I have watched several episodes of CBS’s Big Bang Theory, and I’ve never been a fan of the series. As I’ve talked about in the past, I dislike BBT for the same reasons that I dislike Two and a Half Men (both of which come from the same creator, Chuck Lorre): Because they are simple-minded. BBT employs the same brand of crass stereotypes about nerds as Two and a Half Men makes about boobs. It plays into the sort of stereotypes about smart people that mainstreamers love. Your average walking ass-crack probably feels considerably better about the wrong choices he made in life when he’s under the impression that people who went to college are socially backwards and no more capable of winning the sexual advances of big-busted blonde women than he is. The Big Bang Theory depicts well-educated people as Urkels and lisping dorks, which is comfortable comedy to mainstreamers.
In other words, BBT is a dumb show about smart people, and rather than celebrate the “otherness” of these smart people, which is what a show like Community does, BBT exploits the otherness for laughs.
That said, BBT really does have something very good going for it, as one of the series stars Mayim Bialik — formerly of Blossom, and who has a PhD in neuroscience these days — explained on Neil Degrasse Tyson’s podcast, Star Talk, in response to criticisms about BBT’s stereotypes:
“All of our characters, in theory, are on the neuropsychiatric spectrum. Sheldon often gets talked about in terms of Aspergers or OCD. He has a thing with germs, he has a thing with numbers. He has a lot of those things with precision that we see in OCD. There’s a lot of interesting features to all our characters that make them technically unconventional socially.
I think that’s interesting and kind of sweet and what should not be lost on people is that we don’t pathologize our characters. We don’t talk about medicating them or even really changing them. I think that’s what’s interesting. For those of us who are unconventional people or who know and love people who are on any sort of spectrum, we often find ways to work around that. We don’t always need to solve and medicate and label, and what we’re trying to show with our show is that this is a group of people who likely were teased, mocked, told that they will never be appreciated or loved, and we have a group of people that have successful careers, active social lives (that involve things like Dungeons and Dragons and video games), but they also have relationships, and that’s a fulfilling and satisfying life.
OK, first of all, Bialik is brilliant (and demonstrated as much during the rest of that podcast where she mostly discussed the brain). Moreover, she actually has a good point that never really occured to me. The geek stereotypes may be overly broad and crass, and their otherness may be mocked with the help of a laugh track, but the characters are not asked to change or improve themselves or fix their issues. That is something that should be commended.