This morning I came across an article on UGO.com entitled 11 Reasons Geeks Hate The Big Bang Theory, and I felt compelled to respond to a few of the accusations.
I came into the show late — as in, within the past few months, after it entered syndication — and I watch it religiously. It never fails to entertain me, in part because of its geekcentric world view. Being a geek, I can relate to the characters and I get all the jokes (that don’t have to do with advanced physics theory).
To be fair, UGO made some good points, but missed the mark on others. I’ll hit them in the order listed in the original article (be warned, some of these have nothing to do with the writing-related aspects of the show).
11 ) The Laugh Track
That’s a laugh track? Really? It’s a damn good one, because it sounds like an actual audience to me.
10 ) Losing Leslie and 3 ) Girls Are Weird
UGO laments the show’s poor treatment of the female characters; the site says the show regards them as sex objects, with the notable exception of Leslie Winkle (Sara Gilbert), a fellow scientist who was dropped from the cast after a few episodes because the writers “didn’t know how to write for her.”
My knee-jerk reaction is the show should have gotten better writers, but that’s unfair. The fact of the matter is, characters sometimes simply never click. They sound good in concept, but once the character starts talking on the page (so to speak), you realize that he or she just isn’t working like you thought he/she would.
That does not mean the character is bad. Sometimes it takes another writer to show everyone a character’s potential. An example in my own career is when I co-wrote the script for Pastimes‘ 2004 King Arthur Festival with my friend Amy (of Asperger Ninja). One of the characters in that show’s particular continuity was King Uriens, Morgan LeFey’s consort, and in previous shows, he was a very bland, flat, second-string villain. Paul, one of the producers, remarked to me how much he hated the character because he was so dull.
He was dull because he was never anything more than Morgan’s yes-man. The character agreed with Morgan constantly, spouted evil dialogue, got into fights with the heroes, and that’s it. Amy and I were able to make him interesting by writing him not as your basic Evil Goon but as Morgan’s husband and as the co-ruler of a kingdom. In this particular storyline, we added emotional conflict by creating friction between Uriens and Mordred, Morgan’s son with King Arthur — the son Uriens believed should have been his.
Most of the Big Bang Theory eps are written or co-written by show creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, and in the case of Leslie Winkle, they could have farmed her writing out to someone else who could have found the character’s center and given other writers material to work with.
All that said, UGO totally overlooked Mayim Bialik as Amy Farrah Fowler, Sheldon’s (Jim Parsons) girlfriend, who is very much not an object of lust for the male cast members. Amy started off as She-Sheldon but has since evolved into a very well-realized and layered character — perhaps the best in the cast.
9 ) Endless References and 8 ) Messed-up References
UGO compares the show to Family Guy in terms of its ham-fisted use of pop-culture references, and yeah, the refs can fly fast and furious on Big Bang, but they feel less disruptive than the Family Guy references, which are clumsy, abrupt non sequiturs that have nothing to do with the story. Big Bang is not as slick, subtle, and sly as, say, Futurama (which UGO rightly credits as the best when it comes to pop-culture references), but the show uses them to better effect than Family Guy.
As for the gripe that the show gets its geek references wrong, well, UGO’s example — that a player cannot in fact loot allies’ bodies in World of Warcraft, despite the show’s assertion — only bothers the hardcore players who know better. It bothers them in the same way it bothers neurologists when a character gets knocked out cold for several hours and wakes up with nothing worse than a headache, or the way it bothers cops when an action movie police officer — well, does just about anything.
There are countless instances when a movie or TV show gets wrong some technical detail, but the flub goes unnoticed by all except those in the know. Any good writer should know enough to do their research so they don’t get the facts wrong, but sometimes writers don’t exercise due diligence, and other times they ignore reality to move the story forward, hoping the general public won’t know any better. The Big Bang Theory is not committing a crime that Hollywood hasn’t committed before and won’t commit again.
PS: reductio ad absurdum is indeed, despite UGO’s claim to the contrary, a logical fallacy; it’s just not the one Sheldon describes. I’d call that irony, but UGO might point out that I’d be using “irony” incorrectly.
7 ) Other Geek Shows Are Better
Yes, and others are worse. That’s just a lame argument. Moving on…
6 ) Evil Wil Wheaton
UGO remarks that Wesley Crusher was the worst part of Star Trek: The Next Generation. You know why fans hated Wesley? Because he was getting to do what all the fanboys wanted to do: be on the Enterprise having adventures. The character had problems, but it was mostly jealousy on the fans’ part that led to Wesley’s low standing in the Star Trek universe.
But that’s beside the more important point UGO makes, that the “evil Wil Wheaton” character has shown up too often and is losing his punch with each appearance. Wait, what? Wil’s made three appearances on the show, that’s three appearances in five seasons and 100 episodes. That’s hardly a glut of Wheaton.
5 ) Sheldonmania
There’s a common tendency in many sitcoms to abandon their original premise when one character becomes more popular than the others. Probably the best example is Family Matters, which eventually just became a showcase for the antics of Steve Urkel. In the case of The Big Bang Theory, that character is Sheldon Cooper, the Aspergers-esque theoretical physicist.
I’m not sure what they mean by the show’s original premise being abandoned. The show is about the lives of four geeky friends. Yes, the Leonard-Penny dynamic was a major point in the show’s early seasons and remains a recurring theme, but to act like that was always meant to be the main point is not accurate. Leonard and Sheldon are the anchor characters, and always have been.
Besides, there’s a difference between a wholesale character takeover, like the Urkel-ization of Family Matters, and writers finding their footing writing for characters. Sheldon’s quirks were definitely less pronounced in the very early episodes, but the character as we know it was there.
4 ) Bazinga
Character catch-phrases are always going to be hokey and contrived, but Bazinga abuse is far less egregious than, say, anything ever uttered by any given character in any given sitcom during the 1970s or 1980s. It’s hardly in the same class as “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”
2 ) It’s Not Us
At the end of the day, the biggest geek gripe against The Big Bang Theory is that we know plenty of geeks who would be better protagonists for a TV show. Most scientists we know are the absolute opposite of the stereotype on the show — when you’re super-smart, you spend your time working on world-changing projects, not visiting the comic book store every Wednesday. The real geek is too busy subtitling anime or modding Skyrim to keep a job like that. If they wanted to show the actual world of geekdom, they need to lose the high-paying science jobs and focus on dudes writing articles for Internet magazines.
So, the problem with the characters is that they have real and respectable jobs and DON’T spend obscene amounts of time on their geeky hobbies? Seriously, guys?
One of the things I love about the show is that the characters are, undeniably, geeks, but they are not the typical Hollywood interpretation of geeks as lonely, zit-faced, Coke-bottle-glasses-wearing sexless losers who live in their parents’ basement and spend all the money they earn from their McJob on action figures and comic books. Except for Howard (Simon Helberg), the guys all live on their own — real apartments and everything. They have and have had relationships, real and purely sexual.
UGO’s insistence that a “real geek” is too busy indulging in their hobbies to hold down a day job — at least, one that is not an extension of their leisure-time activities — is not just untrue, it’s insulting. You know that episode in which Leonard and Sheldon have a heated debate over exactly how Superman’s powers work? Yeah, I’ve had that conversation. You know what I do for a living? I’m a reporter, and my work and my social life are two totally different worlds.
I do have friends who apparently eat, sleep, and breathe their geeky fun. I call them “the minority.” Most of my friends are teachers, scientists, lawyers, artists, techies of every variety, writers, medical professionals — jobs that utilize their intellects but are utterly unrelated to their funtime, like performing at renaissance faires, getting together for weekly Dungeons & Dragons games, hitting the comic shop en masse on Free Comic Book Day, holding Lord of the Rings movie marathons…right now I know of several people playing Skyrim and Skyward Sword until their eyeballs dry out.
To act like they’re the exception is to perpetuate a stereotype — which, I guess, is only worth complaining about when the show is stereotyping women. Sorry, UGO, but you’re WAY off-base on this one; the Big Bang gang are closer to “real geeks” than you think.
1 ) The Theme Song
That’s UGO’s number one gripe? For Christ’s sake…