Why The Big Bang Theory Grates So Many (And Why It Shouldn’t)

Courtesy of cbs.com

Do you work at the Large Hadron Collider? Do you think it’s the coolest thing you could possibly do with your life? Then, you’re likely the physicist I met recently from CERN who enjoyed seeing pieces of his life reflected back in mainstream culture on The Big Bang Theory.

This show. It’s amazing. People either watch it religiously or hate it and want it to die. Complaints I’ve heard about the show:

  • “It presents all geeks as loving comics, and I’ve never read them in my life!”
  • “Comic book fans are not like that!”
  • “Really? Since when do girls not read comic books?”

So, let me break the news to you. The Big Bang Theory is a love letter. The show may not be a love letter to the current you though. It’s a nod to the geek (within or otherwise) we were at 15. It’s a romp.

TV shows aren’t always meant to accurately portray reality, nor are they always meant to give over a truth or a larger message. Sometimes, TV shows are simply expressions of fantasy. Imagine being your younger self again, but with a budget and a writing staff. What would that show look like? At least one of the shows I’d have made would have been about comic books, geeks, and the math and science worlds. My show would have given me an excuse to work with Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Wil Wheaton, and others.

Courtesy of cbs.com



Granted, my show would have featured one kick-ass girl and her crew of guy friends, but that’s because it would have reflected my life experiences. Chuck Lorre, not having met me, missed out on that particular slice of life (so very much his loss). The Big Bang Theory show is based on an idea of what life could have looked like if that 15-year old self had never matured and grown. It’s not saying that comic books and scientists are unrelatable; if that were the case, how would so many fans embrace it? People delight in it not because they are laughing at the other, but because they are revisiting a past self.

There’s nothing to be defensive about. The show loves your quirks. The Big Bang Theory‘s caricatures aren’t meant to hurt, but to let us laugh at ourselves, to shove aside the grown-up self who has learned not to tell everyone about her Batman obsession, and revel with that younger self who could unabashedly argue for hours with her father about why Batman was (so clearly) superior to Superman. So jump in and laugh. You’re with friends here, and we’ve been waiting for you.

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18 Responses to Why The Big Bang Theory Grates So Many (And Why It Shouldn’t)

  1. Debra January 17, 2013 at 5:09 PM CDT #

    You are correct and that’s why I hate when people pigeonhole TBBT. However, my biggest issue with the show lately is lazy writing. The plotlines are fine but the show used to be wittier and the characters less irksome. I’d hoped adding the girls would help, because there’s only so much you can do with just the guys & Penny before the show tires itself out, but it’s been hit or miss. Even with all the further movement – Howard & Bernadette getting married or Sheldon & Amy’s “relationship” it still feels like they’re not interested in too much character development. This was fine in the show’s first years but it’s at a standstill now and as much as really enjoyed it, it’s becoming less so.

  2. Ari Sauer January 17, 2013 at 6:24 PM CDT #

    Amen! I love the TBBT. I don’t understand people who get upset because it is not realistic enough. Every single character on the show is an overblown caricature of a stereotype. It is funny in the same way that South Park is. Just like on South Park they get away with saying stuff that you could never say in real life because it is less offensive when coming out of the mouth of a kid in 2nd grade, so to on TBBT they get away with saying things we could never say because they are such obvious caricatures that somehow the things they say are less offensive.

  3. Benjamin Aleksandr Franz January 17, 2013 at 6:26 PM CDT #

    I’ve enjoyed the small bits I’ve permitted myself to watch. I’m reluctant to get drawn into it though, because while it does seem like the sort of thing I should go bonkers for, I really have to separate this from Chuck Lorre’s other series Two and a half men. Which arrgh. You get the picture. I did hear from my ex, that she greatly enjoyed the first 3 seasons, particularly the appearances of ‘Evil Wil Wheaton’…

  4. Brian Boyko January 17, 2013 at 7:08 PM CDT #

    I disagree, specifically because it portrays people with high functioning autism as lacking any sympathy whatsoever. We may lack empathy, granted, but the character of Sheldon Cooper is just a narcissistic jerk, and I hate saying “Aspergers” and people thinking of the obnoxious, horrible character. What character flaws I have, I work on improving. In short, I care. And it’s rather obnoxious that we’re portrayed with such a stereotypical brush.

    • Kelsey January 18, 2013 at 1:48 AM CDT #

      Actually the writers claim that Sheldon doesn’t have autism. So it’s not a comment on people with autism, it’s just a character trait of Sheldon’s. He is so completely science and rationality based that it’s difficult for him to switch to picking up social cues or understanding emotions, which I think we can all agree are not always rational.

    • James Burris January 23, 2013 at 10:08 AM CDT #

      He can’t have Autism… His mother had him tested LOL.

  5. thatdamndrummer January 17, 2013 at 7:20 PM CDT #

    My complaint isn’t how perfectly this show represents nerds and geeks. My complaint is that Big Bank Theory represents nerds and geeks negatively. I’m a nerd, and I’m also a comedian, and I know from experience when I’m being laughed with and when I’m being laughed at.

    • Grant January 18, 2013 at 2:17 PM CDT #

      Completely agreed. The show rubbed me the wrong way for the longest time, and I could never figure out why. I recognized aspects of a number of things I enjoy in the show, but you’re absolutely right in saying that it laughs at Sheldon et. al, not with them.

  6. Moshe Silberman January 17, 2013 at 9:07 PM CDT #

    As a nerd who lives in a nerd profession, I can tell you that while some of us may not fit the bill or specifics, the characters are definitely a composite of all of us. Thats what makes comedy. Take the most extreme characteristics and put them together. No, the comic book guy should never have let the girls walk out with Thor instead of Fables, but which debate would be more ridiculous and relatable to a mass audience? As for Sheldon and his dearie they are what are called levelers, where what they are saying seems offensive, but in fact is just blunt honesty meant with no real offense behind it. Some of my favorite co-workers have been like that, you just have to understand it for what it is.

    • Mordechai Luchins January 18, 2013 at 10:06 AM CDT #

      I have not seen the episode, but if the Thor comic was the recent run of Journey Into Mystery, then the comic guy would have a customer for life, regardless of gender. Brilliant.

      • Moshe Silberman January 18, 2013 at 10:27 AM CDT #

        I love that you are teetering on the edge of a comic book debate.

  7. H Maryles Shankman January 18, 2013 at 6:37 AM CDT #

    I agree. “Love letter” is a perfect way to describe it. I’m not a techie or a scientist, just a comics and Star Trek nerd, and I love the level of intelligence and sophistication in the writing on this show. Whatever the reason for Sheldon’s strangeness, his character hinges on the actor’s immense charm and insanely great acting. In my opinion, this show makes geeks look awesome.

  8. Kenneth Winkelman January 18, 2013 at 2:19 PM CDT #

    What ever happened to just enjoying a TV show for what it is? Entertainment, plain an simple. I’m a nerd and a geek. I work in IT and love tinkering with all kinds things from my old Harley to my PC’s, to building my own AR’s. It cracks me up that this awesomely funny show has people so worked up.

  9. BigBangLover January 21, 2013 at 12:19 AM CDT #

    it’s bad because it isn’t funny or clever. It’s not portraying nerds negatively, it just isn’t realistic in how these type of nerds are. It’s a show written by the school jock about nerds and how he loves them for giving him something to laugh at. It’s not a genuine love letter and the jokes are tired and obvious. I was a nerd with some jock friends and they loved me. You know why? Because i was a joke to them and made them feel better about themselves. They had my back so that I could continue to give them laughter, it wasn’t genuine friendship. They thought it was in a way, but that just speaks to how full of themselves they were. Anyways, I have no problem as a nerd as to how they are depicted. However, as an aspiring comedian, I have a major problem with it not being funny, smart, clever, witty, or satirical. It just isn’t realistic of the type of nerds they are depicting. A girl below said that it makes geeks look awesome, but that is the whole problem, geeks are not anything like this. NOT ONE PERSON INVOLVED IN THE WRITING OR ACTING IN THE SHOW ARE GEEKS!! Once again, I don’t think that the portrayal is negative, I think that it is completely unrealistic or based on any truth

    • Moshe Silberman January 22, 2013 at 9:37 AM CDT #

      It’s pretty hard to argue that Mayim Bialik is not a geek.

    • James Burris January 23, 2013 at 11:17 AM CDT #

      While I respect that your opinion is your own I must say that your experience as a “nerd” is hardly typical. You hung out with jocks and were “using” them to look cooler. Most nerd did NOT have that.

      I’d also like to point out that the one thing that you post in ALL CAPS is the worst things you could have said… I think it’s a fair assumption that you do NOT know the writers or actors or anyone involved with the show personally, therefore, you CANNOT make the statement that none of them are geeks or nerds. Hell, any nerd worth his salt knows there is a distinction between the two.

      As far as how the characters are portrayed each of the main characters always seemed to be an aspect of nerd-dom, Sheldon is the Big Brain (who doesn’t realize that by acting so smart he’s actually pissing people off), Raj is a representation of how nerd typically have difficulty talking to the opposite sex and are outsiders to their culture. Howard is that “failure to launch” mama’s boy who doesn’t quite realize just how geeky he is (at least until later seasons), Leonard portrays that part of us who sometimes wishes he wasn’t as geeky as he is. Separately, none are really that funny but as a whole they form a larger picture of the culture and that forms a lot of the humor. As an “aspiring comedian” I would think that you would have asked yourself why people find the show funny (millions of viewers every week can’t be wrong). Try to remember that humor is subjective to the audience. If you don’t find it funny and millions of others do, remember that you are not wrong…. but then again.. neither are the millions of people who do.

  10. Matt January 23, 2013 at 6:29 PM CDT #

    This article brings up some great points. The same effect seemed to apply to the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Most of the people I met hated the movie, but I enjoyed it. Growing up with foreign-born parents, I could relate to many of the (true) situations, much as only a certain type of geek or nerd may really “get” many of the situations in The Big Bang Theory.

  11. MartinTran January 24, 2013 at 12:42 AM CDT #

    I’m a geek (I play videogames, build my own PCs, love gadgets, watch anime, read manga & comics, read & watch sf and fantasy, play tabletop RPGs like D&D, have arguments on the internet about geek culture etc,) and I enjoy The Big Bang Theory a ton. The main reason why I love it so is because I’m a Trekkie. Watching so many Star Trek actors as guest stars is awesome.

    Now, I don’t understand it when people say this show is insulting geeks/nerds. I truly don’t find the show or its characters ‘insulting’ or hurtful. It pokes fun at everything geek culture at the same time of embracing it. Daniela’s last point is spot on for me: “The Big Bang Theory‘s caricatures aren’t meant to hurt, but to
    let us laugh at ourselves, to shove aside the grown-up self who has
    learned not to tell everyone about her Batman obsession, and revel with
    that younger self who could unabashedly argue for hours with her father
    about why Batman was (so clearly) superior to Superman. So jump in and
    laugh. You’re with friends here, and we’ve been waiting for you.”

    The difference is that I’m a full grown adult living in a foreign country still loving my geekdom.