Big Bang Theory” is a success. It allows you to not only relate to each character involved, seeing a bit of yourself in them all, but to also join them on their journey of self-discovery and evolution. We as an audience start to feel the need to be smarter while also relishing in the normalcy our true lives give us. Complete with stellar pop culture references, making we who catch the inside jokes feel even geekier, this show does succeed on its own merits. It is definitely more than just a sitcom catering to the lowest common denominator of society, while also not being so full of itself that it turns that faction off of it. Lorre has crafted something that spans all intellectual boundaries, making us want to learn and accept those around us for whom they are, hoping they open their minds to doing the same for us.