The Big Bang Theory rewards idiocy on the part of its viewership, so its success really suits its time. There’s no escaping the freak hit about freaks – it’s the second most-watched show on American TV, it was recently renewed for two further series into mid-2019, and a spinoff series about the young Sheldon Cooper is on the way too. Today it was revealed that the show’s stars will have amassed fortunes of more than £100m by the end of 2019, by which time E4 may well have become a 24-hour Big Bang Theory channel.
Big Bang is problematic on almost every level. It dresses itself up as a celebration of ‘geek culture’, but it’s more of a bullying exercise, with a brain-mushing laughter track to match. Using Nelson Muntz’s point-and-laugh tactics to make intelligence the butt of shit jokes, it turns what it thinks is geek culture into an unrecognisable pantomime. Sometimes the ‘jokes’ are literally just lists of several vaguely geeky things, strung together in a row:
That’s only part of what makes TBBT‘s success so disheartening. It’s also an anti-aspirational show, marrying the pursuit of knowledge with complete social ineptitude. Its characters are geniuses, but – lol! – not in any way that actually matters. They dress terribly, they don’t understand the opposite sex, they address their problems through a scientific filter, and one of them (Raj) was so anxious around women that he couldn’t speak to one sober until the end of season 6. Scientists, says Big Bang, are lame and nerdy and you should never want to be one.
Worse is how it has its cake and eats it too with its fan-favourite eccentric, Sheldon. Sheldon doesn’t like being touched, has real trouble understanding social cues, and is widely believed by viewers to have Asperger’s Syndrome – star Jim Parsons says he “couldn’t display more traits” of the condition. But co-creator Bill Prady says “Our feeling is that Sheldon’s mother never got a diagnosis, so we don’t have one” – presumably so the writers can continue to avoid having to treat Sheldon, or his mystery condition, with any kind of sensitivity or nuance.
One of my favourite quotes about the show comes from an interview co-creator Chuck Lorre did in 2008, in which he explains how the show manages to appeal to non-scientists.
“There has to be science,” he said, “but there has to be comedy. [If] you don’t get the science, you’ll still get the comedy.
“It’s like if the show is in Portuguese,” he went on, miraculously. “You should still be able to laugh. That’s the bar you have to jump over as writers.”
He’s so funny.