When The Big Bang Theory started six years ago, it was a landmark for television content. For once, comedy show focused on the lives of true self-identified nerds absorbed in the realm of science, and the comedy revolved around the celebration, instead of abuse, of geekiness. We came close with characters like John Dorian and actors like Seth Green, but something in The Big Bang Theory had hit the nail on the head by inspiring us to both celebrate and laugh with our favorite nerdfolk. But somewhere along the way, probably shortly after the pilot, Chuck Lorre and the team of writers realized that it is still easier to make fun of nerds instead of celebrating them, and now, The Big Bang Theory is a giant pile of worthless crap. Allow me to explain why.
Here’s a rough overview of the last couple of decades of television geeks. We’ve always had impossibly attractive television scientists. Sam Carter and Daniel Jackson from the Stargate series were both highly attractive nerds, but they were nerdy for their intelligence, not fandom. The same goes for characters like Annie on Community and Alex Dunphy on Modern Family, traditionally attractive people with lots of smarts. Sanctuary’s Will Zimmerman was also a ridiculously hot braniac worthy of long rambling odes to his more naked scenes.* Positive representations of nerds were made by impossibly attractive actors who could in no way be “my people” in real life; the biggest insult was probably the transformation of Steve Urkel into Stefan Urquelle, indicating that no nerd could ever be naturally attractive without a complete personality overhaul. According to mainstream media, if you even had a remote interest in something that ended with “-ology,” you were guaranteed to be at least socially awkward; if you were into science fiction, it was guaranteed you’d spend your Friday nights at home rolling twenty sided dice.
So, for years, we put up with nasal red-shirted Trekkies, pronounced lisps, and Screech. We may have loved Geordi LaForge, but we also knew he never got any play outside the holodeck. And we felt for him, too, because he really could’ve used some lovin’. A lot of our people could have, and that was the norm.
Things started to change as the Generation X and Y geeks grew to a reasonable adult age. We had characters like Eric Forman, who was just geeky enough to be identifiable, and just attractive enough to stay on television for too many seasons. We were gifted with Ben Wyatt on Parks & Recreation, arguably the most realistic nerd on television, because his permanent Woll Smoth face is attractive without being “hot,” and his interests are geeky without his personality being socially repugnant. And of course, Community makes geeks like Abed and Troy totally attractive and fun people, while mildly poking fun at the classic geek stereotype with guys like Garrett. My people are the norm now. We have our own reality contest and, as it turns out, we have better sex.
So when The Big Bang Theory reigned high on the television charts, and Jim Parsons took home his Emmys, I was celebratory. After all, there aren’t many shows that defend fandom. In the land of The Big Bang Theory, if you can’t tell a Ferengi from a Vulcan, YOU are the dork. And yeah, the joke might have been that Wolowitz could never get laid because of his sleaze, but he also changed the standard by being the first character to get married. And for the longest, the science and the fandom were the true sources of humor on the show. Rushing to get in line for a screening of a movie really can be an episode-long plot arc, and wiring your house so that fellow geeks can control your lights is both cool and funny. But something happened. The show changed.
First, the humor changed. As more characters became ensconced in relationships, the humor shifted to romantic relationship humor. My three regular readers would recognize that I regard this as a “stench” of sorts. Relationship humor is a cop-out. It is the most common form of humor used by every low quality television show and every hack comedian. It is as easily digested as sugar cereal and formulated to service mass tastes because it reaches the lowest common denominator. The vast majority of people, save for religious ascetics and sociopaths, date or have romantic relationships, and have complicated experiences that can be broken down into humorous content. It is not inventive. It is trite. And most of all, it overshadows the fandom content that made the show unique and watchable.
Secondly, it contiuously reinforces the same bullshit stereotypes about girlfriends (and girls in general) not being nerds or enjoying nerd fandoms. Penny was always a touch of an outcast among the group because she did not understand the guys’ nerd worship and cracked sarcastic jokes. This was always acceptable because it reinforced the idea that she was “out of the zeitgeist.” Now, we’re used to Penny using sex as a punchline every time Leonard wants to do something geeky. Bernadette has become Howard’s mother. Even Amy Farrah Fowler, the show’s saving grace, can’t take a second out of her monkey-brain life to take any interest in Sheldon’s pastimes. Every time a girl enters the comic book shop, the boys turn and leer, and though this is sometimes prevalent in nerd culture, it is less common than one might think. And just because the last episode had Raj stepping out of the comic store with a post-Scrubs Gooch doesn’t mean the show has nerdgirl cred. Let’s see Bernadette playing League of Legends, and then I’ll start taking them seriously. Then again, Chuck Lorre isn’t known for portraying women as more than walking vaginas on his show, as evidenced by, well, every show he’s done post-Roseanne.
Thirdly, it has become more and more normal for the jokes to be at the expense of the nerd characters. Let’s face it, the show has no real respect for nerd and geek folk. It used to have a feigned reverence for my people, even if it was misguided. They’d make the jokes needed to regard certain fandoms highly even if they didn’t take the time to do research (such as their WoW episode that faked half of what actually happens in WoW). But over time, we started to see more of the guys running from bullies, being the butts of their own jokes, and being consistently regarded as uncool by characters that represent the mainstream. Frankly, on a show that is supposed to be celebrating my people, it has become a giant sham, and sometimes I wonder if it always has been.
For a long time I regarded multi-camera format shows as being the bottom of the barrel as far as television sitcom quality, especially with single-camera format becoming the general norm in the realm of comedy. And then I realized that it isn’t the format that makes it crappy. It is the fact that Chuck Lorre dominates the four-camera format, and his team of low-end writers are consistently allowed to crank out derivative, disrespectful material ad infinitum, whether it be Two and a Half Men, Mike and Molly, or BBT. And on top of it, the populace swallows Lorre shows like Big Macs, and reconciles sharing useless bullying memes on Facebook while simultaneously supporting the bullying that is Lorre’s stereotypes of common people. It is time to stop eating McDonald’s, and time to stop consuming shit television.
*That probably seems really specific, and it is, for reasons I won’t ever publish.