I started watching The Big Bang theory because of Wil Wheaton. When I read that he had a recurring guest spot as Evil Wil Wheaton, I got curious. I think the “Bowling Supervillain” one was my first episode.
There’s a fair amount I like about the show. I enjoy seeing smart characters in central roles, roles that try to go beyond the standard sidekick bit of “Smart, wimpy kid gets bullied and maybe helps the real hero.” I like the SF/F references and guest stars. (I’ll watch just about any show that brings in George Takei.) I like the experiments, like non-Newtonian fluid dancing on plastic wrap over a speaker.
But the more I watch, the more certain things bother me…
The Inhaler – How do you demonstrate that a character’s a nerd? Give them an inhaler! Because as the writers know, asthma is a genetically nerd-linked disorder. Dumbasses. (To quote Leslie Winkle…)
Speech Impairments are Funny! – Another lazy nerd stereotype/cliche. But hey, at least it’s okay to laugh at Kripke’s speech troubles, because he’s not a very nice guy, see? His iPhone 4s doesn’t understand him, LOL! Tune in for the next episode, when someone in a wheelchair is mean, so everyone turns around and says, “Ha ha, you can’t walk!”
The Sexism – Let me make this as clear as I can. Social ineptitude does not equal, justify, or excuse sexual harassment. One of the worst examples, which came up in a discussion with some other authors a while back, would be Howard. Especially in the beginning, he was slime, oozing over every female he saw. Boundaries? What are those, except obstacles to be overcome? When Pennie finally told him off, Howard’s friends came together and made her apologize for hurting the poor creeper’s feelings.
The Fat Jokes – Howard’s mother is fat. Isn’t that hilarious? I wonder how many TV writers would be out of a job if society ever decided it wasn’t okay to treat heavy people like shit.
Racial Issues – I guess you could argue that the show is making a statement about higher education being dominated by white folks, but I think you’d be giving them too much credit. We do get get Raj, who’s Indian … and therefore must joke about the untouchables back home, or have his accent mocked by Howard (the person on the phone can’t tell the difference between Raj and Howard doing a bad Indian accent).
The Hick Jokes – Sheldon’s mom lives in Texas, where everyone’s an ignorant Bible-thumper! Pennie’s from Nebraska, land of dumb farm girls!
Having now seen most of the show’s run, some of these problems were present from the beginning. But I feel like as it progressed, it’s been losing the things I actually enjoyed. We see less and less of … well, of anyone actually being smart. With the exception of the current Howard The Astronaut subplot, we see almost nothing of anyone’s jobs anymore. When was the last time the whiteboard came out, or they bounced a laser off the moon?
It feels like, as the show became more popular, it’s been co-opted. The focus has shifted more toward generic sitcom territory. I can imagine the marketing meetings.
“We need to expand our audience! Cut back on the science jokes and the geek bits, and double the sex stuff.”
“We introduced Amy as a foil to Sheldon, socially cold but brilliant. Since she’s a chick, let’s rewrite her to focus on important things like getting a boyfriend and learning to be popular. Throw in some lesbian innuendo too. Guys love that.”
“You remember Ross and Rachel’s on-again, off-again relationship from Friends? That wasn’t at all like beating a dead horse, resurrecting it as a zombie, then beating the undead horse for another six seasons. We should totally do that!”
No show is perfect, but this one is losing (or has lost) the elements that drew me in, and is pushing things that make me change the channel.
Discussion is welcome. However, if your comment includes the following, please don’t bother:
- Any variation of the phrase “political correctness.”
- The words “overreacting” or “oversensitive.”
- An attempt to argue that other shows are worse, as if this in any way invalidates a critique of this one.