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Chuck Lorre is breaking our glasses
January 9, 2013 3:38 AM   Subscribe

"The Big Bang Theory is the worst kind of bully – the one that pretends to be your friend and then takes the piss out of you behind your back. It will take your viewership, it will take your money and it will laugh in your face as it systematically puts you down." The Problem with The Big Bang Theory.
posted by mippy (262 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Community is on UK telly, but on really obscure channels - I think Series 1 was shown on Viva and Series 2 on the Sony Entertainment Channel, neither of which I'd heard of before and might only be on SKY. Everyone I know who watches it does so by nefarious internet practices.
posted by sarahdal at 3:44 AM on January 9, 2013


I watched it a couple of times and this was pretty obvious. Were people thinking that it's nerd-friendly?

(The IT Crowd, OTOH, is on the side of nerds and also funny.)
posted by dickasso at 3:46 AM on January 9, 2013 [44 favorites]


And, this is why the Cuban community didn't watch Lucy, and those in the south never watched The Andy Griffith Show, and bus drivers didn't watch the Honeymooners...... Oh, wait, they DID watch, they just weren't so thin skinned about the humor (and nobody had blogs back then)!

I am now avoiding making any nerd jokes... and it's difficult....
posted by HuronBob at 3:54 AM on January 9, 2013 [24 favorites]


So I've been trying to work out how I feel about this programme for a while. I thought my objection to it was that it seemed to be how non-nerds thought nerds were, but I'm not sure that's it. I did wonder if it was because I wasn't a nerd of the type shown here - do I have to be a maths/science person to get this, rather than merely someone who's spent adolescence a bit weird, a bit socially awkward and rather auto-didactic*? - and I wondered if that's why the jokes didn't hit, or it didn't seem particularly special, or maybe they were worried about taking it to far with the science or meme-y references in terms of getting a mainstream audience (this show is on prime-time regular TV in the US, right?). Then this article hit it on the head.

I've enjoyed many programmes with nerds/loser characters that we are sometimes invited to mock, but also have been drawn as likeable - Matthew from NewsRadio, David Spade's character from Just Shoot me, Alan Partridge, the main three characters from the IT Crowd, to a lesser extent Liz Lemon and Niles from Frasier. Whether these characters were written/created based on people fondly known by the writers (Liz Lemon seems to often be a throwback to awkward teenage Tina Fey and I can relate to that affectionate self-mocking a lot - the marriage episode brought SO MANY FEELING) I'm not sure, but the science/sci-fi/right-brain nerdy people I know in real life have problems enjoying the show (at least one I know, who runs a board game store, actively loathes it) and I think it is that element of 'we are laughing with you, but mostly at you'. I had the same issue with Napoleon Dynamite - it looked like a cute film about nerdy kids, it turned out that the camera was the silent bully, and I just found it unfunny and a little uncomfortable, int he same way I do when watching the Frank Spencer programme as I'm too clumsy and too embarrassed about it to find it very funny at all.

Community I don't know as it isn't shown in the UK (nor is Parks and Rec or It's Always Sunny, and Girls and 30 Rock are on relatively obscure paid-for channels).

* There is a lot of nerdery about fairly mainstream stuff - the knitting community, serious make-up fanatics and nail-polish collectors are as anoraky about their passions as any maths geek, believe it or not. And I've always found it odd that being really into (UK) football and all the stats and passion it involves has never been seen as even twice as nerdy as, say, train-spotting.
posted by mippy at 3:56 AM on January 9, 2013 [10 favorites]


"And, this is why the Cuban community didn't watch Lucy"

I don't know the other two shows, but was Lucy particularly mean about Cubans in a way that a white English girl wouldn't have picked up on?
posted by mippy at 3:59 AM on January 9, 2013


I am now avoiding making any nerd jokes... and it's difficult....

So two black guys walk into a temp agency, and the receptionist says, "Excuse me, are you gentlement los..." What? What?? Ugh. You people are so thin skinned.
posted by cthuljew at 4:01 AM on January 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


mippy, Lucy often made fun of Ricky, his accent, his differences, and Ricky was often portrayed as a stereotype (at least IMHO).
posted by HuronBob at 4:02 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


And, this is why the Cuban community didn't watch Lucy, and those in the south never watched The Andy Griffith Show, and bus drivers didn't watch the Honeymooners...... Oh, wait, they DID watch, they just weren't so thin skinned about the humor...

Lucy wasn't mean to Cubans and Andy Griffith wasn't mean to the South. I never watched the Honeymooners, but I'm going to guess that it wasn't mean to bus drivers.

Big Bang Theory, OTOH, is a minstrel show.
posted by DU at 4:04 AM on January 9, 2013 [31 favorites]


And I hope my comment isn't taken as putting nerds into a special category. There are plenty of other minstrel shows on TV and have been in the past.
posted by DU at 4:06 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am amazed that this guy "just got it," or that it at least took him the full first season of the show (he mentioned having Season 1 on DVD) to "get it."

I've never watched the show, but figured out early on that it's just an excuse to make fun of geeky/nerdy/dorky things under the pretext of being "about" those geeky/nerdy/dorky things.

Delayed revelation is delayed...
posted by kuanes at 4:08 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, and it's by the same guy who created Two-and-1/2 Men.

WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?
posted by kuanes at 4:09 AM on January 9, 2013 [23 favorites]


Someone just pointed out to me on Twitter (I tweeted the article before thinking 'hey, plate of nerd-beans that should be served up on MeFi') that there's also a bit of casual racism towards Raj - I noticed this when I watched it as well, but wondered if this was because in the UK we tend to be more aware/sensitive to jokes about Asian people. (I think a good analogue is Mexican jokes in the US - [South] Asians are one of the major immigrant groups to the UK and a lot of fairly mainstream comedians in the 70s and 80s before 'alternative comedy' turned up would rely on prejudices as a source of comedy - Mind Your Language, Jim Davidson, jokes about going to Bradford and feeling like a spot on a domino turning up in light entertainment shows etc.)
posted by mippy at 4:09 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


DU...gotta disagree with you on that... I'm not seeing the differences in the "stereotypes as humor" in those shows....

I guess my point was that this has often been the way TV humor works... I'm not seeing TBBT as being that different than other shows...

Another example might be Ross on Friends...
posted by HuronBob at 4:11 AM on January 9, 2013


it at least took him the full first season of the show (he mentioned having Season 1 on DVD)

It doesn't get broadcast in the UK in the same way as the US, I think - it's shown during the day on Channel 4's 'youth' channel rather than in prime time. It's one of those shows like 30 Rock or Seinfeld (which was also shunted to a scheduling outpost even though ti was massive int he US) where if you wanted to try it out, it's a lot more convenient to wait for Amazon to sell it on DVD for under a fiver than to work out where it is in the schedules. (There are also shows like Girls and Mad Men which are only available to see on the telly if you're premium Sky subscribers.) We also have a bit of a thing about box sets over here for some reason, and I think this is how it started, with people wanting to watch US shows like The Wire in an easier way, rather than picking up seasons or whole series because they were megafans.
posted by mippy at 4:13 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking solely for myself, and I realize this is very personal, I cannot tell you how uncomfortable the comparison of making fun of nerds to making fun of people of a particular race makes me, and it seems to happen every single time this show is mentioned, although it doesn't happen to any other show on television. I will never, never feel comfortable comparing making fun of nerds (even assuming that's what the show is about) to being a racist, although I know I won't convince anyone who's enamored of that comparison. (When "2 Broke Girls" was premiering and critics called out producers for racist stereotypes in the pilot, the producer essentially said it also made fun of hipsters, so everything was fine, since apparently hipster jokes were the same as ethnic jokes. I felt exactly the same way about that.)

As for the show itself, I simply think the linked piece is wrong about the show. Leonard, in particular, is FAR more often the laughed-with than the laughed-at; he is the audience surrogate within the group far more than Penny is, in my opinion. And Penny has been mocked a zillion times for her midwestern upbringing, her failed acting career, her profligate spending and irresponsibility, and her terrible taste in men other than Leonard.

Yes, the show laughs at the more extreme, silly characters for their extreme silliness. That's television comedy, particularly broad television comedy, which this is. "Cheers" laughed at Cliff. "Friends" laughed at Joey. "Taxi" laughed at Latka. I certainly don't begrudge anybody disliking the show (it's absolutely true that the Lorre machine turns out a particular kind of broadly palatable comedy that isn't to everyone's taste), but "the worst kind of bully" really does strike me as a massive overreaction.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 4:16 AM on January 9, 2013 [146 favorites]


One of my friends is just as much of a geek-reference guy as me, and I have not ever been able to understand why he likes the show so much.

But in our case: the reason I didn't like it was because it's a formulaic sitcom, and I've never liked formulaic sitcoms no matter what they're about. And after spending a week with him and his girlfriend, and seeing the kinds of entertainment they also like, I realized that he loves formulaic sitcoms just as much as I hate them, and in this case the formulaic jokes are about geek refrences rather than being about kids or mold behind the toilet or whatever.

* sigh * takes all kinds, I suppose.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:17 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know how you can think TBBT is anti-nerd when Sheldon always wins, except against Wil Fucking Wheaton. Or all the jokes about how Wolowitz is only an engineer, or the fact that Penny gets it worst of all (like Linda_Holmes said).

The treatment of Raj is uncomfortable, though. Too much LOLINDIAN and LOLGAY.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:28 AM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


Big Bang Theory isn't a Minstrel Show. Nerds are not a race.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 4:29 AM on January 9, 2013 [28 favorites]


Nerds are not a race.

oh yeah, then how did i get first place
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:31 AM on January 9, 2013 [92 favorites]


The reason I feel uncomfortable watching The Big Bang Theory is because it’s laughing at me

This is basically why I've never really been able to watch the show. It's a sub-issue of why I can't really watch sitcoms generally: cringe humor, which is what all of these things run on, isn't funny to me. I don't like when it's directed at other people, and I certainly don't like when it's directed at me.
posted by valkyryn at 4:33 AM on January 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


I do, by the way, agree that in particular, the gay-panic business with Raj and Howard feels both obnoxious and ANCIENT, and I wish they would stop it already.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 4:35 AM on January 9, 2013 [16 favorites]


Haven't watched it more than once or twice because it found it a bit exploitative and rather unfunny. The feeling I get from watching it is along the lines of "Aww, it's alright to be a nerd, you little monkey you!" - "I'm not a monkey" - "Aw, look at the little monkey!"
posted by deo rei at 4:36 AM on January 9, 2013 [10 favorites]


It annoys me, mainly the sexism and the portrayal of women, as mentioned in the article. Another thing is the live audience/laugh track.
posted by corpse at 4:37 AM on January 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


Like Linda-Holmes, I disagree with the basic premise that the linked article is based on. While it does play to the stereotypical nerd qualities and poke fun at these qualities, I don't see the meanness in that. Most of the humour is of the self-deprecatory variety rather than the nastiness that you see in shows like 2 1/2 Men. In particular, I see Leonard as something of the hero in the show and a character that I can identify with. I do have some discomfort with the (particularly more recently, I think) treatment of Raj and Howard and the way they interact, which almost crosses the line into homophobia (and occasionally does cross that line). Overall, though, I think the show pokes fun at all sorts of stereotypes, from uber-nerds to blondes with a penchant for expensive shoes to the macho men that Penny tends to fall for.

I don't think that the show paints nerds as the societal outcasts that this article is claiming at all - while using some of the challenges the 'rest of the world' has in interacting with the characters, it certainly doesn't put this forward as the nerds being incapable of fitting into society, which would be the easy path to humour in a show like this.

Yeah, laugh tracks annoy me too (not just with this show) - I'll choose what I find funny and when to laugh, thanks - I don't need someone to point out the gags to me. Besides, if they need to be pointed out, maybe they weren't that funny to begin with?
posted by dg at 4:40 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


As a nerd, I have absolutely no problem with the way stereotypical nerds are portrayed in Big Bang Theory, and I find this blog post insufferable. I would say nerds that have a problem with that aspect of BBT have more serious problems than BBT. (Whether you consider it funny or not is beside the point; comedy is heavily subjective. I find it genuinely funny, as does my wife. YMMV.)

I mean Jesus Christ, it's a formulaic laughtrack sitcom, and you're aghast at the characters being stereotypical? Not just as nerds, mind; the promiscuous blonde, the jewish mother and son, the Indian guy with the accent and the looming parents, etc. Certainly, BBT takes the easy route with the characterization, but if a sitcom is going to attempt to remain funny season after season, it's going to need a rich source of comedy to draw from. Nerd (and other) stereotypes certainly are one.

Sitcoms are fundamentally based on extremely flawed personalities and the tensions inherent in their daily lives, which create comedic situations. In some cases, these flaws reach into mental illness territory (which is certainly the case with Sheldon). It's the same with any sitcom I've ever seen. But people only seem to have a problem with it when the characters are something other than white, middle-class-or-above heterosexuals who are nonspecific enough to not be immediately labelable as "nerds" or another similar group.

Was Frasier, for example, offensive to psychiatrists with its snob, egotistical/neurotic main characters? Was Father Ted offensive to priests for its portrayal of the main trio of priests? Some individuals might actually say "yes", but so what? No one is entitled to live their lives without being offended. You being offended by something is of no interest to anybody else, it is not useable as a general condemnation of something, and it is certainly not a valid reason to demand the offender to change his or her behavior. (Hat tips to Philip Pullman and Stephen Fry.)

You cannot have sitcoms without deeply flawed characters. If you want sitcoms that have varied casts of characters, or sitcoms primarily featuring (or "about") nerds, lesbians or whatever, you're going to have to accept that they will not be portrayed in an entirely positive light. But to assume that BBT is ridiculing all nerds everywhere, ridiculing YOU personally, is absurd. It is not making a statement about "hey, this is what you/nerds in general are really like, aren't you/they laughable". It is portraying a single group of fictional nerd characters, and laughing at their fictional exploits and those of other fictional people around them. If you don't get this, then as a fellow nerd, I don't know what the hell is wrong with you.
posted by jklaiho at 4:41 AM on January 9, 2013 [67 favorites]


Why does any show have a laugh track anymore?

How else are you supposed to tell when the jokes are? If you don't have a laugh track - or "live studio audience" - to laugh when the jokes are, you end up with Arrested Development, where people think there aren't any jokes.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:41 AM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Using Futura for body copy should be a punishable offense. Perhaps caning.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:41 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is the author too young to remember Steve Erkel? Am I really getting that old?

Anyhow, as someone semi-nerdy, I find all the characters sympathetic in their own right. The show takes things too far, but that's what sitcoms do. I don't like most sitcoms because the characters are so annoying. I think where TBBT succeeds and why so it's so popular is because people are sick of seeing the same old characters, and it's got a more unique character set.

I also found the article grating. It read like the writer looked down on people for liking the show, characterizing the shows fans as being Penny-like. Well, sorry, her stereotype is the blond ditsy failed actress turned waitress. While society has plenty of those, I'm going to bet that's not the shows prime viewership.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:48 AM on January 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


I don't mind The Big Bang Theory making light of nerds for being awkward, obsessive, weirdos.

I do mind how the show increasingly uses those traits as justification for having the characters behave like creeps.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:49 AM on January 9, 2013 [17 favorites]


"What Chuck Lorre wants us to find funny is not the jokes which the characters are making, it’s the characters themselves. At one point Howard mentions playing Dungeons and Dragons. There is no joke attached to this, it’s not the punchline to any set up, however it is treated as one. Howard says the words “Dungeons and Dragons” and the audience laughs. They’re not laughing at a joke, they’re laughing at the fact that Howard plays D&D. And this kind of thing happens all the time throughout the show. How many times has a joke been made out of Leonard owning action figures or Sheldon collecting comics? When, in season one, Penny invites the guys to her Halloween party and they are excited about making costumes, we’re supposed to laugh at them, to think they are silly for dressing as a Hobbit or Thor when everyone else is trying to look sexy."
I think a lot of the divide in opinions here and elsewhere has to do with how invisible the laugh track is to different viewers. "I like Dungeons and Dragons" could only really be funny to someone who is laughing at it in a way that is cruel, hurtful, and offensive.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:49 AM on January 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'm not an avid TV watcher, but it seems to me that nearly every comedy relies on stereotypes about the characters. I was watching a Everybody Loves Raymond marathon (not by choice) on New Years Eve, and pretty much every episode relied on putting the character in a box and making jokes about that box. Raymond is a stereotypical ineffectual, dopey husband. His mother is a stereotypical bossy, overbearing mother / MIL, etc. I found that to be mean as well - making jokes of and reinforcing expectations like "of course Marie is going to make a big stink about thank-you notes - she's a woman older than 50!"

I agree that TBBT stereotypes nerds and turns it into humor, and thereby sets views apart from them. But if you don't like that, I think you have to avoid most TV comedies (which isn't a bad idea). So while I think the article is correct, they should have seen this coming before they ever watched the show: "I think at first I was so happy to see people like me represented on mainstream television that I ignored the cruelty behind the humour." Every major sitcom cruelly stereotypes its characters for humor.

On preview, it appears that jklaiho made a similar point, except jklaiho seems more accepting of this than I am. I worry that sitcoms, especially the very-successful ones, are truly problematic in that they reinforce unhelpful expectations. (Remember the time Raymond picked fights with Debra so she would be more vicious in the sack? That's just playing to the worn-out riff "of course guys will act poorly towards women in pursuit of dirty, dirty sex!")
posted by PCup at 4:51 AM on January 9, 2013


I do mind how the show increasingly uses those traits as justification for having the characters behave like creeps.

Because no awkward, obsessive weirdo creeps who may or may not be nerds exist in real life? But even if they didn't, having one or more fictional nerd characters act that way is not an insinuation from the producers that this is how the majority of real-life nerds behave.
posted by jklaiho at 4:55 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Problem With The Big Bang Theory

... is that it isn't funny.
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:56 AM on January 9, 2013 [67 favorites]


As someone on the Autism spectrum, i do find how it deals with Autism really problematic, but in circles of spectrum folk, i have had discussions where people find it comforting, and they see their lives mirrored in it. It's not a nerd thing, it's a figuring out what neuro-diveristy means, and sitcoms are frequently the testing grounds for the emergence of changes in discourse about otherness.

I don't know what to do about other spectrum folks liking it though--it's like gay folks thinking Howard from Boys in the Band is a relevent example of current queer life (or Jack from Will and Grace or Stanford from Sex and the City ). Also, people on the spectrum, and people who have Learning Differences, often fuck differently--but because we have yet to do the serious work of what that means, we have media who keeps thinking that spectrum is often synonymous with asexuality--and though community does the homosocial better than the Big Bang, that neither of them recognize that Abed or Sheldon esp. could be sexual beings--or even make fun of the sexuality of the characters who are having some, further reinforces this idea, that because we use our bodies differently, that using our bodies for sex cannot happen.

That's the problematic bit, if we think of race or queerness as a combo of biology and culture--then the nascent emergence of autism as an identity instead of a diagnosis, suggests that minstrelsy might not be a bad word for this. Nerd culture isn't the same as race--but neuro issues might be.
posted by PinkMoose at 4:56 AM on January 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


"Was Frasier, for example, offensive to psychiatrists with its snob, egotistical/neurotic main characters?"

How much cultural cachet does violence towards psychiatrists have in our society? Are psychiatrists actively discriminated against in hiring or salary negotiations? How much creepy shit was Frazier shown normalizing as just part of his psychiatrist nature?
posted by Blasdelb at 4:59 AM on January 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


Big Bang Theory, OTOH, is a minstrel show.

Seconding Linda_Holmes - it really isn't, and it muddies the waters (and makes geeks look comically touchy) to use this terminology about a show which is also open to criticism for its approach to actual race.


More generally... it's a Chuck Lorre comedy. Chuck Lorre's value lies is his ability to sell to the heartland. His comic arc moves from blue-collar comedy about adult women dealing with raising a family (Roseanne, Grace Under Fire) to comedy about an adult woman raising a family in La-La Land (Cybil), to basically a series of riffs on how the major cities of the west coast of America enable grown-up children (Dharma and Greg, Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory). Laughing at California is easier and more reliable, it turns out, than telling stories about strong women.

In each of these last three, you have the grown child (Dharma, Charlie, Sheldon) - who does nothing recognisable as "real" work and is made up almost entirely of character tics. You have the smart mark (Greg, Alan, Leonard), who understands the world of the grown child and is self-aware enough to understand their complicity and dependence to a greater or lesser extent.

Penny is the involved outsider - she is involved in the plots, but stands outside the core relationship between the child and the smart mark, standing in as plot device, straight (wo)man or wisest-of-us-all voice of reason as necessary. The other characters, primarily two-contrasting-note comic relief (horny and a robot lady, momma's-boy and a PUA, shy cultural minority and flirtatious, loquacious drunk, diminutive and a den-mother, arrogant and has a speech impediment) to carry B-plots and play off the core cast. It's just sitcom dynamics.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:01 AM on January 9, 2013 [39 favorites]


But even if they didn't, having one or more fictional nerd characters act that way is not an insinuation from the producers that this is how the majority of real-life nerds behave.

This is a universally-covering excuse that can be brought out against any criticism of unfair stereotyping, and thus isn't useful at all.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:01 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I like Dungeons and Dragons" could only really be funny to someone who is laughing at it in a way that is cruel, hurtful, and offensive.

I didn't spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:02 AM on January 9, 2013 [33 favorites]


I'm not seeing the differences in the "stereotypes as humor" in those shows...

I don't think you can have watched either Lucy or Andy recently. I watched Andy as recently as two days ago. There are plenty of broad characters, but nobody on that show is dumb merely for being Southern. The most Southern guy on that show is Andy, and he's half wise saint half normal human fool. The second most Southern person on the show is Opie and he's Just A Normal (if precocious) Kid. Barney is the most bumbling character and he's portrayed as much more urban.

On Lucy, Ricky is the everyman the audience is supposed to identify with. Lucy is the clown.

Big Bang Theory isn't a Minstrel Show. Nerds are not a race.

*whoosh*
posted by DU at 5:02 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


For awhile I would actively avoid shows with a laugh track. Once I decided to view them like plays they became much more tolerable.

Every time I have seen an episode of TBBT there has been a gay joke about Raj and Howard. Every single time. The jokes about Howard's mother really bother me, too.
posted by MaritaCov at 5:02 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


...it muddies the waters (and makes geeks look comically touchy) to use this terminology about a show which is also open to criticism for its approach to actual race.

I never got to the point where any actual races were address in BBT because I lasted about 15 minutes of one episode, plus random clips at other times. It's painful and painfully unfunny due to awful stereotypes and mocking. That makes it close enough to a minstrel show in my book to call it that, especially in an age when literal minstrel shows are fairly few and far between.
posted by DU at 5:05 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]



(The IT Crowd, OTOH, is on the side of nerds and also funny.)


It didn't strike me as all that funny. The jokes were all superficial stereotypes and one-liners with laugh tracks, and the fact that the characters were all presented as nice people let it down a bit. To be fair, Linehan tends to write his characters too nice (as he did with Bernard Black in Black Books; I've known some misanthropic bastard booksellers, and Bernard was like a cuddly plush-toy caricature of them). I find that Chris Morris tends to do a better job of making his characters just grotesque and flawed enough to make for good comedy, i.e., in Nathan Barley or Four Lions.

I haven't seen the Big Bang Theory, but may have to track it down.
posted by acb at 5:06 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a universally-covering excuse that can be brought out against any criticism of unfair stereotyping, and thus isn't useful at all.

Perhaps, but the opposite way of thinking leads to denying that stereotypes have any basis in reality ever. Being a nerd and knowing a wide array of other nerds, I can attest that BBT is occasionally hilariously close to reality in many respects, though of course sitcom-exaggerated. I guess you'd have to judge this on a case by case basis. To my eyes, the nerd stereotyping in BBT isn't unfair.
posted by jklaiho at 5:08 AM on January 9, 2013


But even if they didn't, having one or more fictional nerd characters act that way is not an insinuation from the producers that this is how the majority of real-life nerds behave.

And what about having all the fictional nerd characters act that way?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:11 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


What kills me about BBT is how they've defanged their women over the course of the run. Compare Dr. Leslie Winkle to Dr. Bernadette Wallowitz. Leslie was always sharp and together, and consistent, whereas it's easy to forget that Bernadette is easily as smart and nerdy in her own way as the boys are. She has a PhD in microbiology, for heaven's sake. Even Amy, the lady-genius, has to be removed as a credible entity by making her oversexed and devoid of the ability to read boundaries. In Sheldon that inability is played for laughs, but it re-enforces his position as the pet genius of the group. In Amy, it's a liability. And as things have progressed, they've sanded off all the interesting edges of the girls so they're just this series of foils for the guys. Pretty nice girl, slutty girl, nerdy girl. The early series made it pretty clear you could mix them up with sharper ladies and still have something watchable but they've become one dimensional.

And they aren't even being consistent with their characterizations of the girls. In one of the early seasons, Penny develops a WoW addiction and becomes this hard-core raid leading death dealing gaming monster. Yet a few seasons later, in an episode that basically boils down to girls vs. boys over a game night, they set up a raid group and grudgingly allow Bernadette to play, with Penny blowing it off as something so nerdy as to be beyond her comprehension. With Howard buying Bernadette a pretty pink lappie. As if any serious research scientist doesn't already have a decent laptop to work on.

Really, I enjoyed the early seasons. There was less point-and-laugh and a more self-reflective humour. There were moments when the characters reminded me of people I know. These days it's cringeworthy.
posted by Jilder at 5:12 AM on January 9, 2013 [15 favorites]


The humour in The Big Bang theory relies on the audience siding with and relating to Penny

Er, no. It's full of insider nerd jokes, and "Penny" is, to a great extent, the archetypical dumb blonde.

Like others, I feel rather uncomfortable about "Raj", but otherwise I find watching TBBT an enjoyable if vapid pastime.
posted by Skeptic at 5:17 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


And what about having all the fictional nerd characters act that way?

Irrelevant, IMHO. You'll note that while there are some things they all share (love of comics, Star Trek and other nerd staples), they're still flawed in different ways, and those flaws present themselves differently. Importantly, those flaws are shared across the history of sitcoms by countless non-nerd characters who, for example, behave creepily towards the opposite sex because it's a time-tested comedic vehicle, not because it's a fundamental attribute they have from being part of a certain group/type of people.
posted by jklaiho at 5:17 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


See, I kind of had the opposite reaction as this guy. The first few episodes of TBBT made me extremely uncomfortable, because I did indeed feel laughed at. But the more I watched, the more I realized that yes, there is a layer of laughing *at*, but there is a far more subtle, non-laugh-tracked layer of laughing *with*. Every equation on every whiteboard in every shot is a legitimate, accurate, relevant equation. The "pop culture references" actually delve deeply into different fandoms (as a die-hard Star Wars nerd I can fully vouch for that). When Howard uses a Clapper to clap-on his lightsaber nightlights in his bedroom... I mean, I want that. I also wanted Katee Sackhoff and George Takei to visit me in my dreams. And when I lol at Howard and his clap-on lightsabers, I lol in the same way I'd lol at myself if I had them in my room and showed them off to someone all excitedly.

And from a social perspective, I am Leonard. I am good at passing for mostly normal so often but then YOU SAID SOMETHING TECHNICALLY INCORRECT and now I'm off on some tangent explaining why "well ACTUALLY" and then trailing off as I realize how socially inept of me that was.

The show will appear to people who want to laugh at nerds. But I genuinely question just how many of those people are watching that show. Most everyone I know who watches it *is* a nerd, and is laughing self-reflectively. I don't think it's wrong for that to appeal to us.
posted by olinerd at 5:17 AM on January 9, 2013 [21 favorites]


I love Community and I love Arrested Development. They are smart shows about dumb people. TBBT is a dumb show about smart people.

A high-profile reddit comment covered this recently.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 5:20 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


My current issue with the show is how it treats the female characters. There was a scene in an episode where Amy expressed disappointment at not being sexually assaulted at a frat party. (She woke up with more clothes on than clothes off.)

Sorry, but using rape/sexual assault as a LOLFUNNY doesn't fly with me in any comedic context.
posted by Kitteh at 5:23 AM on January 9, 2013 [34 favorites]


omg...its perfectly named...its so much for physics guys ...
posted by vipulpratap at 5:25 AM on January 9, 2013


"Was Frasier, for example, offensive to psychiatrists with its snob, egotistical/neurotic main characters?"

I don't think so (was it ever marketed as 'psychiatristy humour'?), but Frasier did its own fair share of D&D-as-punchline humour with Noel the Star Trek fan as well.
posted by Catseye at 5:26 AM on January 9, 2013


I admit, one of the main reasons why I've never really gotten into the Big Bang Theory is that it seems to be about straight white males only (with only occasional forays into fail with other characters) and I'm kind of sick of hearing about how the only nerds that count are straight white males.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to watch the Middleman episode about zombie trout for the 5,342th time.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:26 AM on January 9, 2013 [10 favorites]


There's the age-old issue of only members of a certain group of people being allowed to make fun of that group. Witness Key and Peele, for example: if they were just actors hired to portray the characters they portray, and the scripts written by white people instead of themselves (even if they were identical to what they are now -- not likely, but for the sake of argument), the show would be considered catastrophically racist, probably rightly so.

As for nerds, I'm not sure how much nerd cred the writing staff of BBT or their consultants have (there must be SOME, the show is so comprehensive about various aspects of nerddom), but I just realized that if I was to create a sitcom about my reference group, be it nerds or perhaps software developers, I would use the HELL out of every nerd programmer stereotype ever invented, and likely offend a portion of programmers in the process, without a single regret.
posted by jklaiho at 5:28 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


In each of these last three, you have the grown child (Dharma, Charlie, Sheldon) - who does nothing recognisable as "real" work and is made up almost entirely of character tics. You have the smart mark (Greg, Alan, Leonard), who understands the world of the grown child and is self-aware enough to understand their complicity and dependence to a greater or lesser extent.

I had never really thought of Chuck Lorre as doing a send up of the man children of theoretical physics as opposed to down to earth experimental physicists and engineers. I think that actually paints the show as much more understanding of and interfacing with nerd culture than most other critiques from the nerd position.

The problem with the linked article is that Leonard is clearly that character we're supposed to identify with and any analysis of the TBBT that thinks that Penny is that character is clearly off. If the show were from Penny's perspective, I'm not sure how it would get away with the shit it gives to women, blondes, and people from the Midwest. If your starting point is we laugh with Penny at Leonard, then your conclusions will almost necessarily be wrong.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:30 AM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Harvey Pekar: “It’s an entertaining flick and all, and I can see why you like it, Toby. But those people on the screen ain’t even supposed to be you. They’re college students who live with their parents in big houses in the suburbs. They’re gonna get degrees, get good jobs, and they’re gonna stop being nerds! Look Toby, The guys in that movie are not 28 year-old file clerks who live with their grandmothers in an ethnic ghetto. They didn’t get their computers like you did, by trading in a bunch of box tops and $49.50 at the supermarket. Sure, go to the movies and daydream, but Revenge of the Nerds ain’t reality. It’s just Hollywood bullshit.”
posted by dng at 5:31 AM on January 9, 2013 [31 favorites]


It's painful and painfully unfunny due to awful stereotypes and mocking. That makes it close enough to a minstrel show in my book to call it that, especially in an age when literal minstrel shows are fairly few and far between.

Sure - not having to treat race as a fairly important element in the creation and reception of minstrel shows is a position of privilege. I get how it works in your book. I just don't think your book is everyone's book. It is demonstrably the book from which many critics of the Big Bang Theory are reading, however, so it's an understandable metaphor to use. I just don't think it's a very helpful one, and it is one that makes geeks look really touchy.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:32 AM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


[Comment deleted. Please go ahead and take the nerd/minstrel show argument to Metatalk. We've already had this fight in an earlier thread (and the internet has been fighting about that phrase since 2010), so let's not derail this entire thread to repeat it once again.]
posted by taz at 5:35 AM on January 9, 2013


Er, no. It's full of insider nerd jokes, and "Penny" is, to a great extent, the archetypical dumb blonde.

Penny performs a couple of roles - she's the foil who gets the science explained to her, of course, but also her down-home Nebraska common sense and her naive belief in the Hollywood dream contribute to the vibe. She is both an empathic and a sympathetic (and somewhat condescending) figure for the audiences the show is aiming at - who are largely not theoretical or experimental physicists.

Again, a feature of Lorre's Los Angeles (and adjacent) work is a character who is adjacent to but not at the heart of the entertainment industry - a fading actress, a jingle writer or, in Penny's case, a failing/failed actress. That allows for more or less self-aware commentary on the foibles of the entertainment industry, even in a show ostensibly about science.

Witness Key and Peele, for example: if they were just actors hired to portray the characters they portray, and the scripts written by white people instead of themselves (even if they were identical to what they are now -- not likely, but for the sake of argument), the show would be considered catastrophically racist, probably rightly so.

Just as a point of info - there are a number of white people in the writers' room of Key & Peele, including Ian Roberts, who I think is also the de facto showrunner. Obviously it isn't the situation you are describing, where Key and Peele are simply reading lines written for them, but the sketches of "Key and Peele" the show are a communal creation.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:43 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is the author too young to remember Steve Erkel? Am I really getting that old?

From the E4 ref, I think the author is also British, so is as clueless abotu who this is as I am.

I think the biggest UK comedy depiction of a nerd I can think of is Colin from the Fast Show, but he was the kind of socially awkward type who communicated entirely in jokes and references...wait, no, that sounds like TBBT...I mean in a more irritating way. You know those guys who quote Python all the time at unapposite moments, or think they're medieval, or are only capable of having conversations in the register of sarcastic? That kind of character. Other than The IT Crowd I can't think of many about-nerds-by-nerds type shows, except at a push Red Dwarf. Most nerds in comedy here have been a) wacky guys b)John Major type characters who have dull or anoraky habits or (in the case of Mark from Peep Show) possible psychological issues) rather than smart and successful people who happen to be awkward or weird-looking. Even The Young Ones didn't really play on the nerd stereotype much - Rick was mocked because he was earnest and virginal, not because he was smart (and it turned out he wasn't as only Neil got a degree in the end IIRC).
posted by mippy at 5:50 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Spaced was about nerds of varying types
posted by dng at 5:54 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Spaced was streets ahead....
posted by Pendragon at 5:58 AM on January 9, 2013 [13 favorites]


I haven't seen Spaced since it was first broadcast - I wonder how well it holds up.
posted by mippy at 6:00 AM on January 9, 2013


I agree that Leonard is clearly meant to be the audience stand-in, but I think that he's a bully, in the first few seasons in particular (though I watched the first few seasons in a relatively brief amount of time after I bought them for my partner, so maybe if I watched them weekly it wouldn't have been as noticeable).

Also, I was troubled by a recent episode in which Amy was using Sheldon to get sexual pleasure without him realizing it. Is there any reading of that that isn't super creepy?
posted by amarynth at 6:00 AM on January 9, 2013


I haven't seen Spaced since it was first broadcast - I wonder how well it holds up.

Happy to report that it does so excellently - perhaps more so than any other comedy I've revisited.
posted by ominous_paws at 6:01 AM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


I haven't seen much of TBBT, but you can take away the Soft Kitty Song from my cold dead crazy cat lady hands. Purr, purr, purr.
posted by nicebookrack at 6:01 AM on January 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


Remember folks, Big Bang was /even/ worse originally. It tested so horribly that they went back and retooled it into the show people inexplicably love today.

Originally it not only broke your glasses, it called you a fag and pushed you into the lockers.

Terrible show then. Not really much better today.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:02 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I haven't seen Spaced since it was first broadcast - I wonder how well it holds up.
posted by mippy at 2:00 PM on January 9 [+] [!]

The first series is still wonderful, but I'm not so keen on the second series (the Daisy plots and the Tim plots feel too unconnected so each episode seems like two completely separate stories)
posted by dng at 6:03 AM on January 9, 2013


And here’s my issue, here’s why The Big Bang Theory makes me feel uncomfortable. We aren’t laughing with Leonard, Sheldon, Raj and Howard. We’re laughing at them. Chuck Lorre has given us four exceptionally intelligent, nerdy main characters and he’s positioned us as an audience against them. When I watch Big Bang it becomes more and more obvious that I’m not supposed to relate to the guys (or more recently Amy Farrah-Fowler). I’m expected to relate to Penny. You only need to pay attention to the audience laughter to realise that TBBT relies on positioning us as an outsider to the nerds, as someone like Penny who doesn’t understand their references, their science, their vocabulary even, and who doesn’t care to learn.

Well said. This mix up reminds me of the famous couch-potato bigot, Archie Bunker, played by Carol O'Connor. When interviewed he would reveal that other chauvinists would approach him in airports and congratulate him in solidarity for being a stubborn ignoramus. Then he would yell back at them and inform them that he's making fun of them. The point being that you can't choose your audience. I suppose the cast of TBBT will regret it later when they are negatively typecast.
posted by Brian B. at 6:13 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Reddit's response to Big Bang Theory. More here.
posted by suedehead at 6:14 AM on January 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


Big Bang Theory is bad television, not because it mocks the demographics represented by the characters, but because the jokes are low and lazy. If you're watching it in an era when you could be watching Community, Snuff Box, Happy Endings, or any other show that actually puts the slightest effort into its comedy, you are wasting screen time.
posted by mean cheez at 6:15 AM on January 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


Reddit's response to Big Bang Theory. More here.

I need to get one of those emergency cord pull things they have in nursing homes so that someone can come and close tabs on my computer before they drive me into madness. I was able to stop reading those before I ceased functioning, but it was close.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:18 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


This much beans can give you a serious gas problem.
posted by Bovine Love at 6:21 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I watched TBBT expecting at least some humor on the level of Spaced or Futurama, and I just don't see it. Hell, the first season of Leverage had better references. Plus, I hate the laugh track. The only sitcom-type show I like right now is New Girl... not particularly nerdy, but funny, and no laugh track.
posted by Huck500 at 6:24 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great write-up. We kinda stopped watching it mostly due to time, but the episodes definitely were veering into very uncomfortable territory.
posted by odinsdream at 6:27 AM on January 9, 2013


Honestly, TBBT trades on stereotypical tropes just as any "dumb husband/smart wife" or "clueless parent/smart kid" comedy staple has for eons. I think the problem here is that the object of TBBT's comedy is the relatively newly-minted sub-group "nerds/geeks", and that group doesn't really take satire of itself very well. In fact, they seem to take themselves (and the objects of their interest) very seriously.

You could swap-out the characters in TBBT with any other set of cultural stereotypes and the show would be pretty-much the same. The topics of the jokes would have to be re-tooled, but it's really no different than the usual lowbrow ensemble comedy mainstream tv gives us.

And, fwiw, I don't particularly like the show, either, mostly because, like other shows of its lowbrow type, I find it lazy and not all that funny.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:28 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Big Bang Theory is bad television

Sure, one can make that argument, or even extend it into absurdity by saying that all television is bad - - but TBBT will always have a place in my heart for the matching pair of "Soft Kitty" episodes (The Vegas Renormalization & The Adhesive Duck Deficiency) - - that's great television!
posted by fairmettle at 6:31 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was way more bothered by the depiction of all the male characters as intelligent scientists who are passionate about things and the (at first) only female character as an uneducated woman whose main characteristic appeared to be "sex appeal" and "female stereotypes". I know that since then, they've added female scientists and developed the character of Penny into something more interesting, but I really wasn't thinking that the problems were with the male characters.
posted by jb at 6:34 AM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


I would also hazard to say that there *is* a positive (if stereotypical portrayal) of nerds in shows like NCIS and I think there's one other similar type show, maybe Criminal Minds(? well that has 2 nerds, perhaps, the blonde girl computer geek and then the uber-smart young geek who solves a lot of the crimes), and NCIS has Abby. It's so insultingly fake tech, but whatevs, the show has to do that crap at least the nerds are made out to be cool. Maybe that's a problem in itself as if being a nerd can't just be cool without dyed hair or something, but again, that kid detective is pretty "normal" looking.

Then you had Numbers that was pretty big a few years back, and the main character was this uber-nerd. Of course he was hot, and again, as if nerds can't just be "plain" looking they have to have something else to make up for their nerdery, but hey... It's still a positive portrayal.

So I would take umbrage with that claim that there's no positive images of nerds out there.
posted by symbioid at 6:36 AM on January 9, 2013


Of course, maybe that's because I never related to Penny, and found the point of view to really be Leonard (not either extreme of Penny or Sheldon, but the middle).
posted by jb at 6:37 AM on January 9, 2013


Lol. Thought I would be reading some sort of religious refutation of the big bang theory.
posted by notreally at 6:38 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


slightest effort into its comedy

I dunno. I think shows like BBT and the rest of the sitcom style programs do put effort into their comedy. It's just that the effort they put is in making sure they maintain a reliable level of humor, no matter how low that level is. All the effort goes into making sure the show is just funny enough that there is no energy (or even drive) to try to go big and swing for the fences like Community might.

While I personally don't enjoy shows that follow the Lorre "Gud 'nuff" strategy, I can't deny that they can be successful or that other people like them. Community goes big or it goes home - and given its ratings and constant borderline renewal status, the latter probably is what's going to happen.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:41 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's not even the writing that irks me. It's the wardrobe.
posted by PenDevil at 6:42 AM on January 9, 2013


And, this is why the Cuban community didn't watch Lucy, and those in the south never watched The Andy Griffith Show, and bus drivers didn't watch the Honeymooners...... Oh, wait, they DID watch, they just weren't so thin skinned about the humor (and nobody had blogs back then)!

I have not read the whole thread, but I have been mulling over this comment while I've been getting ready for work this morning, and I'll be damned if I can figure out the intended message here. The message on the surface is "People watched these three shitty things back in the day, even though these shitty things were making fun of them, so you should watch this current shitty thing, even though, unlike the people who watched those old shitty things, you have other choices." Surely that's not the message you were trying to convey though, right?
posted by Caduceus at 6:46 AM on January 9, 2013


In each of these last three, you have the grown child (Dharma, Charlie, Sheldon) - who does nothing recognisable as "real" work and is made up almost entirely of character tics. You have the smart mark (Greg, Alan, Leonard), who understands the world of the grown child and is self-aware enough to understand their complicity and dependence to a greater or lesser extent.

Actually, if memory serves, Dharma works as a yoga instructor or something.

Anyway, the first season of D&G flipped the formula around. Dharma was the one with the wisdom and insight who was shepherding Greg out of his man-child state of overly-tight societal bounds into a place of deeper insight and more free self-expression without fear.

It was after the show was focus grouped for its second season when Dharma became the butt of the jokes. Before that, Greg's uptight nature was the wellspring.

(The same thing happened on Perfect Strangers, too. The first season, Balki was the one who was showing Larry where he needed to grow and stretch. After that, it flipped and it was all about how outrageous this immmigrant character is, let's all laugh at him.
posted by hippybear at 6:49 AM on January 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS, LARRY.

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU THINK A TV SHOW IS ABOUT YOU.

What a whiny man-child.
posted by gertzedek at 6:51 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just came in this thread to point and laugh.
posted by mazola at 6:51 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Upon seeing a full episode of this show for the first time (being sick on the couch and having finished watching Jeopardy and not feeling like getting up), my observations are as follows:

1. It's not funny, but more importantly
2. What the fuck is that guy's hair.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:52 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


So between this and the Reddit post linked upthread, I've been very surprised about how much thought and energy intelligent people have been putting into a primetime CBS sitcom created by Chuck Lorre.

Isn't the whole point of being a nerd the freedom to focus on things that are genuinely interesting/cool/obsession-worthy and not care about mainstream culture that isn't?

So who really cares? It's a terrible, lowbrow laugh track sitcom.
posted by graphnerd at 6:53 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think I'd like TBBT if it related to nerds in the way that Andy Griffith related to southerners. I think the more apt comparison, though, is that TBBT relates to nerds the way that The Beverley Hillbillies related to the South. Maybe Jed Clampett was the "hero" or maybe it was Jane Hathaway, but there was never any doubt that Granny and Jethro were the buffoons, and that the "hillbilly" life was there to be mocked.
posted by tyllwin at 6:53 AM on January 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


Caduceus... yeah, my post was a bit vague... I think the point I was trying (poorly, it seems) to make was that sitcom humor tends to usually have some sort of character we laugh at, and frequently it is some sort of stereotype and I felt the author's take on it was a bit over the top given the genre he's being critical of... I guess it is an "it's all well and good to laugh at folks as long as those folks aren't ME." approach to sitcoms.

And, I'm not advocating watching TBBT, primarily because I've watched it a few times and don't find it that funny.
posted by HuronBob at 6:54 AM on January 9, 2013


I really have to question people who say that TBBT is not a funny show. They are either not getting the jokes (many are too scientific and nerdy for the average viewer), or they just take themselves waaaaay too seriously.

What would they prefer to be produced? More "Housewives of XXX County"? More Jersey Shore? What?
posted by eas98 at 6:58 AM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Then you had Numbers that was pretty big a few years back, and the main character was this uber-nerd. Of course he was hot, and again, as if nerds can't just be "plain" looking they have to have something else to make up for their nerdery, but hey... It's still a positive portrayal.

This is a good point. I think there's a difference between NCIS/CSI and the Big Bang Theory in that 'normal' people might work in a crime lab (my best friend's grandparents do/did and they're quite normal, aside from telling you to always carry ID in case you get murdered), but 'normal' people aren't physicists. But, if normal people aren't physicists, they sure as hell can't mathematicians in TV stereotype land. And, yet, we have Numbers. We could spend a lot of time detailing all the ways in which Charlie and Larry are a bit weird, but they're largely not objects of fun, though I suppose Larry sometimes is. (I found the Charlie/Amita romance so uncomfortable (I know people sleep with their students, but I don't want to hear about it) that I can't really comment on Amita, except for saying her last name is way too cheesy to be acceptable.)
posted by hoyland at 7:00 AM on January 9, 2013


I agree with NPR's Linda Holmes. The only thing offensive about TBBT is its relentless easy boring bad joke writing. Tho--the actors have a great time and make it funny when they can, and it is eminently watchable in a falling asleep while drunk sort of way. It's just so consistently false about the culture it is referencing that it takes me out of it. It no more has anything to do with nerds than uncle jesse has to do with musicians or saved by the bell has to do with high school. Ignore it and it will go away eventually.

Meanwhile, however, 2 Broke Girls is truly insidious garbage and should be burned with fire. That actually is a regressive piece of dickhead propaganda.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:00 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like BBT, but perhaps, like most/all American sitcoms the show is devolving to the stereotypes each character represents. They all jump the shark as they go on. Others are referencing Friends. Note that early on Monica's bossiness, etc was rarely noticed. Ross' geekiness either. Same with many, many other shows. American TV just can't let things die gracefully. When I find a British comedy I like I often think "damn, I liked that show. I wish there was more of it." But I have learned that more often than not more does not equal better or even necessarily good.

The thing I find amusing about the linked post is that the author owns season one. Season one where Penny is portrayed like a complete fucking idiot. The author doesn't like the characters that remind him of himself to be laughed at but he seems okay with Penny being made fun of.
posted by terrapin at 7:01 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


They are either not getting the jokes (many are too scientific and nerdy for the average viewer)

Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah probably not.
posted by ominous_paws at 7:02 AM on January 9, 2013 [26 favorites]


The problem with the BBT is that it's not funny.
posted by empath at 7:03 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's a sub-issue of why I can't really watch sitcoms generally: cringe humor, which is what all of these things run on, isn't funny to me.

Cringe humor makes me think of the Office:UK. And then I thought how The Big Bang Theory would work if you turn up the cringe to epic levels. Which made me think of Gareth Keenan.

And now I'm sad, because the Office: UK isn't on anymore.
posted by FJT at 7:04 AM on January 9, 2013


I found the article cringe-worthy mostly for the fact that you had to wade through five whole paragraphs of entirely deletable self-angst before you got to the thesis.

Haven't watched Big Bang Theory enough to have an opinion eitherways personally - I've just seen the first 2-3 episodes of the first season, but it just struck me that a few specific people I know who are addicted to this show just might have been getting their LOLINDIANS fix, as opposed to laughing with Raj (and Russell Peters, among others) that I had been presuming they were. The value of this piece was in getting me to that insight.
posted by the cydonian at 7:06 AM on January 9, 2013


All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.
Marshall McLuhan


Diaper backward spells repaid. Think about it.
Marshall McLuhan

posted by incandissonance at 7:07 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


"People watched these three shitty things back in the day, even though these shitty things were making fun of them, so you should watch this current shitty thing, even though, unlike the people who watched those old shitty things, you have other choices."

Does anyone think Andy Griffith was shitty to Southerners? I'm from North Carolina and people from that generation seemed to love the show, and I don't think I've ever seen someone take it as offensive or shitty. People seem believe that Andy Griffith was one of them (which is basically true) and was making a show about their lives or at least the lives of the childhoods. Even the comic relief hayseed characters like Gomer were popular and (I think) generally seen as friendly to Southerners. Hell, to this day, my dad says "Shazam, Shazam, Shazam" and I don't think he's meaning to insult himself.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:12 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Isn't the whole point of being a nerd the freedom to focus on things that are genuinely interesting/cool/obsession-worthy and not care about mainstream culture that isn't?

You've never encountered sitcom geekery? Or people who collect MAC? Or the articles in When Saturday Comes, where people get massively geeky about esoteric aspects of the most mainstream sport in the country? Or Dr Who geekery - arguably that's a part of mainstream culture since the revival, as it goes out at 6pm on a Saturday on BBC 1 plus Christmas Day specials and there are toys and magazines aimed at kids (albeit bought by adult collectors) rather than being a programme primarily made for a sci-fi audience. Or the bean-plating about, say, what Taylor Swift means by the use of the furry costume in her video? I really enjoy it when people get nerdy abotu mainstream culture, in the same way I guiltily enjoy those weird little subcultural scandals that pop up now the internet has a specialist forum for everything. I still miss Off The Telly.

I actually watched 2BG with a carcrash fascination. The Sophie character was a weird one as the stereotypes about Polish people here are completely different.
posted by mippy at 7:14 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


"What would they prefer to be produced?"

Damn I'm old, but.... "The Red Skelton Show", "Carol Burnett", "M.A.S.H.", "Jimmy Durante Show", hell, even "I Love Lucy", "Johnny Carson", "Earnie Kovacs"......

And, no, Andy Griffith wasn't "shitty to Southerners", he took the standard stereotypes and found the humor.... is it really that different than TBBT?
posted by HuronBob at 7:22 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the general problem is that people are holding TBBT to a standard it doesn't aspire to. It's a Chuck Lorre sitcom on CBS. It's going to be broad and stereotypical. The jokes are going to be dumb and the characters are going to be exaggerated archetypes. But, a lot of the time, it's funny. It's not as smart as Community or Arrested Development, but it's not trying to be. Heck, I know a lot of people who didn't like Arrested Development because it was over their heads and they found the George Michael/Maebe romance creepy.

If you don't like TBBT, don't watch it. There's something about these 2,000 word missives continually popping up against it that screams "me think thou dost protest too much" to me. I enjoy TBBT and, while not a scientist, I identify as a nerd.

And guess what? You can like TBBT and Community and Arrested Development all at the same time! Creative media is subjective.
posted by moviehawk at 7:23 AM on January 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


It seems to me that Big Bang Theory is funny to people who call themselves nerds because they have an iPod and a GPS, but who are uncomfortable with being around people who are smarter than they are.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:27 AM on January 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


It seems to me that Big Bang Theory is funny to people who call themselves nerds because they have an iPod and a GPS, but who are uncomfortable with being around people who are smarter than they are.

Isn't making fun of and generalizing fans of the show just as bad as what the writers are accused of?
posted by moviehawk at 7:29 AM on January 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


I've generally been a fan of BBT, but there have been moments in the show I was ... less than fond of. Normally, I've been somewhat willing to forgive these, but I have to admit, the most recent episode, about Sheldon unintentionally sexually harassing his assistant, made me specifically uncomfortable - most of all the resolution, or lack thereof, just kind of left me saying, "Huh?".
posted by jferg at 7:31 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


It seems to me that Big Bang Theory is funny to people who call themselves nerds because they have an iPod and a GPS, but who are uncomfortable with being around people who are smarter than they are.

Sheldon? Is that you?
posted by Thorzdad at 7:31 AM on January 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


The problem with big bang theory isn't one of attitude but of execution. It's just very formulaic, it's densely packed with low quality jokes, and the characters are less like people and more like lists of adjectives. I am not into nerd power, I don't need pop culture to validate my tastes in pop culture. I don't need pop culture to validate my relative strengths and weaknesses. I need pop culture to be interesting, novel, and constructed thoughtfully. Big Bang Theory isn't and never was.
posted by I Foody at 7:32 AM on January 9, 2013 [10 favorites]


Also, I was troubled by a recent episode in which Amy was using Sheldon to get sexual pleasure without him realizing it.

See also the stalker jokes in Two and a Half Men. "Hahaha, restraining orders! Priceless!"
posted by ODiV at 7:35 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Big Bang Theory with no laugh track.
posted by logicpunk at 7:36 AM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


If you don't like TBBT, don't watch it. There's something about these 2,000 word missives continually popping up against it that screams "me think thou dost protest too much" to me.

The people writing the missives don't just "not like" TBBT. They feel insulted by it, and they're upset that people feel OK with insulting them. You can, of course, disagree about it being an insult. Or you can explicitly say that they're too thin-skinned. But saying "don't watch it," sort of misses the point. And "dost protest too much" leaves me confused. You think they secretly love the show?
posted by tyllwin at 7:37 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I need pop culture to be interesting, novel, and constructed thoughtfully.

I submit that perhaps you are looking in the wrong place. By the time it qualifies as pop, by its very nature most of the novel and interesting needs to be pressed out (though a little remains, once in a while a good chunk for the original, but the imitators kill it). As to thoughtfully .... well, your average tween pop star is constructed very very thoughtfully, but may not invoke thoughtfulness in you.
posted by Bovine Love at 7:38 AM on January 9, 2013


Was that the Field Notes Tumblr theme?
posted by stltony at 7:41 AM on January 9, 2013


It's a sitcom. And a damn funny one at that.

Lighten up Francis.
posted by prepmonkey at 7:44 AM on January 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


I really have to question people who say that TBBT is not a funny show. They are either not getting the jokes (many are too scientific and nerdy for the average viewer), or they just take themselves waaaaay too seriously.

What would they prefer to be produced? More "Housewives of XXX County"? More Jersey Shore? What?


Community
30 Rock
Parks & Rec
Archer
Bob's Burgers
Portlandia
Black Dynamite...
Colbert, Daily Show, adult swim...

as for shows of the past, definitely Spaced and Arrested Development, also Larry Sanders Show...

Just the cips in the ads for Big Bang Theory make me groan. I think I once tried to watch the beginning of an episode and just could not. Making a vague reference to string theory doesn't make you smart or funny. It's that "heh? heh? get it??" kind of humor that is not really humor but just an attempt to assure someone that they're part of an in-group.
posted by mdn at 7:45 AM on January 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


"me think thou dost protest too much"

Me think thou art not like summer day!
Thou better! Me like better thing!
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:45 AM on January 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


Mippy: I think you will be delighted if you watch Spaced again... not only in how well it holds up but in light of all the influence it has had.
posted by activitystory at 7:46 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even Amy Farrah Fowler isn’t the geek girl representative we may have hoped for. She’s portrayed as distinctly asexual

Reading this line, I really have to question whether the author of this article has ever actually seen the show.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:47 AM on January 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


It seems to me that Big Bang Theory is funny to people .... who are uncomfortable with being around people who are smarter than they are.

Do all nerds have such high opinions of themselves and/or suffer this brand of neurosis? (Answer: No, of course not.) You know, there are many ways to be smart and highly educated; science and technology are two of them.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 7:48 AM on January 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


Community
30 Rock
Parks & Rec
Archer
Bob's Burgers
Portlandia
Black Dynamite...
Colbert, Daily Show, adult swim...


If this is what you're looking for, then it looks like the problem is quality not meanness. Portlandia is every bit as mean to the groups it lampoons as TBBT is to nerds. It's a lot funnier, but it's not nicer or less "bullying."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:49 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


You think they secretly love the show?

No, but to build up the kind of ammunition present in many of the arguments against it, people who don't like the show go out of their way to watch more of it. I find the way people on the internet treat people of faith insulting, and I choose not to go into those corners.

The show is easy to avoid if you don't like how it represents people. It's not like the show is actively chasing down nerds and beating them up.
posted by moviehawk at 7:50 AM on January 9, 2013


And Community was so mean to Pierce that Chevy Chase left the show.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:50 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


And, this is why the Cuban community didn't watch Lucy, and those in the south never watched The Andy Griffith Show, and bus drivers didn't watch the Honeymooners...... Oh, wait, they DID watch, they just weren't so thin skinned about the humor (and nobody had blogs back then)!

To return to an earlier point in the thread: a difference between now and I Love Lucy is not that people are so "thin skinned" now, but rather that "you shouldn't make racist/ethnically-biased jokes about people and make fun of their accents" is a discourse that has traction. Surely we're not really arguing that back in the day people of color didn't feel shitty when they confronted racist representations in the media.

I mean, oppressions aren't identical - being a nerdy guy isn't even the same experience as being a nerdy girl, being a nerdy white person isn't the same as being a nerdy black person, and of course getting picked on for being a nerd is nothing like such a systemic, entrenched and pervasive matter as being subject to racism.

But there's some commonality in how we tell oppressive, shitty, hurtful stories, no matter who we tell them about - we position the audience as "normal" and the subject of the story as a weird, freaky-deaky spectacle, good for a laugh or maybe a source of interesting fashions and slang, but fundamentally deviant, broken, strange, foreign. And fundamentally not the source of the story's moral or emotional perspective, even though the whole story is a parasite on their culture or experience.

I'd say that a real change in our culture between now and those happy days when the marginalized were expected to laugh at themselves or at least shut up about it - a change is the fact that telling this kind of story has come under criticism. Oh, obviously you can still make big money and a career out of doing it, but there's some language and a constituency to oppose it.

If there's one commonality in all of the much-ridiculed anti-oppression/tumblr/social justice discourse, it is that you don't get a free pass on using language, images and stories to talk over people about their own lives and experiences. You don't get a free pass to center yourself in every conversation and every story, you don't get a free pass to make white/straight/male/cis/citizen/middle class identities the measure of all things. You don't get to assume that you - by virtue of being "normal" - are entitled to tell all the stories about all the other people in the world because of course as a "normal" person your perspective is the most valuable. You don't, fundamentally, get to turn other people into your property to use for jokes and fashion and political point-scoring.

As soon as I saw how this show wrote about women, I knew it would end up sucking pretty badly, because it was obvious that even if there were actual nerdy people involved, they were the kind of nerdy people who are willing to knife everyone else if they get to be cool and/or rich.
posted by Frowner at 7:54 AM on January 9, 2013 [35 favorites]


Community
30 Rock
Parks & Rec
Archer
Bob's Burgers
Portlandia
Black Dynamite...
Colbert, Daily Show, adult swim...


None of these are on in the UK, except for 30 Rock which might be on a subscription channel - I have council telly so I don't know. I think the issue we have then - for the writer of the piece, who is British and wants a good nerd sitcom on a channel he can watch - is what actually gets imported. I can see UK channels passing on Portlandia as it might seem 'too American', but Parks and Rec is a cousin of our The Office, as well as being a massive show in the US. I think E4 at the moment shows TBBT and How I Met Your Mother as well as the usual Friends (the channel was famous for showing it many, many times a day at one point); 2.5 Men even is on the same paid channel as 30 Rock alongside other shows that didn't go mainstream here like King of Queens, Becker, that thing with the whiny guy who had a brother that was like Lurch.
posted by mippy at 7:55 AM on January 9, 2013


being a nerdy white person isn't the same as being a nerdy black person

this reminds me how much I really liked Everybody Hates Chris. Though I can't remember if he was a nerd per se or just an unpopular kid.
posted by mippy at 7:58 AM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


the man of twists and turns: "Why does any show have a laugh track anymore?
How else are you supposed to tell when the jokes are?
"

Just handle it like The Office and have the character turn and look at the camera for a few seconds.
posted by exogenous at 7:58 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]



“. . . those people on the screen ain’t even supposed to be you. . . . The guys in that movie are not 28 year-old file clerks who live with their grandmothers in an ethnic ghetto. . . .They’re gonna get degrees, get good jobs, and they’re gonna stop being nerds!”


I flashed on the same reference, dng.

I don't watch the show, but I've seen it. I also have access to Wikkuhpedia. Here's what it says about the main cast. Harvey got it: If 'nerd' actually means anything, these people are not nerds. On the other hand, maybe that's the point. Perhaps the show has more to do with aspirations than aspergers.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:58 AM on January 9, 2013


If there's one commonality in all of the much-ridiculed anti-oppression/tumblr/social justice discourse, it is that you don't get a free pass on using language, images and stories to talk over people about their own lives and experiences.

I think there's an open question about whether or not TBBT is doing this with regard to nerds, though. Sure it draws on stereotypes, but they're stereotypes that plenty of nerds have about other nerds. Given that Leonard is very clearly the viewer analogue, I think the TBBT actually positions itself within the nerd community. It lampoons extremes within that community, but it does so from within the community itself. I think Andy Griffith is a good analogy, in that it lampoons small town Southern life from the perspective of a small town Southerner.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:05 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a nerd, I have absolutely no problem with the way stereotypical nerds are portrayed in Big Bang Theory, and I find this blog post insufferable.

Agreed. The show laughs at and with nerds, but it also laughs at and with Penny. The number of times Sheldon has zinged her being sloppy, lazy, poor and stupid are numerous. After 5 or 6 years, Penny isn't off her dream job, acting, she's going back to school partially to feel as though she fits in the group.

Penny's previous life of dating dumb but hot jocks has been mocked relentlessly and she's going to wind up marrying Leonard, whom she's come to love more fiercely than the jocks.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:05 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


From what I've read about how the show is made, it's basically one step away from improv. The writers write a few pages of script, they shoot each episode in under 4 hours, and they cut out anything that the studio audience doesn't laugh at. (The laughs are real.) I don't think the characters or plots are really deep enough to critically analyze. Even the jokes are shallow.

Futurama, on the other hand, is a show for real nerds. Def-Con Owl Repellent!
posted by miyabo at 8:08 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


mippy: the stereotypes about Polish people here are completely different

As a Polish American with a sense of humor I find this interesting. How so?

posted by scrowdid at 8:10 AM on January 9, 2013


From what I've read about how the show is made, it's basically one step away from improv. The writers write a few pages of script, they shoot each episode in under 4 hours, and they cut out anything that the studio audience doesn't laugh at. (The laughs are real.)

From a youtube comment on the no-laugh-track video
I was on the show once, and it turns out, it is neither a laugh track, nor an audience's actual reaction. It is a "fake" audience of paid extras and show's crew pretending to laugh between every line.

If the fake audience doesn't fake-laugh hard enough, they get lectured, and we have to re-shoot the scene, so they hear the same scene over again but have to pretend to laugh even harder.

It's creepy.
After watching the dumbfoundingly long periods of silence in that video, I find that commenter's explanation more likely than "the laughs are real"
posted by crayz at 8:25 AM on January 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


I think it'd be pretty easy to draw a line of sympathy for characters who are or aren't nerdy in certain ways in current TV shows. I will use Big Bang Theory, which I have only seen a couple of episodes of (I find it off-putting, possibly because of the deeper reasons of the linked article, or possibly because the comedy is shit) and so am most likely to be wrong about, and a few others, chosen because I like them.

Least sympathetic is Big Bang Theory, where the nerdiness of the characters is unrelatable, the references casual. It's obvious that some of the people in the writer's room and on the set are nerds, but mostly people are laughing at the characters, especially Sheldon, because they're acting in a way that is familiar to them because of stereotypes.

Slightly more sympathetic, and painted with more depth, is 30 Rock. The thing about 30 Rock is that almost everyone in the cast is a geek or a nerd of some stripe, from the laughed-at social awkwardness of Kenneth to Liz wearing her Leia costume repeatedly throughout the show and eventually using it as a wedding dress. 30 Rock is written from the inside of geekdom, and it shows: unlike BBT, where the geekiness itself is what's poked fun at, 30 Rock openly mocks the philosophies and interests of many of the characters usually by pointing out the holes in them. It also lets the characters keep the strengths that their philosophies and viewpoints have given them.

And then there's Community. Despite what the linked post says, Abed isn't the main character of Community, and even though it feels like the network forced them into making the show revolve around Jeff that doesn't change the fact that the central person in that ensamble is one of the least nerdy characters on the show, with the possible exception of Shirley. Abed is, instead, the avatar of the creator. To use a Joss Whedon example, he plays the same role as both Topher in Dollhouse and that stoner kid played by the same dude in Cabin in the Woods: the character that leans a bit on the furniture that makes up the edge of the world. Sometimes it's for laughs and sometimes it's for insight, but having that character in a nerdy-type show (or movie or book or comic) ties the story together because it makes it easier to hit the viewer over the head with thematic elements while lampshading it enough that they don't get annoyed. This character is a nerd because the creators are nerds, I think, not because of something about nerds seeing farther or some crap like that.

Anyway, Community has Abed, who is the one people think of as the nerd, but everyone else has their nerdy moments, from Pierce going apeshit over playing the villain in DnD to all of the Troy/Abed moments to Britta and Shirley's willingness to go all-in at the end of a paintball game. The thing with Community is that we're frequently laughing at the cast, but we're rooting for them too.

Not as much, though, as we're rooting for the cast of Parks and Recreation, another one in which nerdiness is mostly pretty normal. Like Community, Parks and Rec goes all-in on its jokes, but without the cynical, wall-leaning air that Community takes. Andy and April's adventures as a fake FBI Agent and his various villainesses are silly and we're laughing at them but we also want to be them, because they're obviously having so much fun. Lesley, like Liz Lemon, is sort of neurotic and easily classified as crazy, but there are rarely laughs about Lesley falling down the way there are about Liz. There is a lovingness to the way the entire cast is portrayed. Watch how the rest of the cast reacts to Abed as Batman, and then watch how they react to Ben as Batman, and you'll see what I'm talking about.

I think what makes the sympathy for nerds more noticeable is that the more sympathetic nerds are on shows where the nerds are integrated into their society in some way; BBT's characters are obviously poised against a background of the "real world" where nerds stay in nerd circles and interaction with Penny is abnormal enough to base a TV show on. Parks and Rec takes place in a "real world" where nerds have normal jobs with people who are less explicitly nerdy but also have passions. In the end, it's the passions that I think define nerddom, and that's why the sort of obsessive characters who really love and care about something end up being definable as nerds even if they don't have explicitly nerdy interests. BBT fails at nerdiness because it plays it safe, I guess. However, it also manages to stay on the air by doing so.
posted by NoraReed at 8:29 AM on January 9, 2013 [22 favorites]


I'm less bothered by anything on TBBT, and more bothered by people now describing nerdiness as "I buy a lot of Doctor Who merchandise".
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:29 AM on January 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


Had to jump in to point out that I understand the minstrel-show analogy though I find it problematic because there is *actual racism* in the show, toward Indian-Americans and immigrants to the US in general, and to Jews (the cliche of the Jewish mother, ugh).
posted by Pocahontas at 8:30 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


My family of non-nerds love this show. They do not understand why I hate it. Interestingly, they are also unable to grasp why minstrel shows were racist.

Sometimes it's hard to attain self-awareness.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:35 AM on January 9, 2013


scrowdid - Polish people in the UK are characterised as manual workers (usually builders or plumbers) who live in the kind of crowded, many to a room or bed accommodation that each first wave of immigration tends to reside within, and who will work hard (the more negative side of the stereotype is that they will work below minimum wage and therefore are tekin' our joooooobbbbs) and long hours to be able to send money back to family. They would never be characterised as glamorous sex queens like Sophie, especially not if they were sex workers (the more negative side of the stereotype is that Polish women are here for either a) benefits b) having babies to get benefits and Overcrowding The NHS c) working as strippers.)

There's been a huge wave of Polish/Lithuanian/Romanian immigration in the past few years due to more countries entering the EU - which far-right politicians rail against, making the same jokes about getting on a bus and thinking they were in Krakow that people made about Asian migrants and Karachi thirty years earlier - and people tend to lump those nationalities together in a way that's probably massively offensive to those who know better. Interestingly, there seems to be some tension between the Poles who came during WWII and the newer Polish residents.
posted by mippy at 8:38 AM on January 9, 2013


Every few months, I'll have this exchange with a person who doesn't know me particularly well:

"Oh! You majored in Physics. That makes so much sense. You must love The Big Bang Theory?"
"Fuck you."

Anyway, I'll agree with the consensus that TBBT hates its characters (except perhaps for the show's Straight Man, Leonard), and really isn't all that funny. I don't have any fundamental problem with cheap humor or laugh tracks.... but TBBT is just sad as all hell without the laugh track. I think that says something about the show's psychology....

Better off Ted and Parks & Rec both managed to portray flawed, nerdy types without actually looking down on them. You can tell that the writers would be friends with the characters if they existed in real-life. Bob's Burgers is also a refreshing addition to Fox's animation lineup, because none of the characters seem to hate each other. Sure, the show uses the characters' weirdness for some cheap laughs, but it does so by reveling in their goofball nature, rather than mocking it.

The US adaptation of The Office also fell into the same pitfall as TBBT -- while the UK show pioneered its own painfully-awkward brand of humor, the US show implemented this humor by making its characters utterly despicable people. That shtick might have been fine if the show had only lasted for one or two seasons, but it became completely unbearable over the long-term. (Worse still was that this sort of demeaning/awful work environment seems entirely plausible in the US today)

For some reason, Seinfeld usually didn't bother me. Sure, the characters were flawed by being too narcissistic, but their self-interest never seemed to cross the line and become overtly sociopathic.

NoraReed: "Abed isn't the main character of Community, and even though it feels like the network forced them into making the show revolve around Jeff that doesn't change the fact that the central person in that ensamble is one of the least nerdy characters on the show, with the possible exception of Shirley. Abed is, instead, the avatar of the creator. "

This is a really great analogy.

It's also interesting to note that the creator's avatar in Community isn't the Straight Man or the normal one (nor is Liz Lemon's character in 30 Rock).

On the other hand, Leonard is also clearly an avatar of the writers, but often appears to be the only functional adult in TBBT. I think that this says something about the show's approach to its characters.
posted by schmod at 8:42 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


BBT fails at nerdiness because it plays it safe, I guess. However, it also manages to stay on the air by doing so.

This is CBS. Literally.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:44 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really have to question people who say that TBBT is not a funny show. They are either not getting the jokes (many are too scientific and nerdy for the average viewer), or they just take themselves waaaaay too seriously.

What would they prefer to be produced? More "Housewives of XXX County"? More Jersey Shore? What?


I'd really like there being fewer jokes about ladies wanting to be raped or that lol nerdy dudes are creeps because they just don't know any better and can't help themselves or LOL LADIES WOULD NEVER WALK INTO A COMIC BOOK STORE (that was this week's preview, right?). I mean, that's not too much to ask? Right? Please?

Whether or not it's shitty to white male nerds, it's certainly shitty to everyone else.

Happy Endings seems pretty cool. I've been meaning to check out the Mindy Project, but mostly I'm waiting for Community to get back.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:44 AM on January 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


I was on the show once, and it turns out, it is neither a laugh track, nor an audience's actual reaction. It is a "fake" audience of paid extras and show's crew pretending to laugh between every line.

If the fake audience doesn't fake-laugh hard enough, they get lectured, and we have to re-shoot the scene, so they hear the same scene over again but have to pretend to laugh even harder.

It's creepy.


This is how a lot of shows with laugh tracks are filmed, it's not at all uncommon. There was a This American Life episode about it, in case you're interested.
posted by odinsdream at 8:45 AM on January 9, 2013


Oh. Also, on a tangent.... I watched a few episodes of The New Normal last month.

Speaking from the perspective of a gay man, I know that the show was supposed to be pandering to me, but holy shit, was it offensive. Is this how African Americans feel about Tyler Perry? How does anybody in Hollywood take Ryan Murphy seriously?
posted by schmod at 8:45 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought that the New Normal was for people who were gay-adjacent, kind of. Not for gay men themselves.

It's brought to you by the people who made glee.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:47 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


odinsdream: "This is how a lot of shows with laugh tracks are filmed, it's not at all uncommon. There was a This American Life episode about it, in case you're interested."

Please don't tell me that this applies to Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me. I don't think I could survive that kind of disappointment.

That said, I was in a studio audience taping many years ago (or a cheap Jerry Springer knock-off, if you must know). It was a profoundly bizarre experience, but we were never prompted for laughs or reactions, beyond being prompted to applaud when the cameras began rolling. The host knew how to bait and elicit reactions from the audience, but it was never anything clearly overt.
posted by schmod at 8:48 AM on January 9, 2013


dinty_moore: "I thought that the New Normal was for people who were gay-adjacent, kind of. Not for gay men themselves."

Aha! It just clicked. It's for the girls who have their bachelorette parties at gay bars. That makes so much sense now....
posted by schmod at 8:50 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Please don't tell me that this applies to Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me. I don't think I could survive that kind of disappointment.

No. Totally live audience for WWDTM. It's fun. You should go.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:53 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


while the UK show pioneered its own painfully-awkward brand of humor

Something which might not be clear to US viewers - when the show started, it was a clear parody of the 'docusoap' fly on the wall documentary series (which are much less mediated or bear the hand of the editing crew than US equivalents or the current 'scripted reality' shows - they are very naturalistic with a little narration - if you've seen another comedy, People Like Us, it's very very close to these shows, and around the same time was That Peter Kay Thing which also made fun with the format) which were massively popular at the time, and which was what made it completely hilarious to me (again I haven't seen the show since first run on TV, which is the time when all these shows reigned). The awkwardness was funny because we'd seen it on 'reality' shows for 'real'. It's interesting how all those shows that took influence from The Office are actually really influenced by The Cruise or Driving School.
posted by mippy at 8:54 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only studio audience I've ever been in was for I'm sorry I haven't a Clue and we were a little prompted (for clapping at beginning, etc) but never for laughter. Samantha was very gracious, as well.
posted by jb at 8:54 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really wouldn't ascribe OMG THE TRUTH COMES OUT to a YouTube comment. I'm not saying it doesn't happen that way, but I think assigning an unsourced comment like that very much credibility requires already wanting to believe what it's telling you.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:57 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've been to two recordings - one for Blind Date, which was a sixth-form trip, which had Ted Robbins as a warm-up man instructing us on how to react, and one for a forgotten Frank Skinner sitcom which (thanks to the poor scriptage and despite David Schneider) had some prompting involved too.
posted by mippy at 8:57 AM on January 9, 2013


This entire backlash to BBT strikes me as an example of people working really hard to hate on something that's become popular. On the scope of problematic TV shows, BBT barely moves the needle.

I've been a nerd all my life, and I found the treatment of our subculture far more astute and fair than I remember seeing anywhere else in a mass-market entertainment. Are some of the laughs on us? Sure. But, as others have pointed out, we laugh both at and with the characters.

BBT is fairly well executed light entertainment. That's all.
posted by uberchet at 8:58 AM on January 9, 2013 [10 favorites]


Even Amy Farrah Fowler isn’t the geek girl representative we may have hoped for. She’s portrayed as distinctly asexual

Reading this line, I really have to question whether the author of this article has ever actually seen the show.


Yep, it was strongly implied in a recent show that she and Sheldon actually had sex (in the backseat of a car). Also, the article referenced Sara Gilbert as playing a recurring role and she hasn't appeared on BBT since 2010.

I can give or take BBT but was rather stunned at last week's episode when Sheldon was allowed to go full throttle with slut-shaming remarks to his employee, only to be called into HR where he referred to the Black female he was meeting with as a slave. Apparently the only "lesson" he learned was that certain things shouldn't be said out loud and the episode ended with him denigrating the same employee he had earlier spoken wrongly to. Not sure what the point was except to reinforce that in BBT reality Sheldon's special personality disorder and high IQ allow him to offend women with impunity and they just have to suck it up and take it. It was as if Chuck Lorre was trying to blow 30-minutes' worth of kisses to reddit (but maybe he doesn't realize that reddit isn't exactly welcoming the adoration).

Aha! It just clicked. It's for the girls who have their bachelorette parties at gay bars. That makes so much sense now....

Which perhaps would explain why Matt Bomer just did a guest-starring role as a gay version of Paris Hilton.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:59 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Happy Endings seems pretty cool.

Its first season was good. This new season, though, seems to have descended into this odd world where the "straight" guys are more tv-stereotypical-gay than the gay character, who is more butch than anyone. And the women have all lost their minds and become shrieking, giddy middle-schoolers. It's nigh unwatchable now.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:00 AM on January 9, 2013


Boy, was I expecting a different conversation ...

BBT is fairly well executed light entertainment. That's all.

Enough said.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:03 AM on January 9, 2013


The IT Crowd, OTOH, is on the side of nerds and also funny.

Unless it has significantly changed since the first few episodes I would argue that the IT Crowd is absolutely not on the side of nerds and is actually much more overt and cruel in its stereotyping.
posted by asnider at 9:07 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Boy, was I expecting a different conversation ...

you weren't alone - my first thoughts on seeing the post were "I don't know if a theory itself can be a bully."
posted by jb at 9:09 AM on January 9, 2013


Yep, it was strongly implied in a recent show that she and Sheldon actually had sex (in the backseat of a car).

Oh ... no, I don't think it was at all. I think it was implied that she showed him her new bikini wax but I do not think sex was implied in the slightest. If that show were going to have those two people have sex, it wouldn't be an off-screen throwaway. I also don't think they've decided whether he is remotely interested in or practically capable of participating in sex.

I do, however, think that calling her asexual is a hint that perhaps the show either isn't watched anymore or isn't watched very carefully or is being very selectively discussed. She's actually, if anything, the stereotype of the oversexed, omnivorous woman who has acted hot for both men and women over the course of the show.

As for her deriving sexual pleasure from having VapoRub put on her chest (and from being spanked), in both cases, I believe those things were his idea and she simply found it hot. I'm not sure I think that's creepy, no. The fact that she didn't tell him that she thought it was hot doesn't seem ... exploitative or anything. I also haven't found it exploitative the millions of times men on shows like this have been portrayed to be secretly turned on by hugs, medical care, or other things that aren't meant to be sexual by the other person. It happens.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:11 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know about nerds vs. non-nerds, all I want is for that Leonard guy to get some new glasses.

Seriously, dude, stop squinting!
posted by madajb at 9:11 AM on January 9, 2013


Unless it has significantly changed since the first few episodes

In fact it really has. ITC started out pretty much vulnerable to all the charges being aimed at TBBT here - including oh-ladies-like-pretty-shoes-but-they-make-their-feet-sore gags - and fairly quickly matured into something pretty decent.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:11 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


BBT is objectifying in the same way that Will and Grace was: it's a zoo show. It puts a subculture on display, individual stereotypes to caper behind the bars. It occasionally has "aw just like us!" moments where the viewpoint character holds hands through the bars with the zoo inmates, but ultimately the comedy derives from making fun of the stereotypes and keeping them safely locked up.

Seinfeild and the IT Crowd and others feel more "real" because they break down the bars. There is no normal. Everyone is a fuck-up and a source of comedy. The IT crowd spends at least as much time making fun of Jen's hang-ups as it does of Moss or Roy, for example. For a "normal", she's a screwed up as the nerds are.

BBT is mildly annoying, but TV has been making lazy comedies about stereotypes of racial minorities, the mentally ill, fat people, geeks and nerds, single old ladies, gay folk and a whole raft of other stereotypes forever. BBT is just the nerdy science sterotypes on display, because they were briefly cool in the early 2000s. That's all. It's just business as usual. Tomorrow it will be someone else.
posted by bonehead at 9:12 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


And guess what? You can like TBBT and Community and Arrested Development all at the same time! Creative media is subjective.

Actually, the tragedy of this situation is that liking TBBT is bad for liking Community, at least it was prior to this season. Why? Because they were in the time slot. TBBT is one of CBS's juggernauts, and sucked the viewers away from Community, leaving the latter with horrible ratings. Yes, this was one of those crazy rare cases where liking one thing over another becomes a zero-sum game.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:13 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


How can anyone take this show seriously? Do you not see how the characters dress? That's the most offensive part.
posted by quadog at 9:28 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


This new season, though, seems to have descended into this odd world where the "straight" guys are more tv-stereotypical-gay than the gay character, who is more butch than anyone.

Wasn't that always part of the show? I mean, maybe it's played up more now (I haven't watched any of the new season), but the gay dude was always portrayed as a slobby bachelor who was constantly being asked: "Are you sure you're gay?" while simultaneously asking his straight friend: "Are you sure you're not gay?"
posted by asnider at 9:29 AM on January 9, 2013


Wasn't that always part of the show? I mean, maybe it's played up more now (I haven't watched any of the new season)

Sort of. There was always a "metro" undercurrent of sorts, especially with Wayans' character, but it's gone completely over the cliff this season into full-on flaming and preening. It's really weird.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:36 AM on January 9, 2013


THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU THINK A TV SHOW IS ABOUT YOU.

I bet you think this show is about you, don't you? Don't you?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:42 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh ... no, I don't think it was at all. I think it was implied that she showed him her new bikini wax but I do not think sex was implied in the slightest.

I'll take your point about the show probably not using a throwaway scene for Sheldon to lose his virginity. However, I don't comprehend how--outside of a gynecological examination--a woman deliberately exposes her naked genitalia to a man she has the hots for and some kind of sexual activity doesn't ensue. What was the set up (isolated location, in a car) for then? I still think it's possible something happened, if not full-blown intercourse, and obviously Amy would have been the aggressor.

How can anyone take this show seriously? Do you not see how the characters dress? That's the most offensive part.

I've always the assumed the clothing was for the benefit of syndication. In the future the episodes will seem less dated if the characters aren't wearing much trendy clothing. That said, it's hard to explain the guy with the Beatles hairdo and the perpetual turtleneck dickies.
posted by fuse theorem at 9:42 AM on January 9, 2013


I watch TBBT in reruns, so the evolutions of the ensembles' story arch seems a little more chaotic than it may seem to other, more faithful viewers. The gorilla in the room is Chuck Lorre.

It seems to me that the charge of nerdism is far-fetched. This is a sit-com that presents stereotypical characters: sort of like the theory of electricity--the larger the difference between the positive and negative elements, the bigger the charge. Having a mix of non-nerds and nerds and using them as stereotypes on which to base humor is not necessarily nerdist, anymore that using folks of different races is necessarily racist. Except perhaps in the eye of the beholder, which is not a thing that's open for argument, because the argument becomes the calibration of the beholder's eye, not the topic. I cite "All in The Family" as an example. Sometimes a given episode was sublime, others it was stupid. Compare Meathead to Edith. George Jefferson to Louise. George to Archie.

Comments from those nerds in the thread--as well as the reviewer himself--indicate to me that their ambivalent, or negative feelings about the characters resemble my opinions about war movies. Tyicallyy, the elements resemble reality too closely, but they are off the mark. I am a snowflake, and the film-makers either get it right, or it's wrong. Since they weren't there with me, they can't help but get it wrong. I don't consider the action-movie genre war movies. They are about car chases, explosions, automatic weapons, and some guy with biceps.

Anhow, back to TBBT. Notions about the series' degradation may well be founded on good observation. This happens to most sitcoms. Roseanne is my best example of how even good writing and a dynamic cast can get overworked after a while. I've enjoyed TBBT for quite a few months now, but I'm growing less enthusiastic about watching it as time passes. The charge hasn't quite worn off the particles for me yet. I still get a kick out of watching David and Darlene...uh, Leonard and Leslie....ah well. Never mind. Sheldon is my favorite.

I don't search around for sub-text. Still, I can see some insightful, if unintended and certainly uneven, treatment of people who know what they think, but can't seem to connect socially to others. Smart people in separate and well-defined universes. Sometimes they try to reach out. This is okay to play for laughs. Reality is much sadder.
posted by mule98J at 9:44 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's a network television show. If you don't like it, you're not forced to watch it. Really. You can watch something else or even not watch anything at all.
posted by tommasz at 9:44 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is where I admit that I haven't seen much of this season of Happy Endings, and was mostly judging it on last season when I said it was cool.

I figured the way that the BBT characters were dressed was some sort of meta-sendup to comic book/cartoon dress standards. Either that, or they don't expect their audience to spend that much time paying attention to the show, and need to give everyone a distinctive style to set them apart.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:46 AM on January 9, 2013


Spaced was about nerds of varying types

There was also Chris Addison's Lab Rats, with bio-science nerds. It didn't last long though.
Visitors to the British Comedy Guide website voted Lab Rats as the "Worst New British TV Sitcom" of 2008 in its annual awards, with the website saying that: "The idea behind the show may have been good (to bring back silly studio-based sitcom to the BBC), but the execution was anything but good. An awful, awful comedy."
...personally, I really liked it.
posted by titus-g at 9:49 AM on January 9, 2013


In fact it really has. ITC started out pretty much vulnerable to all the charges being aimed at TBBT here - including oh-ladies-like-pretty-shoes-but-they-make-their-feet-sore gags - and fairly quickly matured into something pretty decent.

Maybe I'll give it a second chance, then. I don't think I even made it through the first series.

I'll take your point about the show probably not using a throwaway scene for Sheldon to lose his virginity. However, I don't comprehend how--outside of a gynecological examination--a woman deliberately exposes her naked genitalia to a man she has the hots for and some kind of sexual activity doesn't ensue. What was the set up (isolated location, in a car) for then? I still think it's possible something happened, if not full-blown intercourse, and obviously Amy would have been the aggressor.

Ignoring a couple of throwaway masturbation jokes in the pilot episode, Sheldon has been fairly consistently played as asexual. So, sure, Amy was probably trying to make something sexual happen in that scenario, but Sheldon would almost certainly have rejected her advances (or, given how he has been characterized, perhaps not even have recognized them).
posted by asnider at 9:50 AM on January 9, 2013


Man, I I forgot all about Happy Endings.
posted by redsparkler at 9:50 AM on January 9, 2013


It seems to me that Big Bang Theory is funny to people who call themselves nerds because they have an iPod and a GPS...

I have never encountered a single person who refers to themselves as a nerd for owning an iPod or GPS but would absolutely love to meet such a fascinating cryptozoological specimen!
posted by Windigo at 9:53 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Regarding the female characters, here is my perspective (as a female nerd):

The show has one huge sex-related fault: it is about a bunch of guys and each of the four guys can be boiled down to how he interacts (or doesn't) with women. So having a fifth character who is a female equivalent of any of the characters sort of falls down from the premise. It *could* work, but now you're adding The Token Woman Who Is Also One Of The Nerds Doing The Same Things They Do.

There is an issue where the only recently recurring female characters are positioned as potential love interests of the main characters. However, that's a challenge for many, many sitcoms (or shows in general, who focus on one particular sex as their main characters), so I'm not going to accuse TBBT in particular of failing society.

But the female characters who do exist I think are actually a really excellent spectrum. You have a dumb blonde non-nerd, who over the course of the show starts taking college courses again, learns about comic books, figures out what original Spock and transporter action figure set Sheldon and Leonard would like and gifts it to them, plays WoW, and can recite basic string theory in layman's terms. I mean, for a dumb blonde love interest character, that's pretty amazing development.

You've got Amy, whose actress, by the way, is a neuroscientist in real life, who is a damn good scientist in her own right on the show, who falls prey to many of the same social awkwardness issues the male characters do, but who is trying to comfortably embrace femininity after growing up without a real chance to. I'm not sure how many female scientists and engineers you've met, but that is actually a legitimate issue for many of us who spent so much time being "one of the guys" and focusing on our academics that we never got around to learning what shoes we should love or what you're supposed to do at bachelorette parties. There is a lot in Amy for female nerd viewers to sympathize with.

And you've got Bernadette, who I think is arguably one of the best nerd characters. She's fucking smart, knows it, and doesn't need to make a big deal out of it (unlike, say, Sheldon). She is feminine and comfortable with it, happily married, isn't unaware of the culturally nerdy interests of her husband but isn't obsessed with them herself, and is going about her day being a fucking awesome scientist without it defining her as I Am A Female Scientist Hear Me Roar. There are a lot of women in STEM who WANT to be Bernadette, but who feel forced into awkward roles as poster children or are called "too feminine" and pressured not to be. She represents a real sort of woman in STEM.

All the female characters do. So does Leslie Winkle, the female Sheldon who showed up a bit early on. There's a huge spectrum of women calling themselves nerds, and I think the show does a good job highlighting several of them and genuinely developing their characters. Do they do everything perfectly? No. Could they have more female characters that represent more aspects of women in STEM? Of course. They could have more male characters that do the same thing, too. But the fact is they've got 22 minutes once a week for a few months out of the year on a broadcast TV budget and it's made by imperfect human beings and for god's sake I enjoy a chuckle at it when I remember to watch it.

You're better off convincing me that the treatment of Raj and the light homophobia are problematic. Those are good points.
posted by olinerd at 9:53 AM on January 9, 2013 [26 favorites]


"MetaFilter!" Knock knock knock.
"MetaFilter!" Knock knock knock.
"MetaFilter!" Knock knock knock.
posted by ColdChef at 9:57 AM on January 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


In fact it really has. ITC started out pretty much vulnerable to all the charges being aimed at TBBT here - including oh-ladies-like-pretty-shoes-but-they-make-their-feet-sore gags - and fairly quickly matured into something pretty decent.

That was the plot of the 2nd episode, right? That's as far as I got. I couldn't believe this was the show that was getting so much hype and nerd-love. It was painful.

I'm one of the nerds (if I may call myself that, and it's for more than owning an iPhone) who enjoys TBBT. It's not even close to the best half hour comedy on television, and as has been pointed out, it's a typical broad, low brow sitcom that happens to feature "nerds". It's not perfect - I am definitely annoyed by the "hur hur Raj is gay" jokes that have been beat into the ground. But for the most part, I find it funny, and I'm in the camp that believes it laughs with the characters, not at them. I don't think it's any worse on the characters than your typical formulaic "Overweight buffoon and the wife who puts up with him" sitcom. It just happens to be the one that touches on topics I can relate to and enjoy (yes, even if it's just a passing reference) and it makes me laugh more often than not.
posted by Roommate at 10:11 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've mentioned most of my problems with Big Bang Theory in previous threads, and I will say that it has funny moments (the Time Machine sequence is brilliant), and some in-jokes that do appear to be genuinely targeted at a nerd audience (or at least nerds of the comic/sci-fi/science variety), in many ways it comes across as mean-spirited. As others have pointed out, when they laugh at "Captain Sweatpants," it does sound like non-nerdy writers are laughing at him, rather than the characters themselves. Also, both Amy Farrah Fowler and Bernadette seem to be devolving from actual characters into the butt of jokes that they couldn't quite make Penny the butt of.

Compare this to something like Futurama which has (sometimes extremely esoteric) nerdy in-jokes, but also genuinely entertaining stories and original characters which do not rely on stereotypes (except, of course, for the predictable and shopworn trope of the Decapodian buffoon).
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:13 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also. I went into a game store yesterday to pick up a couple used Xbox games. I was the only woman there (and the only person over the age of 18, as school had just let out). I stood in the long checkout line being a bit horrified of how the store smelled quite literally of teenage boy and french fries.

Look, I intentionally go into game stores and I find them unwelcoming and at times intimidating. The throwaway line "She must have gotten lost" about the comic book store is not lost on me. I don't read it as the writers being unwelcoming of women in nerdy spaces. I read it as them commenting on the fact that these spaces ARE unwelcoming and that even the women who want to go in them often try to avoid them.
posted by olinerd at 10:13 AM on January 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


olinerd: my original problem with the series is that to start with, there were no female scientists, out of a cast of 3 main and two supporting characters. I liked Leslie a lot, when she showed up, but she was only recurring. For most of the early episodes I saw (I was only a casual viewer), there seemed to be a very strong dichotomy of scientist=male, female=non-scientist (and non-intellectual and possibly another species). Obviously, this has changed a lot with Amy and Bernadette being more important characters.

Maybe my expectations were too high, having been set by things like PhD Comics.
posted by jb at 10:13 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Doesn't the title's double meaning immediately give away the show's expected level of humour:

1) Physics (and other nerdy stereotypes)
2) Getting laid (or not)

I think that's it.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 10:19 AM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


jb: Yeah, I agree with you there -- I do remember complaining to a friend early on about the lack of decent female nerdy characters. And I think the writers, to their credit, heard that response and wrote in some very good ones. I think also over the years the show has actually gotten *more* nerdy, with better research into the math, science, and geek culture. To me, that says a lot about the writers and producers and how unusually responsive they are to their audience.
posted by olinerd at 10:19 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Happy Endings seems pretty cool.

Happy Endings is pretty good but it is difficult for me to watch- it's characterization of the Ravenswood professional set is a little too accurate. My only criticism is that there aren't enough arguments about collegiate football or March Madness brackets.

I've recently gotten into Don't Trust the B In Apt. 23, which is so joyfully mean-spirited that it may either be more offensive than Two Broke Girls, or the greatest thing ever.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:20 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


1) Physics (and other nerdy stereotypes)
2) Getting laid (or not)


Well that says a lot about me as a viewer, then, as interpretation #2 literally never occurred to me.
posted by olinerd at 10:21 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've recently gotten into Don't Trust the B In Apt. 23, which is so joyfully mean-spirited that it may either be more offensive than Two Broke Girls, or the greatest thing ever.

It's a good, fun watch, for sure. Watching Van Der Beek sending himself up is especially delightful.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:24 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Compare this to something like Futurama which has (sometimes extremely esoteric) nerdy in-jokes

The robot planet is Chapek 9! CHAPEK 9!
posted by asnider at 10:26 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The show has one huge sex-related fault: it is about a bunch of guys and each of the four guys can be boiled down to how he interacts (or doesn't) with women. So having a fifth character who is a female equivalent of any of the characters sort of falls down from the premise. It *could* work, but now you're adding The Token Woman Who Is Also One Of The Nerds Doing The Same Things They Do.

Well, the basic setup of the first episode of The Big Bang Theory, knowingly or not, was, like the IT Crowd, a slightly situationally altered remake of the 1995 first-dot-com-bubble series Dweebs, in which a socially able but technologically inept young woman is compelled to share space with a group of nerds and offers a form of cultural exchange. That, if memory serves, was pretty laughing-at-not-with - to the point of casting Cory Feldman, already at that point heading for the buffers pretty fast, as the Wolowitzian nerd.

If Dweebs had survived, it would presumably have had to widen its cast as well. Alhough that would also mean that we were living in the darkest timeline. So...

(The one group of people, incidentally, who absolutely should feel legitimately furious about The Big Bang Theory, incidentally, is They Might Be Giants. A whacky and charmingly whimsical theme tune about science? How could they not have expected to get that gig? I am pretty sure that Bare Naked Ladies' authorship of the them tune is the cause of the otherwise inexplicable riff about Bare Naked Ladies in the open of Community...)
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:29 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Was Frasier, for example, offensive to psychiatrists with its snob, egotistical/neurotic main characters?

No, because it was always perfectly clear that it was about Frasier's and Niles' own personal foibles, and not [segment of society].
posted by Sys Rq at 10:34 AM on January 9, 2013


First, as Chief Brody said after he saw just how big that pile of beans was, we're going to need a bigger plate.

Second, if y'all can't decide if it is "TBBT" or "BBT" you're never going to figure out the important stuff.
posted by HuronBob at 10:38 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


I feel like TBBT is not parodying geeks, but rather, the things that people believe about geeks.

So on the one hand, it's not about my kind of people, and doesn't offend me. On the other, people who aren't geeks and don't hang around with them don't know that, and so it kind of makes things worse.

Whereas, the IT Crowd? I pretty much know those people.
posted by Foosnark at 10:42 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really have to question people who say that TBBT is not a funny show. They are either not getting the jokes (many are too scientific and nerdy for the average viewer), or they just take themselves waaaaay too seriously.

It's the opposite of that thing I put in bold. The science -- which always seems like it was scraped off of Wikipedia in a hurry -- is never the source of the humour. The actual "joke" into which scientific jargon is shoehorned nearly always boils down to "nerd says nerdy thing, Penny is confused, hold for laughter." Understanding the science is not the least bit necessary.

Not all of the (record-breaking) 19 million+ viewers who tune into Big Bang Theory week after week are particularly well-versed in particle physics. To say the least.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:01 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


The science -- which always seems like it was scraped off of Wikipedia in a hurry

Actually, it comes from this guy. I'm not sure that's the strongest argument against the show.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:07 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The money quote in that article, Linda_Holmes: ‘Sometimes they’ll just say “science to come” in brackets in the script.’

My point exactly.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:10 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The show is also pretty lazy in terms of engaging with actual nerds on the topics they're interested in. The first clip for TBBT that I pulled was something about how Sheldon thinks Halo is a 'complex battle simulation' which has Penny showing Sheldon up following a dismissive remark about her gamer creds.

So already there's this rift between the writers who don't actually care about video games and the nerds who do (when was the last time you saw an adult nerd want to play Halo?), a rift between the writers and the people who actually play Halo (you can't blow someone's head or gib someone in Halo, no matter how much Hillary Clinton claims otherwise), a rift between the writers and the aging population of gamers (average age 32 now, apparently) who are mature enough to see past the game as just a testament of skill, and a rift between the nerds who care that misogyny is endemic to a lot of internet communities and who hate to see it so easily dismissed in someone who is, as mentioned in the original post, a special-needs, borderline autistic like Sheldon. To that last point, the writers of the show end up segregating the gender issue as something that only really affects this really weird other and so long as you are 'normal' and 'not autistic', you're off the hook for what is arguably a really deep and huge institutional issue.

This low level of engagement runs pretty consistently through every one of their bits. They all come off as banal, hastily cobbled together nerd culture of the lowest common denominator. And while that might be the MO for sitcoms, there's obvious friction between the nerds who are actually really into their hobbies and the sitcommy nerds on TBBT who, despite their characterizations, don't give half a patoot about the thing they're supposedly huge nerds of. The show ends up coming off as not really caring about this thing that you really care about and what they have propped up instead is this really reductive portrayal of your interests, which is difficult not to take personally.
posted by dubusadus at 11:13 AM on January 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


The show has one huge sex-related fault: it is about a bunch of guys and each of the four guys can be boiled down to how he interacts (or doesn't) with women. So having a fifth character who is a female equivalent of any of the characters sort of falls down from the premise. It *could* work, but now you're adding The Token Woman Who Is Also One Of The Nerds Doing The Same Things They Do.

The lazy response is always to add another stereotype to the zoo. I haven't seen much of it beyond the first season, but that's clearly what the writers were doing early on, at least.
posted by bonehead at 11:14 AM on January 9, 2013


...it's a Chuck Lorre comedy.

The show's co-creator, Bill Prady, began his career working for Jim Henson, and has written for Star Trek Voyager and The Gilmore Girls. I think there's probably a healthy dollop of genuine nerdiness in that writers' room.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:18 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


What Linda_Holmes said. Their science is actually quite good. I don't watch the show much (mostly when visiting my folks), but I do enjoy reading the blog written by the science consult. And occasionally there are jokes that are directed to a physics audience-- maybe just a mention on a whiteboard or whatnot but I like that extra layer.

The show is watchable, at least since they developed the female characters (the few episodes from the first season I tried to watch made me angry for that reason, but later ones are much better).

My big gripes are (1) whiteboards are evil. I can't think of a single theoretical physicist I know personally who actually likes whiteboards. Chalkboards, man, chalkboards.

(2) Wierdness about Raj, especially the Indian stereotyping. (I either haven't caught or haven't seen enough to see the "haha gay" stuff.

(3). My mom explains what I do for a living by telling people "my daughter is like Sheldon". Thanks, mom.
posted by nat at 11:21 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


My point exactly.

Well ... they don't leave it like that. What happens next is that he fills it in with real science. So what they wind up is hardly "scraped off of Wikipedia in a hurry." Why would you expect the writers to be physicists? Isn't it right for them to know their own limits and go to a science guy to get their science? Does a comedy about advanced physicists have to be written by advanced physicists?

My point is not that the specific science is critical to the jokes; it's that your suspicion that the science is lazily obtained from a quick glance at Wikipedia, which suggests they don't care anything about the science or getting it right, isn't accurate.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:22 AM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


The money quote in that article, Linda_Holmes: ‘Sometimes they’ll just say “science to come” in brackets in the script.’

While it may prove that the science isn't the source of the jokes, I think it's completely fair to write a script that way (for the most part). Most screen writers are not scientists. They may be nerdy as all get out, but they're nerdy about TV, film, and writing, not about science. I don't think the fact that the scripts sometimes have "insert science here" notes is a failing of the show.

On preview: what Linda Holmes said.
posted by asnider at 11:25 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, whatever, L_H. It still seems that way to me, right or wrong. But that wasn't my point. My point was that THE SCIENCE IS NOT THE JOKE. It's just there to hold up the format.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:27 AM on January 9, 2013


Sometimes they’ll just say “science to come” in brackets in the script.

Last week on Emergency Medical Treatment...
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:28 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well ... they don't leave it like that. What happens next is that he fills it in with real science. So what they wind up is hardly "scraped off of Wikipedia in a hurry." Why would you expect the writers to be physicists? Isn't it right for them to know their own limits and go to a science guy to get their science? Does a comedy about advanced physicists have to be written by advanced physicists?

To put it briefly, yes (or people who understand the material they're joking about anyway). Write what you know. There is no need for a comedy about advanced physicists. There is no need to force what to you is some other guy's meaningless mumbo jumbo into your empty shell to try to make something out of it. It won't be any good.

But, this is why a lot of sitcoms aren't very good.
posted by mdn at 11:32 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Write what you know.

Well, that would make me sad, because you wouldn't get either Community or Parks & Rec, neither of which are run by subject-matter experts, as far as I know. But YMMV, as always.

But I'm done. I like it; it doesn't really matter that much.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:41 AM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


The money quote in that article, Linda_Holmes: ‘Sometimes they’ll just say “science to come” in brackets in the script.’

My point exactly.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:10 PM on January 9 [+] [!]



Yeah, REAL nerds should avoid such lazy scriptwriting like the plague. Oh wait...
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:47 AM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Needs more distinction between geeks and nerds

Leonard, Sheldon, Raj and Howard are all geeks but only Raj and Howard are nerds

Leonard is too cool to be a geek and Sheldon is too unconventional
posted by Bwithh at 11:54 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just want to put it in perspective that we have spent 200+ comments talking about The Big Bang Theory, a show that doesn't take this much thought to write.

Thank goodness we live in a society where there is nothing else to get upset about.
posted by HostBryan at 11:55 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think a lot depends on what you think of as the knowledge part. The makers of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" pitched a sitcom about a group of self-involved unemployed actors in Los Angeles. FX asked them to change it to a sitcom about a group of self-involved Irish-American bar workers in Philadelphia. They agreed, arguing that this actually did not have a huge effect on the characters or their plots.

Arguably, that makes for bad writing. Certainly, one of the oft-repeated nostrums of writing is that if your idea could work as well in the distant future as the court of King Arthur, it is either immoral or generic. But sitcoms tend to deal in large characters as a reliable source of humor.

In the same way, I believe Star Trek: TNG scripts often had "They tech the tech" written into the early drafts - because the writers knew what they wanted the plot to do, but not how the physics that would allow that would be explained.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:55 AM on January 9, 2013


Well ... they don't leave it like that. What happens next is that he fills it in with real science. So what they wind up is hardly "scraped off of Wikipedia in a hurry." Why would you expect the writers to be physicists? Isn't it right for them to know their own limits and go to a science guy to get their science? Does a comedy about advanced physicists have to be written by advanced physicists?

Given the number of advanced physicists/grad students/undergrads who have taken an introductory course to physics who would be delighted to occasionally consult on a script for a TV show supposedly aimed at their demographic, sure! But that would be too much work/homage to the actual physicists and not enough to the weekday night masses who can't even be bothered to watch an hour-long special on Einstein. And aye, that's the rub.

Counterpoints to TBBT would be shows that know their limits and really do their best to appeal to them: Adventure Time to webcomics/comics/etc fandom with episodes featuring Kate Beaton's Fat Pony and hiring Ryan North to write the AT comic adaptation. Or Parks and Rec having Leslie Knope put up pictures of Diane Feinstein and Sally Ride along with Ben's bit on Star Trek, Game of Thrones, and just about every one of his bits on nerdom up to and including his and Leslie's internal, West Wing-like blow-up at a Model UN. Which isn't to say that you shouldn't like TBBT because these other great shows exist but you should understand why there is such a hate for the show whose premise is that it's about nerds when there are so many other healthy depictions of being nerds on shows that aren't toeing that line.
posted by dubusadus at 11:58 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


" I've been meaning to check out the Mindy Project, but mostly I'm waiting for Community to get back."

The Mindy Project is fucking fantastic in a way that it totally doesn't deserve to be. NBC made a huge mistake in passing on it.
posted by klangklangston at 11:58 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


And I tend not to like BBT for three reasons: First and foremost, the laugh track just grates the shit out of me. Second, most of the nerd jokes just seem like perfunctory fan service of the sort that made Snakes On A Plane so terrible. Third, when they're not lazy fan service, they're lazy anti-nerd jokes.

But really, that laugh track. Can't do it. Don't understand how anyone can. I mean, I can't even really get into the IT Crowd because of their laugh track.
posted by klangklangston at 12:03 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Leonard, Sheldon, Raj and Howard are all geeks but only Raj and Howard are nerds

Leonard is too cool to be a geek and Sheldon is too unconventional


Not to get too semantic (since I don't watch the show), but it seems like Leonard is a geek (e.g. Simon Pegg), not a nerd (e.g. Steve Urkel), i.e. "geeks" are defined by their (often obsessive) interest in "geek culture" (or any subculture), whereas "nerds" have social difficulties.

I'm pretty sure Sheldon qualifies as a "geek" and a "nerd" but again, IANAE on the show.

As I read this I now realize you meant "nerd" in that second sentence. So, in brief.

Leonard is too cool to be a geek nerd and Sheldon is too unconventional

FTFY.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:05 PM on January 9, 2013


Write what you know. There is no need for a comedy about advanced physicists.

Oh god, no - the world does NOT need any more books about how [textual/oral] stories are the most important thing evar, or films about how filmmaking is the essence of the human spirit (though I did love Hugo and The Artist, but it got a bit wearing when the message seemed to be "yeah, filmmaking is so much better than your life will ever be...").

Creators are already in a position of extreme privilege -- to make their creation solely about themselves and people like them would just make for the most incestuous, head-up-the-butt art. It's bad enough that most creators are lazy and when reaching beyond creative professionals they only go so far as doctors, lawyers or police (how many books, films, tv about doctors, lawyers or police?).

Writing stories about people who are unlike yourself is both more interesting (for you, for your reader) and - when done well - is a wonderful exercising in moving outside of one's own existence.

Now for the sitcom for over-educated but still unemployed slackers (as opposed to the drop-out slackers - we're a totally different breed).
posted by jb at 12:09 PM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Honestly, re-reading the article, if the author had blown up the section about gender roles and pushed the concern about the portrayal of "geeks" to only a paragraph or two, it would have been a much bigger, more important argument.

Last week's episode involved all the guys getting in trouble with human resources for sexual harassment. Which was a long time in coming. They act like creepy stalkers at best and sexual predators at worst. Yet, virtually nothing happens to them and the whole situation is played for laughs. Maybe it's because I was reading about what's going on in Steubenville while I was watching it but I found it really uncomfortable and horrifying.

That to me is a significantly bigger problem than "I like Star Trek and science and I think the show is mean to me".
posted by HostBryan at 12:22 PM on January 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


BBT dropped off my interest-meter when there was an episode where the guys were playing an "RPG" that Sheldon had developed. It looked like Monopoly, or maybe Chutes & Ladders. It was obvious that the writers weren't writing for me. Added into all the other problems with the show -- poor women characters, blatant stereotypes, tacit support for misogyny in fandom, lazy writing -- that tipped the balance for me. (The D&D episode of Community is still one of the best instances of filmed RPGs around, and managed to be funny, real and meaningful -- all things BBT doesn't seem interested in.)
posted by jiawen at 12:27 PM on January 9, 2013


Well, that would make me sad, because you wouldn't get either Community or Parks & Rec, neither of which are run by subject-matter experts, as far as I know

Well, I'm not really sure what you mean, but to me "write what you know" when it comes to comedy, means write about what you genuinely find funny and interesting so you get to the parts that are unusual or unexpected. If you can just insert science later, then the science is clearly not related to the humor - it's just today's press-on character to dangle in front of an audience. YOu could do the same basic script but insert a different set of interests and it would change very little.

With something like Community or Parks & Rec, the interests come across as innate and necessary parts of what makes the character compelling. For me, the Big Bang characters look to have very generic interests in "science stuff", and those interests are pointed to for laughs in themselves, not as part of a larger character study/ story. They are only physicists because that sounds like the smartest thing out there. There is no genuine interest in the study or real connection between the different interests (it's just any generic nerd culture thing - comic books, video games, physics, whatev! as if it's all part of one world).

Oh god, no - the world does NOT need any more books about how [textual/oral] stories are the most important thing evar,... Writing stories about people who are unlike yourself is ... more interesting

The problem there is that you need to get to know some other things, then. But don't start writing it before you get to know it.
posted by mdn at 12:32 PM on January 9, 2013


Seconding mdn: "Write what you know" is an injunction to know everything.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:39 PM on January 9, 2013


this reminds me how much I really liked Everybody Hates Chris

The other day my daughter opened a Lara bar then realized it was a flavor she didn't like, and wanted to open a second one. I found myself saying "That's a dollar fifty worth of Lara bar right there!" while pointing to the rejected one.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:41 PM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


This show is totally unrealistic. Pretty much everyone I know is a scientist. All the real rocket scientists I know are gun toting church goers and the physicists are into mountain climbing.

Organic chemists play in punk bands and skate to work, marine biologists live weirdly alternative lifestyles and throw the best parties, hydrologists are adrenaline sport junkies, geologists are too plus they have access to explosives and botanists are really boring and go to bed early.

If weren going to stereotype scientists let's at least do it right.
posted by fshgrl at 12:47 PM on January 9, 2013 [17 favorites]


This piece misses the point in a lot of ways. I agree with what others have said about Leonard being the audience surrogate, the terrible way women are treated, and the tired old NOHOMO jokes, and anyone who thinks Amy Farrah-Fowler is "portrayed as distinctly asexual" just isn't paying attention.

But I think the main point of the piece is spot-on: the way the show tries to be a part of nerd culture while consistently ridiculing it is especially despicable. I Love Lucy wasn't trying to be a part of Cuban culture, nor was Frasier trying to worm its way into the hearts of shrinks in the Pacific Northwest. Even Bones, which has a lot of the same issues as TBBT--the show's about giggling at the geeks rather than celebrating them, and tries to force them to be more "normal" (which they do, as time goes on)--never really tried to be a beloved geek show the way TBBT so desperately wants to be.

Calling Lorre "the worst kind of bully" is indeed taking it a bit too far, but I totally see him as the mean girl who pretends to be into the geek to set him up for ridicule.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:52 PM on January 9, 2013


If you liked the Community D&D episode, check out the IT Crowd episode "Jen the Fredo."
posted by drezdn at 12:54 PM on January 9, 2013


Writing stories about people who are unlike yourself is both more interesting (for you, for your reader) and - when done well - is a wonderful exercising in moving outside of one's own existence.

I agree. I've always had a problem with the "write what you know" advice b/c it doesn't take into account the act of learning as you write (i.e. "Research.")

A while ago, I came to terms with the advice by addendum (as I do with the Golden Rule): "Write what you know, what you care about, and what you want to learn about" - that works well enough.

And whether or not the writers of The Big Bang Theory (I should have noticed the all important capitalized T) care or want to learn about "geek culture," well ... that's an argument FOR THE AGES.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:15 PM on January 9, 2013


ominous_paws: In fact it really has. ITC started out pretty much vulnerable to all the charges being aimed at TBBT here - including oh-ladies-like-pretty-shoes-but-they-make-their-feet-sore gags - and fairly quickly matured into something pretty decent.

That was as far as I got in The It Crowd. The first episode was pretty fucking unfunny but I gave it another chance, and that's what they gave me as a reward. I really didn't need another show about ha ha ha women are all technologically incompetent and empty headed. Maybe it's more fun for male geeks, but it clearly wasn't a show interested in me.
posted by tavella at 1:23 PM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Okay, I just realised: one of the characters was working as a waitress to pay for a PhD? In the Sciences?

That makes no sense. Not only should no one ever pay for a PhD, in the sciences it would be a scandal (as opposed to just ill-advised), no science PhD student would have any time to work as a waitress, and a waitress job wouldn't pay enough per hour to support you in the tiny amount of time you are allowed to work off-campus (I'm pretty sure that I was restricted to 10 hours or less).

Now, if she were doing this as an undergrad, that might make sense. But as a PhD student, that's just crazy. The underpaid exploitation all happens in the lab, not off campus.
posted by jb at 1:23 PM on January 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


> "In the same way, I believe Star Trek: TNG scripts often had 'They tech the tech' written into the early drafts ..."

Yes, and it was obvious whenever they did it and it generally sucked.

This is not a great counterargument.
posted by kyrademon at 1:27 PM on January 9, 2013


> "In the same way, I believe Star Trek: TNG scripts often had 'They tech the tech' written into the early drafts ..."

Yes, and it was obvious whenever they did it and it generally sucked.

This is not a great counterargument.


As opposed to all those REAL shows about travelling around the galaxy in a flying Mall/College Campus...
posted by pupdog at 1:38 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


If we're going to stereotype scientists let's at least do it right.

Hey, this is fun:

Microbiologists make the best beer and throw great parties,
but Synthetic Organic Chemists make the best wines.
Limnologists are pirates at heart and will screw anything that moves, but
Geomorphologists go to bed early.
Physical oceanographers like seafood, as a rule,
while toxicologists tend to be unadventurous eaters.
Condensed matter theorists require their inertial rest mass in caffeinated beverages every day, and
GIS wonks wear button-down shirts exclusively.
posted by bonehead at 1:51 PM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Better Off Ted was a great nerd sitcom. I'm not a science nerd, so I'd feel alienated by a show just about incomprehensible science. From what I've seen of BBT it captured the social dynamics of geek groups: there's one who can pass for normal, a few more who are obviously geeky but still pretty chill, and one who's obviously the nerdiest of a nerdy group. It also portrayed geeks and nerds as having sex lives, which I liked.

The defensive self-righteousness about BBT is worse for geeks. And no mention of BBT's BNL theme song, since Community also mentioned BNL?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:03 PM on January 9, 2013


I think this is related but I am too lazy to draw the delicious parallels.

These people should grow the fuck up. "Nerd culture" is an oxymoron.
posted by gertzedek at 2:15 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


> "As opposed to all those REAL shows about travelling around the galaxy in a flying Mall/College Campus..."

Since I'm talking about poor scriptwriting on the show, I'm ... not sure what your point is?

I wasn't making any kind of comment about the *accuracy* of the science, or lack thereof, if that's what you thought I was getting at.
posted by kyrademon at 2:17 PM on January 9, 2013


Okay, I just realised: one of the characters was working as a waitress to pay for a PhD? In the Sciences?

I actually knew someone who did this though. She was pretty and flirtatious and had a job at an ultra-high-end bar, and she said she could make $500 in tips on a Friday night.

Sadly, working as a waitress after getting a science PhD is more common.
posted by miyabo at 2:26 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


fshgrl, thanks for pinpointing the main reason TBBT left me cold. I'm a big frigging nerd, I went to grad school for seven years, I love hanging out with nerds IRL, and yet watching TBBT I saw very little I recognized. No big deal, FIAMO and all, but it felt like a missed opportunity. Plus as other people mentioned, the way the show seemed to be treating Sheldon made me feel kind of uneasy/gross, and if the show is also weird about women, race, and gay people (I haven't seen enough to personally attest to any of that) then yeah, not adding it to my queue any time soon.

And since this is a fun game, here's my version of science stereotypes: the physics people I know from grad school traveled a lot and threw huge parties where their friends' metal bands played in the basement. The organic chemists were varsity-level drinkers who did Crossfit together. The molecular bio crowd had sort of a fratty vibe, except for the neuroscientists, who were quieter and more cynical and often big smokers. The evolutionary biologists were split between crunchy-outdoorsy and the type of people who were late to a party because they hit a deer and then decided to field-dress it (and later made it into jerky).
posted by en forme de poire at 2:29 PM on January 9, 2013


Honestly, re-reading the article, if the author had blown up the section about gender roles and pushed the concern about the portrayal of "geeks" to only a paragraph or two, it would have been a much bigger, more important argument...Last week's episode

I wish there was a way to get the writer of the piece on here, because from what I've seen I didn't get a handle on the gender dynamics other than the boring trope of the dumb blonde that I got confused with the other dumb blonde Kaley Cuco played. I think we're probably a couple of seasons behind on E4 so it might be that the gender dynamic and rapeyness is a more recent development - and I'm intrigued considering all the 'why geeks seem to hate women' type articles that have been on New Statesman et al of late, it seems like there really is something to say there.

Also, I am intrigued at the objections to the wardrobe.
posted by mippy at 2:35 PM on January 9, 2013


With posts like these, that have obviously generated some passionate and expansive conversation, I always find myself clicking in to read the MeFi comments first, and usually skip over the actual article completely. I usually get a precis of the article/essay, a selection of the choicest/most harebrained quotes, a range of interesting and informed reactions, a bunch of good stories, and some jokes. It's like, who needs the article?
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 2:54 PM on January 9, 2013


Microbiologists make the best beer and throw great parties,
but Synthetic Organic Chemists make the best wines.
Limnologists are pirates at heart and will screw anything that moves, but
Geomorphologists go to bed early.
Physical oceanographers like seafood, as a rule,
while toxicologists tend to be unadventurous eaters.
Condensed matter theorists require their inertial rest mass in caffeinated beverages every day, and
GIS wonks wear button-down shirts exclusively.




Something about this makes me want to sing it. Possibly to the tune of "Galacian Girls".
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:59 PM on January 9, 2013


Oh and also:

BASPINGO
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 3:37 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I've never liked The Big Bang Theory. This post summarizes my distaste for it completely.
posted by Evernix at 3:48 PM on January 9, 2013


Okay, I just realised: one of the characters was working as a waitress to pay for a PhD? In the Sciences?

I actually knew someone who did this though. She was pretty and flirtatious and had a job at an ultra-high-end bar, and she said she could make $500 in tips on a Friday night.


Come to think of it, I knew two people who waitressed in an expensive restaurant as grad students. They didn't need to, but thought it was a pleasant enough way to make extra cash. It's like I know a lot of people who tutor (and I do too), but not as an integral part of our budgets.
posted by hoyland at 4:11 PM on January 9, 2013


TBH, Kyrademon, your project would involve seeking to define what is by your lights is best practice in Star Trek: TNG, and reverse-engineer conclusions about the way each episode might have been written from there. That is writers' room fanfic, which feels like a non-productive exercise, if possibly a fun one.

It remains the case, however, that relatively few Star Trek writers were also experienced spaceship engineers, or even possessed of the theoretical training to build starships. So, the question comes back to what is necessary tissue and what is garnish, in narrative terms. Which is to some degree subjective, although there is a corpus of work about it.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:20 PM on January 9, 2013


I went to grad school for seven years, I love hanging out with nerds IRL, and yet watching TBBT I saw very little I recognized.

Seriously. I watched this show once and the characters were under 35 and all had proper furniture. Nonsense.
posted by fshgrl at 4:57 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Please don't tell me that this applies to Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me. I don't think I could survive that kind of disappointment.

We went to a recording of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. The audience is genuine. Though there were a lot of re-takes. The audience was only coached in the sense of asking for absolute silence while doing certain run-in dialog.
posted by odinsdream at 5:04 PM on January 9, 2013


It's a network television show. If you don't like it, you're not forced to watch it. Really. You can watch something else or even not watch anything at all.

Alright everyone. We're done here. Last one out hit the lights, please.
posted by odinsdream at 5:09 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


mippy: Also, I am intrigued at the objections to the wardrobe.

Yeah, can someone explain this?
posted by troika at 5:19 PM on January 9, 2013


mippy: Also, I am intrigued at the objections to the wardrobe.

Just a quick stab at it: If the colors of Wolowitz's wardrobe were any more otherworldly vivid, one might not notice his belt buckles. Seriously, those colors simply do not exist in real life menswear and I doubt they've ever been set in any retail garment ever made. What possible reason for dressing the character in such a cartoonish way?
posted by klarck at 5:34 PM on January 9, 2013


jb writes "It's bad enough that most creators are lazy and when reaching beyond creative professionals they only go so far as doctors, lawyers or police (how many books, films, tv about doctors, lawyers or police?). "

We have all those doctor/lawyer/police shows because they are a way of sneaking in mysteries without having to call it a mystery.
posted by Mitheral at 5:41 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


What possible reason for dressing the character in such a cartoonish way?

Well, according to the show's costume designer it's because he's the fashionista of the group. Obviously.
posted by MaritaCov at 5:52 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really don't care about this show -- other than to casually say it blows -- but it does sadden me that there's like 829 episodes of it and we'll be lucky to get two dozen of this.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:06 PM on January 9, 2013


drezdn: "If you liked the Community D&D episode, check out the IT Crowd episode 'Jen the Fredo.'"

*Sigh*... I gave up on The IT Crowd for other reasons. (Namely, an incident of transphobia.)
posted by jiawen at 6:26 PM on January 9, 2013


We have all those doctor/lawyer/police shows because they are a way of sneaking in mysteries without having to call it a mystery.

Either mysteries or higher stakes than most of us face in our day-to-day lives. It kind of makes sense. It just gets tiresome.
posted by jb at 8:14 PM on January 9, 2013


botanists are really boring and go to bed early

Aww.... :(

/botanist
posted by pemberkins at 9:47 PM on January 9, 2013


If you don't like it, you're not forced to watch it. Really.

Please, everyone, can we stop saying this in threads with critical discussion of media? I understand the sentiment, especially when people are discussing something you genuinely like, but it comes off as defensive and as an attempt to shut down discussion.

"Sometimes they’ll just say “science to come” in brackets in the script."

The issue with this is that if you're doing it this way, the science (or any topic that is "to come") is never the point of the show and an episode will never revolve around it. It's either a cheap one-off laugh or a deus ex machina. In the former, it's the difference between having an element of the in-universe logic be a central element of the plot that the characters have to figure out how to use/get around and having someone connect something made up to something else to fix something in the last 10 minutes of the show. In the latter, it's between having some part of an episode (it doesn't have to be the whole thing, like the Community DnD or video game episodes, but can be a small thing, like the recurrence of Liz Lemon's Leia costume) revolve around and reflect the culture it's portraying or spraypainting a joke on at the last minute. I mean, one might be able to create a mildly passable comedy by writing in a bare-bones script and then putting "joke here" in occasionally, but it wouldn't be nearly as good as if the writers knew what jokes were and how to write them.

Seriously, those colors simply do not exist in real life menswear and I doubt they've ever been set in any retail garment ever made.

I just happened to notice, in one of the few episodes I've seen, that he was wearing a shirt that someone I know happened to own. They are buyable in stores.
posted by NoraReed at 9:57 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


The issue with this is that if you're doing it this way, the science (or any topic that is "to come") is never the point of the show and an episode will never revolve around it.

...unlike, say, Futurama, which has proved at least one theorem in the scriptwriting process. (The episode where everyone is swapping bodies)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:15 PM on January 9, 2013


You mean if I could have endured more than three minutes of TBBT, I would have found legitimate social issues to be mad about too? Thank god for my low tolerance for terrible jokes. The creeper stuff sounds unbearable.
posted by Nattie at 1:29 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously, those colors simply do not exist in real life menswear and I doubt they've ever been set in any retail garment ever made.

Maybe I've lived in London meeja land for too long but the clothes don't seem unusual to me. However, 90% of the geeks I've known have worn either all black wardrobes or clothing they have owned for literally decades (snot-coloured anorak with a rip from armpit to hem for example, or defunct software brands) as fashion is just one of those things they don't care for. They probably aren't shopping at Topman.
posted by mippy at 2:52 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Isn't it explicitly stated in one of the earlyish episodes that Howard is peacocking - i.e. using a technique recommended by pick-up artists of wearing flamboyant and attention-seeking clothing in order to demonstrate self-confidence and provide possible conversational avenues?

Which, given the close shading between pick-up artists and mens' rights activists, and the close association of both with an adversarial and hostile attitude towards women (as either the obstacle standing between the PUA and sex, or the oppressor of poor, victimized manhood), is one of those depictions of close male friendship communities (geek or otherwise) which seems unintentionally accurate. The gang of male geeks fairly consistently normalize and downplay his behavior - both his hitting on Penny, who has demonstrated that she finds it unwelcome, and his treatment of and narrative around other women.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:20 AM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Seriously, those colors simply do not exist in real life menswear and I doubt they've ever been set in any retail garment ever made.

What would be the point if they couldn't get a cut for showing off commercial clothes? Those are all real.

I admit I googled "Topman" and was disappointed that I didn't get any pornographic results ...
posted by mrgrimm at 12:23 PM on January 10, 2013


Well, tonight's episode pretty much validated nearly all the arguments against this show...

Seriously, they had Raj in costume as a character originally played by a black man, and somehow made him up to look lighter than his own skin tone? I don't even know what to say about that.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:34 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


mippy: "bit of casual racism towards Raj"

There's a lot of it, actually. I mean, it happens every episode. I guess the actor is cool with it, at least. I guess in some ways it's not markedly different from making the "pretty blonde" girl out to be fairly dumb (and yet, of course, we the audience are supposed to side with her, because learning things and getting excited about geeky things is for losers).
posted by Deathalicious at 1:51 AM on January 11, 2013


I think everyone on this thread should turn off the TV and go for a walk.
posted by Kokopuff at 7:04 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


'Big Bang Theory' delivers best ratings ever: Will it topple 'Idol'?

So torn by this. On one hand, I see (almost) everybody's points about the show and agree with most of them. On the other, and I say this as potentially the biggest Kelly Clarkson fan on Metafilter, I think American Idol is doing more damage to the culture overall.

(If you want casual homophobia and troubling treatment of women and non-white people, reality shows are going to beat most fictional programming 9 times out of 10.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:56 AM on January 11, 2013


and yet, of course, we the audience are supposed to side with her, because learning things and getting excited about geeky things is for losers

Except, as many people in this thread have pointed out, the audience isn't supposed to be primarily aligned with Penny. They're supposed to be primarily aligned with Leonard, one of the geeks (albeit the most "normal" of the bunch).
posted by asnider at 12:18 PM on January 12, 2013


Related: today's Penny Arcade.
posted by NoraReed at 6:40 PM on January 21, 2013


My racist, angry, willfully ignorant, casino-hopping, GOtP aunt-in-law asks me every time I see her if I watch TBBT. When I say I haven't, she reinforces just how funny it is and how I definitely need to watch it.

Which is all I needed to confirm that not watching it is a good idea. Pretty much every reference that comes my way from this show is from someone who tends to mythologize nerd culture(?) and science in general and see this snippet as a joke that we can share together. On the one hand, I appreciate that they have some brief glimpse of the things that I find fascinating. On the other, it's usually clear that we enjoy the reference for different reasons.
posted by Fezboy! at 7:29 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


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