The hit CBS comedy that pretends to celebrate geekdom is actually making fun of it.
I’m a sci-fi fan. I watch just about everything even remotely sci-fi or fantasy on television, from classic genre series like “Doctor Who” to the more mainstream “Revolution.” I tune into NASA webcasts. I’m interested in reading about quantum physics as a hobby.
But there is one kind-of-sci-fi-ish show that I think should be buried in a cold, dark, unmarked grave: “The Big Bang Theory.”
It’s the weekly mishaps of two brilliant and sci-fi loving geek scientists, Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) and Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki). The show was created by CBS’s comedy golden child Chuck Lorre, who also made “Two and a Half Men” and “Dharma & Greg” (as well as the new 2013 series “Mom”). “Big Bang” has run for some 133 episodes and counting. With 17 million viewers in a typical week during the sixth season (2012-2013), it’s among the most-watched shows on television.
Let’s can it. Smother it with a pillow while it sleeps. Take it out into the woods and put a bullet in it.
Why am I so hostile toward such a wildly successful show? I am a geek. I grew up on “Star Trek.” I’m the sort who plans to spend his hard-earned vacation days at San Diego Comic-Con. I chat on sci-fi forums about the latest episodes of my favorite shows. Shouldn’t this show appeal to me?
Actually, as a proud geek, I find “The Big Bang Theory” to be profoundly offensive.
This show doesn’t make geeks the heroes – it makes fun of them. Even though the jokes are coming out of the mouths of Leonard and Sheldon, they’re not actually the ones telling the jokes. The joke is on them. And so it’s also at my expense.
“Did you hear what he said about ‘Battlestar Galactica’ ! He’s so weird!”
“Look at those clothes! What a loser 70s throwback!”
“Aww … That hot girl is so nice to spend time with them.”
These are the sorts of laughs that the show induces. “The Big Bang Theory” is not a show that celebrates geek culture; it’s a show that features it in order to make fun of it.
One clue that this is the case: While Parsons is perfectly cast and lovable both on and off the screen, I’m astonished by the casting of Galecki. He attempts to play the part of a socially inept nerdlington who should never in a million years have a shot with the cute girl across the hall. But without the glasses and hairstyle – and no offense to Galecki – he’s handsome in a classically chiselled, European sort of way. This is a good-looking guy. As Leonard, then, he’s the popular kid acting like the nerd for a laugh.
It’s not portrayal – it’s mimicry.
Many of my geek friends don’t see it. They don’t recognize that the writers are not themselves members of geek culture. They don’t acknowledge that when the stereotypes tell self-deprecating jokes, it’s actually the non-geeks who are telling jokes at their expense. The jocks and bullies from the playground are giving atomic wedgies and pulling nerds’ underwear up over their heads … and through the magic of television, the nerds don’t even know it.
So let’s cancel “The Big Bang Theory.” It’s shameful in the inclusivist world of the twenty-first century, where all groups are allegedly respected. Its success comes from belittling an innocent segment of its own viewership. It’s funny … but the laughs come at the expense of the geeks it is pretending to honor.