All about the Big Bang

Most of you don&rsquo;t watch <em>The Big Bang Theory</em>. It&rsquo;s not hip like <em>Brooklyn Nine-Nine</em>, it&rsquo;s not heartfelt like <em>New Girl</em>, it&rsquo;s not sweet like <em>Parks and Recreation</em>. In fact, <em>Big Bang</em> is not particularly <em>anything</em>. When I retraced the archives and found my first writings on the show, my thoughts were similar:

&ldquo;I can characterize most comedies with one word &mdash; <em>30 Rock</em>, clever; <em>Louie</em>, honest; <em>Community</em>, idiosyncratic; <em>Veep</em>, cynical; <em>Whitney</em>, terrible &mdash; you get the point. I&rsquo;m unsure of TBBT&rsquo;s word. It&rsquo;s not &lsquo;smart.&rsquo; Despite its science references, the humour isn&rsquo;t intended to hit PhD audiences.&rdquo;

That column, dated November 2012, praised and criticized <em>Big Bang</em>. I loved the female trio&rsquo;s full integration and the show&rsquo;s overall effort in humanizing nerd culture. But problems percolated: occasionally the tone is disdainful toward nerds and several characters were going nowhere in their lives.

Fifteen months later, my feelings remain mixed &mdash; mostly because they haven&rsquo;t changed. Among the negatives: the nerd humour is still misguided. Stereotype and sex jokes are deployed too often, though the latter has (thankfully) been dialed down this season. These are serious problems (that I won&rsquo;t go into).

Overall, <em>Big Bang </em>is low on ambition (the anti-<em>Community</em>). In this wonderful age of inventive television, low ambition isn&rsquo;t welcome &mdash; TV should always be breaking down creative barriers. It&rsquo;s why the show lacks acclaim &mdash; people dismiss it as near-formulaic.

But the show is far from poor; despite its detractors, <em>Big Bang</em> has several strengths. &ldquo;Closet Configuration&rdquo; and &ldquo;Romance Resonance&rdquo; demonstrate the remarkable growth of Howard Wolowitz from immature pervert to a (mostly) responsible husband. In seven seasons, <em>Big Bang</em> has done little to advance its characters&rsquo; lives &mdash; both personally and professionally &mdash; but Howard&rsquo;s trek into space and marriage has greatly benefitted the show from his character&rsquo;s standpoint.

Others &mdash; Leonard, Raj, Sheldon &mdash; are still defined by one thing (relationship to Penny, failure with women, Sheldon-ness). While .250 is hardly an admirable batting average, Howard&rsquo;s journey was unexpected, given his place in early seasons.

&ldquo;Scavenger Vortex,&rdquo; meanwhile, showcases <em>Big Bang</em>&rsquo;s most underrated feature: despite the shallowness of its characters, the writers are masters of their voices and can pair any two characters together in a scene. The usual pairings persist (Leonard-Penny, Amy-Sheldon, Bernadette-Howard, Raj-loneliness), but they&rsquo;re flexible if the show needs to hit a certain tone.

&ldquo;Scavenger&rdquo; is a fun episode to watch. Competition episodes tend to be a thrilling change of pace in sitcoms (see <em>Friends</em>: &ldquo;The One With The Embryos&rdquo;), and &ldquo;Scavenger&rdquo; follows this trend. Leonard gets swept up in Bernadette&rsquo;s competitive side; Amy and Howard simply have a gay old time; Sheldon and Penny result in their usual collision of opposite personalities.

I don&rsquo;t feel <em>Big Bang</em> is an awful show, but it no longer surprises me. It&rsquo;s improved these past two seasons &mdash; the female integration plays a major part &mdash; and occasionally it delivers a stellar episode. A clear dividing line exists though &mdash; those who excoriate it and those who watch it.

I&rsquo;ve thought about the determining factor, and have a theory: how annoyed are you by Sheldon? The studio audience laughs, but his antics are often rude and insensitive. The threshold for Sheldon-tolerance exists somewhere for each person, and I think the moment he crosses the line for you, the show loses 80 per cent of its humour.

I probably haven&rsquo;t convinced you to watch <em>Big Bang</em>, but I haven&rsquo;t convinced myself either. Something about its 20 million viewer audience compels me to analyze it though. I can&rsquo;t explain why it&rsquo;s the most-watched comedy on TV. I rarely hear praise for it. I hardly laugh at it. I think my Sheldon theory has some truth, but I can&rsquo;t confirm it. How do you find <em>The Big Bang Theory</em> funny?

<em>Andrew Koo (@akoo) usually doesn&rsquo;t end columns so abruptly.</em>


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