Monday, January 7, 2008

The Big Bang Theory (Not the One You Think)

I just finished watching an episode of the television sitcom The Big Bang Theory. The show centers around two male physicist roommates and the attempts of one of the two to woo their physically attractive but vapid female neighbor.

I want to say first off that sitcoms are not my genre. Truth be told, I don't watch a lot of TV anymore, and when I do I really can't stand sitcoms. Something about the sets and the type of camera they use combined with the actors' standard delivery just prevents me from suspending my disbelief for even a moment. Aside from those stumbling blocks, I'll review as best I can.

This show is truly a strange chimera. It operates on several levels, all mutually disappointing. Since this is a show a. about scientists, and b. intended for the general public, what can we say? From a. we would expect the characters to be scientist stereotypes, and from b. we would expect these stereotypes to butt up against the audience's understanding of real science and scientists.

Properties stemming from a.
The characters are: socially awkward, especially around women; physically weak; overanalytic, especially with regards to mundane details; oblivious to outside stimuli when involved in a conversation or project; prone to drop jargon and obscure references. One character possibly has Asperger's and OCD, another is Indian. Some conversations could be straight from Kakalios or Smith, but not as detailed as the former, as vulgar as the latter, or as clever as either.

From b.
Introductory physics concepts are explained, and poorly; this from characters who have physics PhDs from Cal Tech. Language is used by the characters that may sound natural to the lay public, but is never used by actual scientists. Nonsense equations are written on whiteboards. Mixed in with the references intended to be obscure and confusing are references to common concepts; nothing would be wrong with that if the characters didn't treat the two exactly the same.

So, yes, the show is crappy. But among sitcoms I'd say it's pretty good. Ignoring the huge fundamental flaws, what's left is okay. I did laugh once or twice at intentional jokes. It's obvious that the writers know something about science, because the references that are supposed to fly over everyone's head do make sense in context and can be funny.

Since I've only seen one episode of the show, I reserve judgment. Do I scorn the show for displaying hackneyed writing and flat characters, or do I appreciate it for being the world's tallest midget funniest sitcom? Either way, I'm pretty sure I'll watch more; my significant other found it very funny. I think the well-written features of the characters are close enough to being me that she can appreciate their reality, but from my perspective they're sitting right in the middle of the uncanny valley.


Ben said...

"This show is truly a strange chimera. It operates on several levels, all mutually disappointing."

That line made me laugh. I feel the same way about television. It's sad when I think that South Park is the smartest show on TV. I don't mean that Matt and Trey are not that smart. They are brilliant, but they produce a cartoon. Why is our reality-based television (not reality television) not at least as smart as our cartoons?

Prazzie said...

This series is due to start showing in South Africa tomorrow (Wednesday the 9th Jan). I've been blasted with ads for it for weeks now. My tv guide describes it as "the love child of Three's Company and Bill Nye the Science Guy". Blah blah, "unbelievably hot neighbour", blah blah, "there is life outside of quantum physics and the Stars Wars Trilogy"...already they've lost me.

And it's called "The Big Bang Theory". Seriously. Maybe I'm not the target audience. Looked ruddy awful. "Ruddy" - British slang, therein lies the rub, sign me up for some Brit humour instead. The IT Crowd, for example. I'm in a hurry, does it show?

Bob Andelman said...

You might enjoy this entertaining audio interview with Bill Prady, co-creator of "The Big Bang Theory." Prady's other writing and producing credits include "Gilmore Girls," "Muppets in Space," "Dream On," and even an episode of "Star Trek Voyager."

Anonymous said...

Actually most every equation and reference is valid--only sitcom to have a PhD physicist as a script consultant

Flavin said...

Not only are you wrong, but you're probably spam.