It All Started With The Big Bang (Theory)...
I’ve been meaning to post something about The Big Bang Theory for a while now but it’s taken me ‘till now to really understand what it is about the show that makes me uncomfortable. I’m not exactly a believer in the whole “only write about the things you like, don’t trash the things you don’t” trend which seems to be plaguing comments sections in negative articles lately, but I wanted to be able to really examine why I don’t like TBBT rather than just slagging it off. My main questions being - Why don’t I like this anymore? Why do I feel uncomfortable watching it? And why do I get so annoyed when I see people sing its praises online? The thing which really sparked this post was seeing a raft of comments on Facebook, below the last round of voting in Television Without Pity’s Tubey Awards, claiming The Big Bang Theory to be “the best comedy on TV”. This made me angry so instead of posting an impulsive comment calling out their bad taste which I’d probably regret later, I decided to really analyse why seeing comments like that made me so mad when previously, although I didn’t really love the show, I’d never considered myself as disliking The Big Bang Theory.
Hell, I even have season one on dvd, it’s sitting right between Battlestar Galactica and Bored To Death in my alphabetised collection.
And here, I think, is where my problem with The Big Bang Theory lies…
I don’t really like to go hating on shows, but this post makes a lot of good points based on the (very familiar) feeling of discomfort that comes from watching The Big Bang Theory. Considering the copious and, from what I hear, correct references to science and nerd culture, I could only assume that there are scientists and self-acclaimed nerds involved in the writing of the show, or somehow consulting. This would suggest that these people are, for some reason, comfortable with what many people see as cruel humor.
Based on this, I’ve formulated a theory as to why these people write and/or watch the show. Maybe the type of humor isn’t intended to be cruel, rather, it’s meant to be self-deprecating. Maybe because the makers of this show proudly flaunt the same flaws and idiosyncrasies as the characters in this show, this is supposed to make the scientist/nerd viewers comfortable laughing at ourselves. Unfortunately, this theory alone does not make me comfortable with watching the show. Firstly, I don’t know if the writers and producers are nerds - it’s not a title that I can look up on their wikipedia pages nor a category that one can definitively be placed in based on however many interviews on youtube I watch.
Secondly, self-deprecating humor is a kind of joke - a gag, not a writing style. This type of humor is very popular and it works very well, but only in reasonable amounts. If overused, it creates superficial writing that gets by on telling practically the same jokes repeatedly and using the same plot formula over, and over, and over. Lots of shows do this - and that’s ok! These shows are good for a quick, lightweight, easy-to-understand-when-you’re-watching-them-at-3-am-wondering-why-you-can’t-sleep laugh. The downside is, once you’ve seen one episode, you’ve seen them all (and you can’t really become invested in it in the same way you can with a more “in-depth” show).
The other unfortunate consequence of this writing is that it produces very 2-dimensional characters. A character only has as many facets or personality traits as there are jokes that can be made about that trait. Your typical white, heterosexual male in Two and a Half Men (a show with a similar writing approach) can withstand a constant barrage of jibes directed at his “quirks”. On the other hand, a group of nerdy, awkward, scientists is way too far out by the borders of what is defined as “normal” to withstand that. To inflict this on a marginalized group of people is wrong because over time, it feels less like friendly teasing, and more like picking at an old wound. The real kicker is, the show is watched and loved by nerds and scientists who relate to these characters and who have possibly been teased in real life for the exact same personality trait that has been laughed at (repeatedly) on the show.