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In Defense of "The Big Bang Theory" (ideonexus.com)
76 points by ideonexus on Feb 4, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 111 comments

Apparently nerds are too self-conscious to be parodied and find it more offensive than the Hitler jokes they post on Reddit all day. The fact that I just stereotyped them (and by them I mean "us") probably has several scrambling for their rage comic generators already. It's incomprehensible that anyone would ever joke about their quirky, endearing traits or the fact that they're passionate about unconventional things.

Adrock's quote is the perfect example of this:

> . . . the main difference between Sheldon and Abed is that Abed is treated as a hero. . . Community tells us it’s cool to be a nerd. If Abed is better then we are better. Community is a warm hug of acceptance whereas The Big Bang Theory is a pantsing and a punch in the face.

This is just sad. Nerds insist that you coddle and pander to them because their egos are too delicate to handle a joke? Please, that generalization is far more insulting towards nerds than any joke TBBT has ever made.

As a nerd and a geek, the thing I find most offensive is the way other geeks and nerds react to The Big Bang Theory. It's almost embarrassing to be associated with people who behave like such spoiled children.

I agree.

> As a nerd and a geek, the thing I find most offensive is the way other geeks and nerds react to The Big Bang Theory. It's almost embarrassing to be associated with people who behave like such spoiled children.

I know what you mean, but I actually often laugh about this about as much as I laugh at the actual show. Knowing how many of the real geeks around the world would collapse into a Sheldonesque tizzy fit about a scene is half the fun of the scene.

Exactly my thoughts. The whole discussion is childish and doesn't belong here.

This is the first time I'm hearing anything about TBBT but even watching the show for around 60 seconds (Brian Greene in the coffee shop) made me think that it was terribly, terribly written and terribly, terribly acted. I'm sorry if this sounds like I'm tooting my own horn, but at this point _Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality_ probably is the most popular HP fanfiction ever written and that probably does make me one of the world's leading authorities on how to depict the inner mental life of nerds. This is not how you do it.

I can't imagine writing a scene where HJPEV is laughing with Hermione over someone's terrible popular explanation of Heisenberg's Uncertainty. They'd never go to a comic-book store just to laugh at it. It would violate their character identities completely. In a story where Harry Potter has to be rescued from certain death at the hands of a yaoi fangirl horde (Ch. 42, and you didn't even notice) a scene like the one in TBBT would be just too unrealistic. And if somehow anything like that _did_ happen in a scene, if some wizard _did_ undergo a comic misunderstanding of quantum physics, it would be after I'd done whatever it took to explain correct-Heisenberg to the reader so that they would be laughing (and commiserating) right along with the protagonists. If you don't explain Heisenberg, what's the point? There's nothing left but empty feelings of superiority.

You are mistaken to think this show is supposed to depict the inner mental life of nerds.

It's absurdly common amongst people of our kind to assume TBBT is written for us, when in reality it's written as a caricature of us, for the general public. Much like Fraiser is not written for radio hosts, and Friends is not written for New York living twenty-somethings, TBBT is not supposed to be for nerds.

It's just not a big enough audience, yet, to cater to.

I wish more people understood this. All mainstream sitcoms are just window dressing for the same tired joke machine of setup + punchline. Even Community follows this formula more often than not and let's face it, Community for all its excellence is very hit or miss. Shows like Friends or TBBT more or less follow this formula at the cost of character development and plot, but the people watching them don't care about those things.

If you want realistic drama then try watching a realistic drama. I like TBBT. Its easy chuckles and its fun to see the exaggerated high school version of me getting roasted. There's a lot of comedy to mine in the overly serious and socially clueless nerd stereotypes. The show really is about the hilarity of manboys trying to make their way in the modern world and less about geekdom or 'smart people.' It would be trivial to retool the script to be about obsessed sports fans instead of obsessed nerds.

>It's absurdly common amongst people of our kind to assume TBBT is written for us, when in reality it's written as a caricature of us, for the general public.

Anecdotally, every recommendation I've encountered for the show has come from self-described nerds who feel the show does speak to / for them.

I think you might be underestimating the number of people who will relate to and even try to emulate a popular caricature of themselves.

Describing one's self as a nerd has been a growing trend lately ever since geek became chic.

I personally know multiple people who after watching BBT now identify as a nerd despite not having any sort of hobbies or technical experience.

How dare they.

How dare they.

How dare they associate with a cultural identity that they don't understand!

Besides, it's only the nerds of yesterday who had to deal with the endless bullying and loneliness! Future generations should get a free pass to associate themselves with the identity just because they watched some stupid sitcom.

>Anecdotally, every recommendation I've encountered for the show has come from self-described nerds

Anecdotally, every self-described nerd I've encountered has described themselves as a nerd because it it currently cool, and they own a phone which makes them "such a nerd".

Quite. "Geeks" are trendy at the moment, but to the general TV amd movie-watching public, a "geek" is a fashion model who wore glasses in high school.

> If you don't explain Heisenberg, what's the point? There's nothing left but empty feelings of superiority.

That empty feeling of superiority is exactly what is being ridiculled most of the time in this show. Maybe you've choosen wrong 60 seconds to judge the show.

That show laughs as much at the smart-but-socialy-stupid people (mostly Sheldon), as at the ignorant masses. Actually - even more at the geeks. And it's ok - geeks often ARE condescending and pretentious. It's ok to laught about that.

Also it was very funny to me to see some of my early attempts at male-female communication almost perfectly presented in that show :).

Not every fiction about geeks has to be education vehicle. This show is "a portrait of geeks-non geeks interactions".

Except many geniuses do laugh at some of the dumbed down analogies given by Greene and other household names. Granted they respect those physicists for raising awareness of the respective theories and raising the profile of science in general, but the jokes are still made about the analogies. (in fact you only have to look closer to home to see how often people like us quibble over comparisons made where we're simplifying IT principles).

The reason Sheldon's comments were more derogatory is a reflection of Sheldon's character as he sees those people as beneath him. However there's plenty of times he makes extremely complimentary remarks about other physicists - albeit ones not usually known for making the sciences more accessible.

TBBT is not meant to depict the inner life of nerds. A common summary is "The Big Bang Theory is a show about smart people for stupid people, Community is a show about stupid people for smart people." I wouldn't say only stupid people can enjoy TBBT, but the point stands that TBBT's audience is not nerds.

I agree. It's really bad and lacks any subtlety in the humour or acting. If you wanna see funny humour like this watch the IT Crowd.

I do enjoy The IT Crowd, but in my opinion it's even worse for stereotyping than TBBT is.

Think of it as a nerd minstrel show; then those writing and directing choices make a lot more sense. That's what gets people so upset.

I have nerd friends who like it, but these same friends rarely notice that they're being made fun of. So.

The beauty of the way how the TBBT is written is that geeks understand the science and laugh with the show, but the jokes are delivered in a way that non-geeks can still laugh at the punch line as well. Having a show that doesn't dumb down the humour, while still entertaining people like ourselves, would isolate nearly everyone else.

A good comparison would be between Frasier and TBBT. Frasier used very highbrow rebuttals delivered in a slapstick way. So even if you've never watched Opera, didn't drink wine and generally understood little about the interests of protagonists, you could still enjoy the slapstick jokes and silly situations that Frasier and Niles Crane would often create for themselves.

And this is why TBBT is such a great show - because it's nerdy and my wife still enjoys it.

Furthermore TBBT has a lot of subtlety that only a geek or someone living with a geek would notice. Things such as background props (eg desktop computers with the side panels missing). That level of detail only comes from a crew of people wanting to pay homage to nerds rather than ridicule them.

So while TBBT does play to the stereotypes a lot and while there are undoubtedly some cringe worthy moments, do think it's a well rounded show if you look at it as a whole.


To me, given how the show is written, that feels more like pandering. "Oh look, LEGO Millennium Falcon, this show _GETS_ _ME_"

    > Subtlety.
Thanks for the correction. Post edited :)

    > To me, given how the show is written, that feels more like pandering. "Oh look, LEGO Millennium Falcon, this show _GETS_ _ME_"
That would be the pessimistic view of things, but personally I can't see the issue with that. I'd sooner see facets like that celebrated on popular shows rather than hidden away on niche programmes.

Except TBBT is not funny.

Clearly that's just a matter of personal preference.

And frankly those kind of comments are not the slightest bit constructive either. It has a terrible -almost "flamebait"- tone to it and offers no reasoning ("TBBT isn't funny because...") nor objectivity ("In my opinion it's not funny.").

Plus, it is funny.

Here is the most complete and eloquent explanation of Big Bang Theory hate that I have read:


I recommend reading the whole thing. The snippet that pulled me in was the perfect comparison to Community:

"There’s a saying which made its rounds in geekdom recently – “Real nerds watch Community”. Now I take issue with the idea of “real nerds” but the sentiment still stands. Whereas The Big Bang Theory sees nerd culture as an object of ridicule, Community celebrates it. Community’s laughing with you whereas Big Bang is giving you a wedgie and laughing at you. When TBBT makes a pop culture reference it uses it as a punchline, it names a show like Firefly and asks you to laugh at it. When Community makes a pop culture reference it commits. Community makes a whole episode based on a trope or a genre, it doesn’t just use paintball as a plot device it takes paintball seriously and bases two season finales around epic battles of paint. Community doesn’t laugh at the idea of playing D&D it bases an episode on it. Parallels can be drawn between the characters of Sheldon in Big Bang and Abed in Community. Abed too has trouble reading sarcasm and emotion, he has obsessions with routine and structure as well and disruptions in routine cause him considerable distress. Abed sees everything in terms of television and film tropes. This is how he understands the world around him and how he figures out how best to react. Unlike Sheldon, it is often confirmed that Abed does have mental difficulties, most likely Asperger’s Syndrome. But, crucially, the main difference between Sheldon and Abed is that Abed is treated as a hero. In the pilot episode Jeff Winger, arguably the most conventionally “cool” member of the group says this: “Abed is a shaman. You ask for bread and Abed gives you soup because soup is better. Abed is better”. In one episode Abed is literally treated as a god. Yes, his neuroses do at times inconvenience the rest of the group but his belief that they see him as a nuisance is dismissed as his own insecurity rather than the truth. Community positions us, its audience, as Abed. It knows that we are knowledgeable about the things we love, it knows that we understand tropes and genre conventions, it gives us the benefit of the doubt and treats us as intelligent human beings who will not only understand the meta pop culture references, but will find them funny and love the show for it. Community tells us it’s cool to be a nerd. If Abed is better then we are better. Community is a warm hug of acceptance whereas The Big Bang Theory is a pantsing and a punch in the face."

The author obviously feels humiliated by the show. What annoyed me about this post is how much time the author spends on pointing out how "cruel" TBBT is treating him and his fellow nerds. At one point I even got angry how sensitive he is. People make fun of geeks, get over it. I am under the impression that he wrote himself in some kind of rage and lost track of realism after a while.

TBBT is not supposed to defend geeks / nerds it's supposed to make the majority of people laugh and it succeeds.

His points are valid but his sentiment is over the top.

That's interesting. I surely am a geek (I'm a programmer, I do tabletop rpgs and computer games, and I know a lot of bizarre trivia), but I never noticed that BBT was laughing at me.

I never before heard of Community, I'll try it so I have some comparison.

Geeks like Community because it requires use of your brain and rewards you for having knowledge. This is a typical joke, never explained in the episode, which would be over the head of most viewers:


Isn't that true of TBBT? One joke I always remember is Sheldon telling Leonard that he shouldn't become romantically involved with a particular woman, because "her research methods are sloppy and she's unreasonably arrogant about loop quantum gravity". Most viewers probably haven't even heard of loop quantum gravity, and yet for the joke to be funny you have to understand Sheldon's occupation as a "classical" string theorist, and that loop quantum gravity is a competing theory that is supposed to supplant string theory, and around that time was being touted as the hot new thing.

Which is a bit more rewarding than a German not knowing the word 'schadenfreude'.

>Isn't that true of TBBT?


>Most viewers probably haven't even heard of loop quantum gravity, and yet for the joke to be funny you have to understand Sheldon's occupation as a "classical" string theorist, and that loop quantum gravity is a competing theory that is supposed to supplant string theory, and around that time was being touted as the hot new thing.

Most people who watch the show do not understand that. They still laugh at the "joke". You don't need that understanding, the joke to most people is simply "haha, the nerd won't date a girl because of some nerd thing she likes". There is a difference between making a joke based on something "nerdy" and merely making a reference to something "nerdy". TBBT does the latter.

I'd argue that Community is just a pop-culture reference show. That "knowledge" you seem so proud of is only useful for watching shows like Community (and maybe doing the crossword).

So nerds only like shows that cater to their superiority complex and idolize every aspect of their existence?

That sure sounds a lot like the superficial, narcissistic plebeians from whom nerds constantly strive to differentiate themselves. Not to worry, though, I'm sure they're all smart enough to detect the overwhelming irony.

TBBT makes fun of being a nerd (or a geek) at the expense of nerds and geeks. The audience is never the nerd or geek themself; it's everyone else. TBBT does not intend for you to emphathise with the nerds, they are there for your enjoyment. Essentially, TBBT makes nerds into the new samba blacks.

There is nothing smart about the jokes; the punchline (and frequently, the entire joke) is usually [something vaguely nerdy sounding that most people don't know]. Basically, TBBT just randomly says "quantom superstring theory" and you are expected to laugh at it because the phrase sounds ridiculous; there usually isn't any more context to it than the utterance of the nerdy-sounding thing.

In contrast, Community takes the concept and builds into something substantial. They'll take "quantum superstring theory" and, for example, turn it into an episode where the vibrations of silly string perfectly predict events going on elsewhere on campus.

BBT has a UCLA processor on staff as a fact-checker who fills in the realistic science parts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Saltzberg -- when interviewed he said his fellow scientists were at first wary of the show but then wildly enthusiastic after actually seeing the first season.

Mayiam Bialik (a minor but recurring character) holds a PhD in neuroscience (taken after playing Blossom so many years ago) and there's been quite a show of renowned scientists as guest stars (at last two Nobel prize recipients, Hawkings and George Smoot). I think they'd disagree with with your dismissal of the scientists portrayed as "new samba blacks".

On the 5-season Bluray set they show how the show is taped -- I think it took 4 hours to get the 25ish minutes done, all in front of a live studio audience, and an incredibly engaged one. In the breaks the interview some of the audience -- one was a female rocket scientist from Texas.

I personally found "Community" rather dull, and far less engaging than other in the new wave of non-laughtrack comedies/mockumentaries a la CYE, Modern Family, Veep, Parks & Recreation and Arrested Development.

>superficial, narcissistic plebeians

Humans avoiding discomfort! In their entertainment?! How dare they? Who do they think they are?!

HN contrarianism at its finest, people.

You've missed the point about the nature of their discomfort, i.e. the fact that they're upset simply because their egos aren't being stroked.

I think there's a mile long road between "being ridiculed" and "having their egos stroked." The nature of their discomfort has more to do with respect, or the lack of it.

But what the guy is saying is that Community doesn't just stop the ridicule. It swings the pendulum to the other extreme. And this is applauded by the target audience.

That is an eloquent explanation. However I recognize parts of my character in all the characters in TBBT, and I enjoy it for that exact reason! I am fully aware that I am laughing at myself. If somebody else wants to laugh at me too, go ahead.

That's why the show is so popular. It's not taboo to admit you play WoW or consider yourself a 'geek' these days. The moniker has been appropriated and means many different things now.

However nothing about being a geek is considered normal by popular opinion. If there was no geek shaming going on then inviting someone you just met out to a game of D&D on Friday night would be as normal and banal as going down to the pub for a drink or catching the new Seth Rogan flick. However it's not and as someone who enjoys the role-playing hobby, I am careful to get to know someone first before I ask them to join us on a quest to slay the terrible wizard, Mordrak.

Instead of using satire to say anything interesting about why that is, TBBT just exploits these social norms. It's about as hilarious as any other Chuck Lorre show these days. The same formula is used for Two and a Half Men and is equally as vapid in my mind.

So when I do watch an episode of TBBT, I don't really identify with any of the characters and feel like I am being laughed at for the most part. The jokes are predictable and not funny for me. These kinds of shows are typically the most fun for the people who are not being made fun of.

Shows like Community, Journey Quest, and movies like Dorkness Rising are funny. They pander to the sub-culture I most identify with and lack any condescending stereotypes. I can laugh at myself in these sorts of contexts because they're written from a perspective that is sympathetic and jovial. It makes fun of the stereotypes in our own sub-culture without laughing at them because they're weird and unconventional and not like us, the people doing the laughing.

> We aren’t laughing with Leonard, Sheldon, Raj and Howard. We’re laughing at them.

And what would be a sitcom where this is not the case? Let's take one of the tamest and more humane sitcoms, the Cosby Show. Even in this case, you are more often than not laughing at the characters (to be specific, at certain quirks in their personality), not with them.

Community is aimed at nerds to let them laugh at highly dysfunctional but lovable characters. The characters themselves aren't nerds. In contrast, TBBT lets normal people laugh at nerds.

So, people laughing at nerds is bad, but people laughing at "highly dysfunctional, but lovable characters" is good. Got it.

I never said that one is bad and the other is good. I'm just trying to explain why nerds frequently prefer Community over The Big Bang Theory, when superficially The Big Bang Theory appears to be a show for nerds.

You assume people can't laugh at caricatures of themselves.

No, I do not. I specifically used the word frequently to point out that not all nerds prefer Community over TBBT.

Ok, sorry, seems I assumed wrongly here.

I can, which is why the IT Crowd was funny. TBBT doesn't contain caricatures of me, it contains caricatures of what someone who knows nothing about me thinks I am. Such a caricature does not resonate with me, so there is no appeal.

"When The Big Bang Theory first aired there weren’t many nerds on mainstream TV, at least besides the character with the glasses and braces in the background on a teen drama. Before TBBT, nerds were the characters the protagonists avoided, the ones with the crushes on the blonde cheerleader lead, or the person the popular ensemble helped out to show that they were nice."

Am I the only one who remembers Numb3rs? That show treated Charlie (one of the two leads, a math professor) with respect, at least in the episodes I saw. His supporting cast in the math and physics departments was excellent as well.

Hell, there's an episode where he actually teaches a class, on-screen, on the Monty Hall problem:


Numb3rs is for wimps.

Real math nerds fondly recall -- and search for on YouTube -- old episodes of Mathnet, the cop show that made up the last 1/3 to 1/2 of PBS's Square One TV.

Yes, it's for kids, and the math that's there focuses on basic things like prime numbers and Fibonacci sequence. But it's brilliant, laced with humor, and you're likely to see more actual math being done in one 10-minute episode of Mathnet than in a season of Numb3rs.

Numb3rs was cool, for a while. But they exhausted their good ideas for "solving crimes with math" before the first half of season 1.

The time I gave up was when Charlie announced he could use math to figure out the time the crime took place based on long the block of ice had been melting, which he could calculate based on ambient pressure and temperature and surface area and lots of extra things they made up. Or they could just look it up in a book.

I agree, although having Season 1 on DVD, I'd say they managed to do a decent amount of math in almost every episode of it (even if it doesn't always solve the crime). Then my wife and I bought Season 2 and were quite disappointed.

That said, in the episodes I've seen, Charlie is almost always treated as an important contributor by the other characters. His work is glamorized and treated with respect by the writing and production staff. He's awkward, but treated like a human.

This attitude is, secondly, the other incorrect attitude to view TBBT with, given that it also makes fun of every other stereotype depicted on the show! Penny's mocked for being dumb and dating dumb "jock" types, Walowitz's mother is mocked for being Jewish, Raj's accent is almost a mockery of itself sometimes (the actor doesn't sound like that IRL) - that's where the show draws humor from, for better or for worse. Nerds are in the crosshairs because that's the setting of the show, but every other stereotype is right there too.

Hmm, I like TBBT and disliked Community. Go figure.

Community is just a string of pop-culture references. I don't find it funny, but then again I also don't spend hours on TV tropes either.

I found Arrested Development mediocre as well, and a lot of people claimed it was the funniest thing since sliced bread.

By the way, BBT is a mediocre show too. Which is why it is so amazing to see people arguing against it like it is worse than Hitler.

I watch BBT. I don't take it that seriously. It is a fine way to waste 20 minutes, and has low re-watch value. Just like tons of other shows (Family Guy, Friends, HIMYM, etc).

Doesn't anyone see the irony here? TBBT makes a lot of jokes about how vociferously nerds will argue over their chosen entertainment. This entire thread is basically playing out a TBBT punchline about TBBT punchlines.

It's not a nerd vs. cool people thing, it's just a mature thing: acting superior because your chosen 30 minute tv comedy is better than another one is pointless. Elitism over entertainment is ridiculous on its face.

I'd rather have neither in the end. It seems strange to watch a show about characters one self is. Hell, I'd rather watch Police Squad! or - yes - How I Met Your Mother.

Have you seen Arrested Development? The characters are not nerds, but the show is clearly designed for nerds. The same applies to Community.

I actually like Arrested Development, so yes, I have. But I am sort of weary about American television programmes anyway. Call me odd, but I actually watch The West Wing on repeat non-stop.

It's quickly mentioned in the article, but the laugh track in the show is what makes me HATE "The Big Bang Theory". It drives me crazy, it ruins ever joke for me, and it also makes it very hard for me to follow the plot of the episode when there is a "laugh pause" after every 1-5 words in the dialog.

I find much more humor in a show that has hilarious jokes/PUN's and doesn't need to stress them so much. For example, Arrested Development, is one of the best comedies ever done (in my opinion) because the complexity in their jokes and there is no need to stress the idea of when to laugh.

If "The Big Bang Theory" goes by the idea that the laughing from the live audience helps them determine what to cut parts of the episode, they should just film it without the live audience then air it to a screening crowd separately to decide what to cut and keep. Why dilute the show for other viewers not watching it live with that extreme annoyance of constant laughter? I just don't get it.

Agree that laughter tracks sap the humour out of any situation, but then I stopped watching Arrested Development because I got tired of being beaten over the head with the joke by the narrator.

People need to stop worrying if everyone got the joke or not. The best comic pieces are layered such that even if you only get half of it it's still hilarious.

I can't watch any show with a laugh track. Even if the show is the greatest, I just can't do it. Do you really think it is a live audience laugh track? I assume it is a fakish studio audience at best.

If it was a real studio audience it would be good. I love Colbert report and the Daily Show. They have a legitimate live studio audience and the energy is pretty real.

Well, in the article is says it is a live audience, but they may dub over a sound track to enhance it? I'm not sure on that part.

Apparently that is a live studio audience. They once showed a shot of them at the end because they were tired if being accused it was a laugh track.

Laugh track removed:


It goes from annoying to awkward.

Of course it's awkward. The timing is still left in their for the laughs to happen but replaced with silence. It's like blanking all the comments out of source code and then complaining that it uses whitespace awkwardly.

Jokes on you, my code still looks exactly the same!

Very true. Having not really watched the show before, though, I'm really curious what that scene is like with the laugh track still in. They pause so frequently, I wonder if it would still be a little hard to follow?

I don't get the hate either, even if it is true that they are "laughing at us". I can laugh at myself for being weird.

According to my friends, Sheldon's tireless and obnoxious pedantery is a perfect caricature of me. When he drops some furniture he is carrying to debate the point that pulling it up the stairs would reduce the required vertical force by exactly fifty percent and not about fifty percent, he is doing something weird and nerdy that I could also see myself doing. It is still funny.

even if it is true that they are "laughing at us".

For lots of geeks that brings back really painful memories. I can easily see myself, at another point in my life, hating TBBT.

People always tell me that I'm like that kid on "Real Genius" and don't I love that movie? Well, no, I don't, I hate it, and the end of OP's essay goes into it: because it doesn't show the pain of being the geek, and it shows that it's easy for the geek to get the girl without moving out of his safety zone.

I enjoy TBBT, but I'm sure some of that comes from the fact that I watch it with my geek wife. If I was 15 years younger I might think it's just another boulder that society has nonchalantly placed on my shoulders.

> Sheldon's tireless and obnoxious pedantery is a perfect caricature of me.

IMO Sheldon's personality is the personification of a kitty cat.

I stayed away from it for years because of the "controversy". Recently my wife got the first season, and now we've been mainlining it; we're almost up to the current season.

First, while I don't know a Sheldon, I have known someone who trended in that direction. It is not a shock to me that someone like that could exist.

Second, for all that you may complain about the geeks having "limited romantic prospects", they've all "gotten some", and by the fifth season three out of four are in relationships and one is engaged. Actions speak louder than words.

Third, accusations of stereotyping geeks are more limited when there are four main geek characters and several other ancillary ones, spanning all sorts of spectrums. The characters are Hollywood'ed up, but given that, reasonably realistic.

Penny started the series as a flat-out dufus, which concerned me. She got upgraded to an average person after about 10 episodes, who may not be able to keep up with the math (who can, after all?), but is no longer actively stupid. A bit o' bad judgment perhaps, but who doesn't have that?

I do wish the laugh track would go away.

And finally, at the risk of being a pedant, I can add to one more bit of shocking, shocking! inaccuracy in the show... but, bizarrely, it has nothing to do with science or geekdom. They play Jenga wrong! Consistently! The rules of Jenga are that you must complete all three pieces of the top row before you start the next one. You can not put a piece on each side, then start building across the gap! Argh! Of all the places to screw up... (I have not yet seen all Jenga episodes; my wife reports there's one where they play a very large version in the season I have not seen yet. But all two or three times I've seen it to date they've played it this way! NERD RAGE!)

I recommend going into it with an open mind, and bearing in mind that in first few episodes, as is always the case, the characters are still coming into focus.

I hate the big bang theory, and for the longest time I've tried to put my finger on what it is I don't like about it. I think it comes from a mixture of two things.

The writing making the characters repeatedly try and display how smart they are (which I'm aware is integral to the show) but to me makes them totally and desperately unlikable. That, coupled with the general tension building component of most sit-coms where all too frequently characters do what is clearly a bad idea, followed by some form of "make it better" set of actions.

I know that if they [the characters] made a mistake and just repaired it in a very mundane way this would not be good television, but I find it incredibly jarring that these unlikable characters have one thing going for them, their intelligence, yet seemingly couldn't find their way out of a paper bag.

(EDIT: This reflects the relatively few episodes I've seen, but every time I see one I feel exactly the same)

(EDIT2: Perfect example from a comment below,

"When he [Sheldon] drops some furniture he is carrying to debate the point that pulling it up the stairs would reduce the required vertical force by exactly fifty percent and not about fifty percent, he is doing something weird and nerdy..."

Debating yes, absolutely, but scientific debate by itself isn't funny to the general population (Deestan would enjoy it, I might enjoy it, but Joe Bloggs on the street probably wouldn't care) so he drops it. That's not smart. If the show was consistent he'd then point out that the loss of energy from dropping it far outweighs the benefit of moving it around, or he'd break his toe.

It's this orthogonal slapstick which seems totally incongruous with Sheldon's typical behavior which annoys me.

I think you miss the point of the jokes. In all honesty... there is a large component of "nerd behavior" which is captured well in it. There is a tendency amongst us, which I have as much as anyone else, to ignore the practical, common sense aspects of every day life, in the favor of theoretically perfect. The joke isn't about being logically or internally consistent, the joke isn't about slapstick schadenfreude, the joke is that in worrying about the energy optimization he forgets or fails to just accomplish the actual task, and undoes any possible gains (it doesn't need to be stated, because everyone gets it).

And it isn't unrealistic - I've watched teams get into debates over how to perfectly optimize some corner of code, and ignore the fact that it doesn't matter for the use case, because that bit is rarely run or happens fast enough that it isn't a bottleneck anyway. At my makerspace I've seen people go down crazy design rabbit holes and come up with overly-complex designs to do a task when there is a simple practical solution that they are over-looking (e.g lets figure out how to 3d print this internal piece to snap in and stay fixed permanently, and spend hours on it, instead of just using the super-glue we need for other parts anyway to hold it in place).

It is fun to go down these rabbit holes sometimes. It is also annoying and humorous when we do it and waste a bunch of effort on it, and there is a simple, common sense solution staring us in the face.

That's part of the joke. People, even very smart people, do stupid things all the time. It's part of being human.

In my experience, a subset of very smart people do "not smart" things at a very high rate. A trite example is the absent-minded professor who can't find the glasses he's wearing on top of his head. But it's a real thing, a depth of focus so intense that they temporarily lose sight of the bigger picture.

It happens, and sometimes it's funny.

Then perhaps you're missing the point. Sheldon isn't some super-genius who always does the smartest thing. He's someone who is very smart, but believes he is even smarter.

This is a kind of typical dialogue from an episode:

    Sheldon: Leonard, where do you stand on the anthropic principle?
    Leonard: Interesting question. On the one hand, I always thought…
    Sheldon: You don’t even know what it is, do you? The anthropic principle     states that if we wish to explain why our universe exists the way it does, the     answer is that it must have qualities that allow intelligent creatures to arise     who are capable of asking the question. As I am doing so eloquently right now.
    Leonard: I know what the anthropic principle is.
    Sheldon: Of course. I just explained it to you. Now, where do you stand on     it?
    Leonard: Where do you stand on it?
    Sheldon: Strongly pro.
    Leonard: Then I believe that God created the world in six days, and on the     seventh he made you to annoy me.
    Raj: Hey, guys.
    Leonard: Hey.
    Sheldon: Yeah, wait, Raj, where do you stand on the anthropic principle?
    Raj: I’m all for it.
    Sheldon: Attaboy!
    Leonard: Well, hang on. Why do you believe that he knows what it is and I don’t?
    Sheldon: Oh, Leonard. Let’s not take a saw to the branch we’re sitting on, shall we?
Why is Sheldon such a douchebag? He is socially incompetent but does he have to be an asshole too? Why doesn't Leonard or anyone else ever want to discuss science with Sheldon when it's supposed to be their biggest interest? It's like they are ashamed of being smart people.

It's a running joke that Sheldon and others look down on Leonard as a scientist. The claim is often that his work is very "derivative". Even Leonard's own mother criticized the originality of his science fair experiments as a child. Also, the dynamic between Sheldon and Leonard can be seen as theoretical physicist versus experimental physicist. (Not to mention extending the layers of superiority when Howard, the non-PhD mechanical engineer, is included.)

As for Sheldon generally being a douchebag, the article does a good job of explaining his (partially deserved) sense of superiority.

> Why is Sheldon such a douchebag? He is socially incompetent but does he have to be an asshole too?

Have you ever read Hacker News comments?

It's never confirmed that Sheldon is the smartest of them. You only have his words for that. He's always working on sth big, but never delivers. And there are dozens of other smart people and geeks in the show, most of them likeable. I don't have a problem with show full of geeks, in which one of them is asshole. Seems fair.

I do think that's actually a hole in the show. One can infer socially that Sheldon really must be all that or he'd be long-since fired, but it would be helpful to be a bit more direct in occasionally showing it.

I've also noticed that for all they dump on Howard, he's the only one in the show who they show accomplishing things (plural!); I have not yet figured out if this is dramatic oversight or something they are doing on purpose. I'm assuming accident; neutering your main characters like that isn't a good narrative move, unless they're being really meta (which I doubt in this case).

Sheldon is a douchebag because he is brutally honest. He doesn't have that part of personality that softens one's opinions for the benefit of other people's feelings.

Leonard doesn't want to discuss science with Sheldon because Sheldon thinks lowly of Leonard's scientific merit, and doesn't hesitate to express that sentiment (see above).

Right, I get that. But it is not honest to ask someone "where do you stand on the anthropic principle?" if you assume that they do not know what it is. Asking in that way is a common trickery to get someone to look foolish by attempting to answer a question they have no idea about. Classic douchebaggery.

The author read this:

"My friend who works at a school for autistic children believed he had Asperger’s Syndrome [...] She told me that [Sheldon] was a totally accurate portrayal of someone on the autistic spectrum and had many characteristics of someone with Asperger’s – specifically the inability to recognise sarcasm or understand human emotion as well as the obsession with “his spot” and his distress when routine is changed."

And then wrote this:

"If you think Sheldon is autistic, then you have never met an autistic person. We had an autistic kid who hung out at our shop on Saturdays. It was tough. He would bring boxes of toys in with him to pile up on one of the tables. The slightest thing could set him off into a screaming rage fit. [...] When you argue that Sheldon is a “totally accurate portrayal of someone on the autistic spectrum,” then you have broadened the definition of autism to the point where you have rendered the word meaningless."

The author obviously has no grasp on the Autistic spectrum [1], didn't take five seconds to Google 'Asperger syndrome' or 'high-functioning autism', but that doesn't stop him from ignoring an expert's opinion. Lazy and arrogant, but it gets worse:

"[Claiming Sheldon is a totally accurate portrayal of someone on the autistic spectrum] seriously offends me. It offends me on behalf of the mothers and fathers who are living with autistic children who are now adults and still require constant supervision, are still in diapers, or still have violent humiliating outbursts in public. Go listen to this account of the daily trials of two parents living with an autistic child, and you’ll understand how ignorant and disrespectful it is to compare the quirky physicist on a sitcom to someone with a seriously debilitating mental illness that consumes the lives of those caring for them."

The author is basically saying that there is no such thing as high-functioning autism and that those who pretend it exists are offending sufferers of 'real' autism and the ones with the misfortune of having to deal with them.

Talk about offensive.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism_spectrum_disorders

> When you argue that Sheldon is a “totally accurate portrayal of someone on the autistic spectrum,” then you have broadened the definition of autism to the point where you have rendered the word meaningless.

How so? It's called the "autism _spectrum_", after all, so it's natural that there are varying levels of severity among those affected. Sheldon having high-functioning autism doesn't somehow invalidate anyone else from having more severe autism.

> That seriously offends me. It offends me on behalf of the mothers and fathers who are living with autistic children [...]

To me, this smells like a pre-emptive ad hominem against those with an opposing viewpoint. If you disagree with me, then you've offended me, you're disrespectful, you're ignorant. If you want to argue that Sheldon doesn't have autism, that's fine. But if you do, then keep in mind that part of your audience _does_ think he has autism. Why would you attack the people you're trying to convince?

I know someone with an Asperger's son she couldn't figure out, and she was told to watch Sheldon for a few episodes. She came back and said, "okay, I understand what's going on in my son's head a lot better now."

I'm sure that would make some people fly into a rage, but the depiction helped her figure things out from his perspective.

> So it comes as a shock to me that there is a lot of hate for BBT in geek culture.

I didn't realize this was a thing.

Just because you can google for "Big Bang Theory Sucks" doesn't demonstrate that there is lots of hate for BBT "in geek culture".

I can also google for "Puppies Suck". Okay, you only get two results of relevance. But still.

There are haters for every TV show in the universe. Haters are always louder than those who love the show. And easily googled. This doesn't mean they're numerous.

Visit any thread on reddit that mentions BBT. It'll be full of highly-upvoted hate comments. It's a a close third hate object after Justin Bieber and "Twilight".

I wonder if the psychology student message boards also raged same way about "Frasier" (also an award-winning comedy with a live studio audience).

To me, BBT is great and I've just finished a second run through its 5 first episodes on Blueray. That Jim Parson is in no way a true geek makes his performance even more hilarious.

Amusingly the reddit snobbery over BBT can be found within BBT itself: the way Sheldon absolutely despises "Babylon 5" while fawning over "Star Trek" etc.

It's not a "thing"; one of the most cogent (and informative, and insightful) criticisms of BBT is given barely any notice as a link entitled "Sheldon is autistic", which just goes to show that the author probably didn't read it all (there is so much more than autism issues in that article; it's at http://butmyopinionisright.tumblr.com/post/31079561065/the-p...).

The question is not "should I hate this because everyone else does?" but "is BBT really a champion of geek culture, or is it pandering to the anti-intellectuals like every other show out there?" Read the article I linked and decide for yourself.

As an aside, it find it really hard to read black text on a "brown paper bag" background.

Like most entertainment, BBT is a parody, exaggeration, and simplification of real life. I find a lot more relevant humor in it than in any other sit-com I've watched -- to the point where I could anticipate the joke because I had had the exact conversation with my friends.

In the episode where the female characters go to the comic store (described in the OP), they then have an episode long argument on exactly who can move Thor's hammer, which I'm sure rang true to any comic reader.

>> If you think Sheldon is autistic, then you have never met an autistic person.

>> When you argue that Sheldon is a “totally accurate portrayal of someone on the autistic spectrum,” then you have broadened the definition of autism to the point where you have rendered the word meaningless.

No true Scotsman much? The arrogance to accuse people of mis-labeling while seeming to have such ignorance of the realities of the autistic spectrum left me slightly gobsmacked.

Oh for the love of Pete. I love Sheldon. Heck my girlfriend has repeatedly told me she would leave me for Sheldon. This idea that everyone is making fun of nerds must be due to some kind of insecurity. As a geek, I quite enjoy the show.

Still not as good as 'The IT Crowd' in the UK. "Did you know if you type 'Google' into Google you will crash the internet?!"

"Don't talk about memory or RAM, okay?"

"Ha! Memory is RAM!"

That's comedy for geeks. Not some odd tangent about string theory.

What's more amazing is that the Internet is about the size of a shoe box...

I can't enjoy BBT. Just because you put smart words in a characters mouth, it doesn't make a smart comedy.

I agree. The Big Bang Theory is comedy about smart people, not comedy for smart people.

I don't deny that, but if I comedy for smart people is thin upon the ground, I'll take comedy about smart people over reality television that's otherwise permeating the airwaves.

I don't like TBBT for the same reasons I don't like shows such as Mad Men: they say very little about their subject matter. A friend of mine tried to explain Mad Men by reminding me, "that was the way it was back then." I really don't need to be reminded of that. I'm not nostalgic for all of the sexism, racism, and I'm not really fond of the advertising industry. In a similar manner friends who explain TBBT to me need to remind me, "that's how things are." Geeks are infantile, weird, and still fun to laugh at. Nothing has changed since elementary school then at least.

I might enjoy the show more if its mocking and condescending overtones were at least met by one self-aware character. At least then there would be the chance for satire. Instead it's just a laugh track of predictable tropes: geek says something geeky about math or science that is completely disproportionate to the current, mundane situation. Normal character rolls their eyes. Audience laughs. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Add a dose of the usual, "normal," sexism once in a while and laugh at how "geeks," shrivel like flowers when faced with the objectification of their, "desires." Ha, ha.

The show is hardly any different than any other sitcom on television.

Although TBBT is supposedly about Caltech staff, a more, shall we say, accurate view of students at Caltech is the movie Real Genius. The depiction is only slightly exaggerated. Many of the incidents in the movie are based on things that actually happened in the 70's at Caltech.

The extras in the movie were frequently real Caltech students, recruited because the art director for the movie was unable to duplicate the look :-)

This Portlandia Nerd PSA makes a similar point to the one that the Community is good/Big Bang is bad people are trying to make. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v...

Given that the average sitcom writer's conception of a nerdy character is more like "Screech" or Steve Urkel, the complex, neurotic, and really quite well-researched characters on Big Bang Theory are like a bolt of awesome from the blue.

I like BBT for the neuroses. They're dead on.

I don't like the show, and I have a single "geek" friend who also does not. Everybody else seems to enjoy it. Not just my other friends, but people in general. People I meet IRL, people I see on Facebook, people I stumble across online. "A lot of hate for BBT in geek culture"? I don't think so.

As a former undergrad at Caltech, I actually think BBT is pretty great. (I'm only about 1.5 seasons in though, so it's possible it drops in quality later). It's definitely more extreme than reality for comedic effect, but it does actually remind me of my college years.

Just pointing out the full hierarchy of the nerd scale:

Dork -> Geek -> Nerd -> Hacker -> (Ritchie || Wozniac || Tesla)

It does in fact go deeper, but its a little more controversial:

Jock <- Madden Gamer <- Gamer <- Dork -> Geek -> ...

is it alright to dislike TBBT just because it's really unfunny and lazy comedy?

No, you'll get in trouble for that. But in all seriousness, I do agree with you.

It's probably a coincidence, but the title and subject of this article are the same as last week's Ihnatko Almanac episode:


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