There's a common theme within the nerd community when it comes to the show The Big Bang theory. Despite its success, it seems that many self-described geeks find it patronizing, if not outright offensive. Many a time I have heard long, impassioned, rants about how it is damaging to the image of the nerd, how it caters to the lowest common denominator, and how it should never be watched by anyone who considers themselves a "real geek" (a phrase that frustrates me in and of itself, but we'll save that debate for another time).
Well, I have a confession to make. I love the Big Bang Theory. I think it's light, and funny, and I look forward to each new season. I have actually watched the show from the airing of the first episode (oh god, I sound like a hipster), and maybe that has something to do with it, but I will happily call myself a fan.
So, in the interests of spirited debate and playing devil's advocate, I wanted to look at some of the top arguments against TBBT, and see if I couldn't come up with a rebuttal or five. Join in the debate in the comments, and lets all talk it out!
1. It's Offensive: Nerds Aren't Really Like That
Well, for part of this, I will refer you to the argument below - that the show intentionally deals with overblown stereotypes, because that's just the format. Beyond that though, while few people may go to the extremes that these characters do, are they really that far off the mark? Living in Vancouver, I have absolutely met less-than-genius women working in the service industry and waiting for their big break. I know plenty of vertically-challenged engineers who are a little too into video games, and socially awkward nerdy-types pining over the girl of their dreams. Yes, there are also plenty of tall, attractive physicists who are married and play basketball, but really, who wants to see a show about them? The Big Bang Theory doesn't claim to be a documentary on "The Real Nerds Of Orange County", it's an intentional set up of personalities that will create funny situations. And you know what, it does.
2. It's Just Playing on Negative Stereotypes
Whenever I hear this particular phrase, my eyes roll so hard that I give myself a headache. Not because the characters aren't stereotypes (oh, they are) but because it's a sitcom. Exaggerated stereotypes are the bread and butter of the sitcom world, and it's not really that big a deal. Penny is actually a great example of the fact that the show isn't just picking on nerds. The blonde bimbo who moves to LA to become a famous actress is possibly an even bigger cliche than the Jewish nerd who lives with his mother, but that's kind of the point. If this is your issue with the show, then I would suggest that the problem is with the genre, not this specific series.
3. It's About Smart People, But It's Not Smart
While there may be some jokes that are less-than-intellectual, I'm pretty happy with a show that doesn't take itself too seriously, especially a comedy. For me, there is a nice mix between references that the viewer has to "get", and simple jokes that are accessible to anyone. It would be an absolute travesty to have some bizarre lovechild of FRIENDS and Frasier on screens - the story of four pompous friends who have never laughed at anything that couldn't be considered "high brow". Ugh, kill me. It's far from Beevis and Butthead, but from the way some people talk, you would think that the show makes South Park seem cultured.
Maybe that's a flaw with trying to aim a show at the true nerds and the casual comedy viewer - trying to balance jokes that are witty enough for one group without going completely over the heads of the other. I'm happy to admit that sometimes, I find myself giggling at the really silly stuff, and I don't need my post-work comedy show to be a workout for the mind.
4. It's Too Much Like Any Other Sitcom
Shocking concept, this, given that it is, in fact, a sitcom. More to the point, I feel that this is often a lose-lose scenario. Some fans were frustrated when the writers brought in girlfriends for everyone, and it became more like the standard "group of attractive young people in the city", just with some geeky references. Others were angry to start with because none of the core characters had girlfriends, and that was seen as offensive to all the nerds in happy relationships. Yes, there are certain tropes that we will see over and over again. The on-again-off-again, the solid couple, the perma-single, the wacky adventures. But complaining about that is kind of like complaining about a stand up comedian who just tells jokes to the audience, or a cooking show that just has a charismatic chef making dishes look easy. That's what it's supposed to do.
5. It's Not Realistic
One of the criticisms that I've heard is that it's just unrealistic; Howard would never be cleared to go into space, Penny couldn't afford the same apartment as two physicists, Raj's selective mutism wouldn't just "be cured", etc etc. Well, again, it's a sitcom. A certain level of disbelief must be suspended in order to enjoy, and really, while some of the situations may be borderline absurd, we aren't dealing with much that is physically impossible. How does Penny afford that apartment? Well, it's a much smaller one bedroom, and while the boys save large portions of their salaries each month, she is often scrambling to pay rent and having her power/tv/etc cut off. Makes sense to me. Why haven't they fixed the elevator? Well, in more than one episode they try, but seriously, they blew the thing up from the inside, so it's not just a case of some re-wiring.
Special Bonus Argument: It's Just Not Funny
Well, this is basically the only one I can't even begin to refute, because humor is subjective, after all. With few exceptions (blatantly racist, homophobic, etc or physically painful "comedy" doesn't really get a pass from me) what makes you laugh may not make someone else laugh, and that's totally ok. For whatever reason, it makes me chuckle, and strangely enough I like smiling.
Special Bonus Argument Number Two: The One Thing I Really Don't Like
While I'm a big fan, I am by no means suggesting that the show is perfect, just that it is a nice light half hour of amusement and should be enjoyed as such. However, there is one fault that drives me crazy, especially as it is theoretically aimed at movie and TV nerds (as well as gamers, comic book fans, etc). The continuity of the details absolutely blows. So many times, a character has said something that has made me sit up and think "that's not right". Sheldon's "first kiss" came after he had kissed Leonard's mom in a drunken moment. Tiny little errors like that may not bother the casual viewer, but they will drive the really nerdy types absolutely crazy.
To be perfectly honest, one of the major reasons that I love it is that I feel like I finally have a sitcom that I can relate to. Most of the classics revolve around late teen/early twenties drama, (and I'm a little too old for that) or married with children style hijinks and that is even further from the mark. The ones that strike a chord with me are those about characters in their later twenties and thirties who are somewhere on the spectrum of having figured stuff out (thank you, How I Met Your Mother), and this fits right in there. It's just nice to have one where the characters play D&D, rather than tennis, go to the comic book store as well as the bar, and wear costumes when it isn't Halloween. It's not perfect, sure, but it's a step in the right direction when it comes to referencing traditionally "nerdy" stuff, and bringing comic-cons and star trek to the mainstream, rather than seeing it as something that only weird guys in basements are into.
I also love how many incredible cameos they have. Not only is it amazing to see some of my favorite actors again, it's a kind of validation as well. One or two may be selling out, but I refuse to believe that that entire laundry list of nerd icons are just doing it for the money. Especially because many of them really don't need the money!
If it's good enough for Stan Lee to appear on, it's good enough for me to watch.
The new season of [The Big Bang Theory](series:200751) starts September 22nd.