Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Big Bang Theory - Why We Love It

Scroll down to the end of the article for Fun Features.

I’ve been planning for a while to blog about what I think are great TV shows and what specifically I think makes them so great – so to start with, I will be discussing the CBS TV show The Big Bang Theory created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady.

According to Wikipedia, this show is “about two fictional Caltech geniuses, one an experimental physicist (Leonard Hofstadter) and the other a theoretical physicist (Sheldon Cooper), who live across the hall from an attractive blond waitress and aspiring actress (Penny).” It continues, “Leonard and Sheldon's geekiness and intellect are contrasted for comic effect with Penny's social skills and common sense. An aerospace engineer (Howard Wolowitz) and a particle astrophysicist (Rajesh Koothrappali) are their equally geeky and socially awkward co-workers and friends."

In other words, this is a show - like many - about a group of friends; except this group-of-friends consists of stereotypical geeks. The only non-geek in the group (also the only girl in the group) is Penny, and it is partly through her eyes that we see the other characters. So, this said, what sets this show apart from other sitcoms.

1. Most sitcoms like Friends insult your intelligence. This one definitely does not!

Personally, this show has made me more interested in science, particularly physics. But apart from that, it is informative, often teaching the audience various topics without the audience even realizing it. For example, Sheldon’s odd food habits made it possible for him to inform his friends, and thus the audience that when eating Tai food it is not necessary to use chopsticks because Tailand has had the fork for the latter half of the nineteenth century. He further explains that they do not use it to put the food into their mouths, but use it to put the food on a spoon which then goes into their mouths!

I wasn’t sure if others besides myself and my mother agreed on this quality of the show, so I searched for The Big Bang Theory on Yahoo!Answers to see what people thought of it. Someone who goes by the name of Jeff G asked 8 months ago, “Why is the TV Show The Big Bang Theory so popular?” One replier who goes by the name Entropy replied,

“I'm pretty nerdy and I love it. It is the only sitcom on TV whose jokes are occasionally smarter than slapstick about the stupid person. The fact that alot of the reference gags focus on nerd culture (sci fi, comics, etc) further personalizes it for me. But the science jokes where they don't completely dumb it down for the lowest common denominator...that's what attracts me to it. 99% of sitcoms are the same. This one is a little different.”;_ylt=AsuPm1FOFcnakYgfrd1NwQ3pFQx.;_ylv=3?qid=20091216171952AAaZGHr

2. The characters are definitely more diverse than the typical group of friends on a sitcom ...

Raj is Indian and a Hindu, Howard is Jewish, Sheldon comes from a Christian family, yet seems to be an atheist, and Leonard was raised in what appears to be an atheist family as well.

3. Instead of main characters who are physically fit, athletic, and who are so conventionally attractive that they could be models – these guys are skinny, more average, and goofy-looking ...

... having said that, despite any skinniness, lack of biceps, short stature, glasses, and anything else one might associate with the geek, it’s obvious that these guys are still pretty attractive. So what if they’re not macho like Penny’s ex-boyfriend Kurt (who appropriately dresses up for her Halloween party like a cave-man)? It’s obvious that the Kurt-type characters need their physique to distract girls from the fact that they have no sense of humour, intellect, sensitivity, etc ...

4. While shows like Sex and The City and Friends feature stylish characters with the latest clothes that viewers will eventually want to buy to be hip, these guys are geek chic!

Not only do they wear T-shirts with super-hero logos, molecules, and other scientific concepts that go right over my head, but these guys are criticized for their fashion sense by non-geeks like Penny and yet they continue to wear the clothes that they love anyways! And why shouldn’t they? Their clothes rock! And I’m not the only one who thinks so ... Check out the following website where you can buy T-shirts featured on the show!

Along with T-shirts featured on the show, fans can purchase T-shirts with characters and famous quotes: 5. While most sitcoms show women like Penny - conventionally attractive - as successful, desirable, and as having healthy sex lives, The Big Bang Theory shows some less conventionally attractive women who are also successful and desirable while having active dating and sex lives ...

Yes, Penny is adored by Leaonard and has many other admirers, but she seems to be unhappy in her love life, as well as in her professional life – though an aspiring actress, she currently waitresses at The Cheesecake Factory. Other women characters, however, seem to have more successful love lives and careers.

Dr. Leslie Winkle, for example, is a physisist like Leonard and Sheldon,and in some ways a stereotypical geek as well. Visually she is a sort of female counterpart to Leonard - unlike blond, tanned, curvy, perky Penny, Leslie is skinny with brown, curly hair and glasses, and could not be characterized by happy/perkiness. In fact, she slightly mocks girls like Penny after making dates with Leonard by saying in a high, girly voice, “Call me!” Unlike the stereotypical geek, however, Leslie has a very active sex life. She is also not shy when it comes to making dates like other female geek characters. On the contrary, she is very confident.

There is also Dr. Stephanie Barnett, a highly distinguished surgical resident. Also unlike Penny, Stephanie is a tall, plus-sized character with short red hair. She doesn’t look like the typical medical doctor you’ll see on TV – for some reason they are all physically fit and have obvious model-like sex appeal – but we see that she too has an active dating and sex life. Not many TV shows portray plus size women as having success in these areas, let alone as being desirable to more than one man to the point of jealousy, but The Big Bang Theory does!

6. While most TV shows and sitcoms centre around perfect men who get lots of action, The Big Bang Theory centres around men with some obvious flaws and challenges that are realistic and often unacknowledged ...

Dr. Leonard Hofstadter can be described as love shy. According to Wikipedia, love shyness is “a severe chronic shyness that inhibits intimate relationships” making it difficult to impossible to be assertive in informal situations involving potential romantic or sexual encounters.” In other words, Leonard – and perhaps some of the other guys as well – is too shy to initiate romantic relationships and sexual encounters. Unfortunately, this is a real phenomenon more common among men and women than most people realize.

Dr. Sheldon Cooper is believed by many viewers to have Asperger’s Syndrome. According to Wikipedia, Asperger’s Syndrome is “an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interactions along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.” Particular qualities symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome that Sheldon seems to have are lack of empathy, impairment in social interaction, intense preoccupation with a narrow subject. Sheldon could also be considered a savant – a person with a developmental disorder who has one or more areas of expertise, ability, or brilliance that are in contrast with the individual's overall limitations.

Howard Wolowitz, characterized by his skinny build, has a condition called transient idiopathic arrhythmia which is responsible for his only having 3% body fat. According once again to Wikipedia, arrhythmia is “a condition in which there is abnormal electrical activity in the heart.” Furthermore it explains that while some arrhythmias can be minor and may simply have annoying symptoms such as awareness of the heartbeat, “some arrhythmias are life-threatening medical emergencies that can result in cardiac arrest and sudden death.” Whatever the severity of Howard’s condition, what we do know is that he is proud of only having 3% body fat! Apart from this, Howard also has a severe, life-threatening allergy to peanuts, and was shown to have fallen in a deep depression after being rejected by Penny, during which he missed work and seemed to remain secluded in his bedroom.

Dr. Rajesh Ramayan Koothrappali could also be described as love shy, yet in addition to this he suffers from selective mutism. According to good old Wikipedia, selective mutism is “a communicative disorder in which a person is unable to speak in given situations, or to specific people” and in Raj’s case, he is unable to speak to women, particularly attractive women. Since it occurred to me that viewers could find this to be a stereotype and an offensive one at that, I looked into the development of this character and found that one of the show’s creators actually knew a young man with this same pathology – he was unable to talk to women due to severe shyness. So, like love shyness and Asperger’s Syndrome, selective mutism is a real phenomenon, and possibly a little-known phenomenon, as some feel the need to raise awareness of selective mutism by wearing turquoise wristbands that display the phrase “breaking the silence.”

7. Despite many character flaws, the show seems to centre around the personal growth of the characters in a way that reminds us of the fairy tale The Frog Prince ...

... but not The Frog Prince you probably heard as a child in which a kiss transformed the frog into a prince. In the original story of The Frog Prince, the spoiled princess reluctantly fulfilled the creepy bargain with the frog, but became disgusted when the frog wanted more than to just sleep on her pillow. The frog desired a kiss, and what would happen if the princess complied ... would he want even more? In her disgust, the princess asserted herself and threw the frog against the wall, and it is this action that transformed the hideous frog into an attractive human prince. The princess ultimately deserved the prince because she bettered herself through assertion, and the frog ultimately deserved the princess and was thus transformed because he learned that he could not impose or take advantage of others. Thus, both characters grew and learned important lessons.

Why is this fairytale significant in relation to The Big Bang Theory? You might say that Penny is like a spoiled princess, in the sense that she has no problems imposing on Leonard and Sheldon upon first meeting them – just as the princess imposed on the frog to retrieve her golden ball, Penny imposes on Leonard and Sheldon to retrieve her television set from her bullying ex-boyfriend who inevitably steals their pants, making them return home in their underwear.

Not only does she do this, but she imposes once more when having furniture delivered and, though she barely knows Leonard and Sheldon, she trustingly gives them the spare key to her apartment. Though her neighbors do carry the package up to their floor and into her apartment, they violate her trust later that night by entering her apartment while she slept to clean! While this is incredibly creepy and uncalled for, one could argue that Penny had no business trusting complete strangers with a spare key to her apartment in the first place! Penny certainly learned her lesson for being so trusting, and Leonard and Sheldon learned theirs for being so intrusive. One could claim that Leonard and Sheldon are both like the frog – both have a prince inside them somewhere but both have a lot to learn about people in order to grow and be worthy of anyone.

Raj and Howard also exhibit frog-like qualities in that Raj got drunk on a date with Penny, behaved rudely, and introduced her to his parents as his girlfriend, while Howard took advantage of her consoling him in another episode and tried to kiss her. Penny forced Raj to verbally apologize despite being too shy to talk to women, and punched Howard as he tried to kiss her.

I would say that the male characters have a positive effect on Penny in that she is learning to be less naive, more empathetic, less spoiled, and that her general view of the world is broadening overall. Furthermore, Penny’s effect on the male characters is also positive in that they are learning to behave more appropriately when it comes to women, and are perhaps broadening and expanding socially overall. I would even say that before Penny, their whole universe was in hot dense state, but once she moved in, expansion started (... in other words, Penny was the BIG BANG!).

Fun Features

25 The Big Bang Theory Buttons from Ebay

The Big Bang Theory Theme Song

"The History of Everything" by the Barenaked Ladies

Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,
Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started. Wait...
The Earth began to cool,
The autotrophs began to drool,
Neanderthals developed tools,
We built a wall (we built the pyramids),
Math, science, history, unravelling the mysteries,
That all started with the big bang!

"Since the dawn of man" is really not that long,
As every galaxy was formed in less time than it takes to sing this song.
A fraction of a second and the elements were made.
The bipeds stood up straight,
The dinosaurs all met their fate,
They tried to leap but they were late
And they all died (they froze their asses off)
The oceans and pangea
See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya
Set in motion by the same big bang!

It all started with the big BANG!

It's expanding ever outward but one day
It will cause the stars to go the other way,
Collapsing ever inward, we won't be here, it won’t be hurt
Our best and brightest figure that it'll make an even bigger bang!

Australopithecus would really have been sick of us
Debating out while here they're catching deer (we're catching viruses)
Religion or astronomy, Encarta, Deuteronomy
It all started with the big bang!

Music and mythology, Einstein and astrology
It all started with the big bang!
It all started with the big BANG!

Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock

The Friendship Alogrithm

The Big Bang Theory Official Website

The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory Fan Website

Sheldon Shirts

Big Bang Theory T-shirts (from TV Store

1 comment:

  1. Although it can sometimes feel like jokes are repeated, the show is a shining example of geek culture, full of funny comic, movie and video game references that young people, like me, will lap The Big Bang Theory Online.