I always have been, even before I self-identified as such. I like sci-fi, I have a comic collection, I’m socially awkward at times. With the exception of having great knowledge of science, engineering and computing, I tick most of the geek boxes. And that, my friends, is why I love The Big Bang Theory.
See, too many shows try to portray geekdom and they get it wrong. They have scenes with a computer hacker, and while they get the stereotype down pat, they get the details wrong; either that or the hackers are really cool and spend most of their day skateboarding. They rush a scientist character into frame and he spouts some technobabble that is utterly incomprehensible, but that’s considered appropriate exposition. Or they focus on what was geeky when the writer or director was 16, and therefore they’re attacking stuff that hasn’t been realistic for twenty years.
And so this is one of the reasons TBBT rules – attention to detail. Look at the comic books on display; they’re all fairly up to date. And because the characters seem to prefer DC over Marvel, you’ll notice that Sheldon’s bookcase is full of DC collected editions. I can’t see them well enough to swear to this, but I’m willing to bet they’re shelved in a logical order as well. And while I’m not smart enough to be able to comment on the science used in the show, the fact that they use a consultant who’s worked on the Large Hadron Collider makes me think that it’s fairly watertight (there’s an interview with the consultant, David Saltzberg, over at Wired).
The reason they put this effort in is, I think, their audience. The producers, writers and actors know full well that a significant chunk of the viewers will relate to the characters, and that means it’s an audience that will spot this sort of thing. Get a detail about Battlestar Galactica wrong and you can bet there are letters or, more realistically, emails. Probably Tweets.
But those Tweets are probably good natured, because the show is a celebration of geekiness, not an attack on it. Most of us could probably find something to relate to in underdog Leonard, cripplingly shy Raj or eternal adolescent Howard. I recognise these people; I am these people, at least some of the time. I’m laughing with them, not at them – they know settling things through a game of ‘Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock’ is needlessly complicated but they don’t care. It’s fun.
That said, I’m not a geek all the time. I like to think that I’m not totally a stereotype. That’s where Penny comes in – the one who’s not as intellectual as her neighbours, but who’s the voice of common sense. The core group may be making her just a little nerdier, but she’s helping them become a little more… I dunno, social. The fact that they’re now a pretty tight group of friends is important – it’s not about a bunch of nerds and a ‘normal’ person who mocks them. It’s more affectionate than that.
Then, of course, there’s Sheldon. He fills a particular role, the traditional sitcom monster. In some ways he’s Basil Fawlty or Homer Simpson, the character who’s exaggerated enough to make him the outrageously funny one, the one that defies social conventions. Sheldon is annoying, arrogant and rude. We should hate him.
And yet… Well, maybe it’s because Jim Parsons plays him with just enough vulnerability. Maybe it’s because his OCD and other traits make him sympathetic. Maybe it’s because we know that deep down he doesn’t mean to upset anyone, he just doesn’t work to the same social conventions as everyone else. Whatever it is, it works in the show’s favour – the almost-sibling relationship he has with Penny isn’t unbelievable, it’s sweet.
But this is over-analysing the whole thing. You know the main reason I love The Big Bang Theory?
It’s because it’s funny.
Sure, that’s a prerequisite for a sitcom. But TBBT really makes me laugh. It has one of my favourite TV moments of the last few years, which moves within a couple of minutes from a joke about cloning Leonard Nimoy to a perfect moment of visual comedy. I howled. My neighbours probably thought I was being murdered, but they didn’t bother to make sure so I could watch the rest of the episode uninterupted.
Heck, it also doesn’t hurt that you can learn something by singing along to the theme song. A lot of shows don’t even have theme songs any more. I want them back, darnnit!
And so kudos to all involved in my favourite comedy show. You do a fantastic job, and I hope you continue to do so for a good while yet. May you continue to get your geek on, and may there be many more bright bazingas in your future.