Sex, sexual congress, sexual intercourse, intercourse, physically intimate, coitus, sexual intimacy, the physical act of love, the naughty, naughty in the cyber-world, bang-bang, and hanky-panky—words found on the one show where four out of the five initial characters have the same template—socially awkward, shockingly intelligent, weirdly childish and on varying rungs of the really tall ladder that is sexual desperation. So, naturally, their lives change for the better (although Sheldon may argue otherwise) when a beautiful waitress and wannabe actress replaces a 200-pound transvestite as their neighbour. Since before Silicon Valley came to town, The Big Bang Theory has been the normal world’s window into the life of four nerds and how their run-ins with the day-to-day problems of science can be just as fraught with a lack of chemistry as their day-to-day misdemeanours with the opposite sex, how the big issue on birthdays is not how much booze to bring but rather which internet router to give as a gift and how the lack of a job can push someone to working on glow-in-the-dark-goldfish, improving scrambled eggs and buying a loom to make hand-stitch ponchos, all in the space of a few days.
“That’s my spot.”
While the template of our geeks is pretty much the same, the subtle character quirks traits tend to differ. In Leonard, you have the sane one, the most inspiring character of all (he is short, scrawny, bespectacled, not attractive, geeky and has Sheldon for a roommate; the fact that he ends up with Penny is a motivation for every guy). In Howard, you have your ladies-man of the group, sans the ladies (of course), the panache and even the PhD that the others have. In Raj, you have your diversity quota fulfilled, plus all the racism jokes suddenly become tame when the Indian guy on the show doesn’t really care about them much, except when they make fun of his accent, which is justified really; not every Indian has been taught English by Appu from The Simpsons, you know. And the pièce de résistance, Sheldon—The Big Bang Theory’s pimped in, geeked out, sexless, cold, logical, possessive-of-his-spot and stubborn version of Barney Stinson, which makes for a surprising comparison. Sheldon is perhaps the closest thing the human race would ever get to C3PO, the weirdly skinny robots in I, Robot and Ben Afleck’s lifeless, lacklustre and sexless portrayal of Batman in Batman vs Superman, give or take a few pounds of muscle.
“No. The X-Men were named after the X in Charles Xavier. Since my name is Sheldon Cooper, you will be my C-Men.”
At a point in time when good sitcoms were a dime a dozen on American television, what with How I Met Your Mother and his own Two and a Half Men doing well, Chuck Lorre came up with yet another masterpiece, with a magnificently balanced mix of different yet similar characters and the perfect blend of quirky and endearing. The Big Bang Theory, since it was first aired, has been the proud showcase of television’s weirdest and most eccentric characters. “The neurologically comic deterioration of brilliant scientists, and Howard, into the throes of daily gossip, girl trouble and life that extends beyond science”, as Sheldon might put it. Naturally, the moment Penny moves in to the apartment across the hall, Leonard is polarized by the effect, in more ways than one, and drawn to her while Sheldon remains markedly unaffected, until his own mate comes along of course. The idea behind the show is perhaps a return to normality for each one of its characters—Sheldon is finally able to be physically intimate, Howard, to the relief of too many women, stops trying too hard, Raj is finally able to speak to people of all genders, Bernadette is no longer conscious of her height (having married someone who was as tall/short) and Amy doesn’t get locked into a cupboard by her mother whenever she does something wrong. It is a slow return to society’s way of life, much slower than it seems if you ask the characters who have to put up with Sheldon, for our nerds through moments of pain, comedy, insensitive jokes at the expense of anyone who’s not Sheldon, the occasional (not that occasional) racist jab, varying kinds of cuisine and dialogues rich in scientific scripture.
“I’ve spent the past three-and-a-half years staring at grease boards full of equations; before that, I spent four years working on my thesis; before that, I was in college, and before that, I was in the fifth grade.”
The show does just what a sitcom needs to do to succeed—interlacing different storylines that would eventually converge to give some kind of triumphant comedic hurrah, the kind every rightward leaning leader would have felt after Brexit. So, in an episode you would have Penny slipping in her bathtub and Sheldon having to help her because the guys were at Vegas. Partially because she was his friend and largely because he was convinced he might see something truly, truly awful, Sheldon kept his eyes closed while gropingly trying to grab a naked Penny’s arm and shove it into her shirt sleeve, while the guys tried to party in Vegas. While all that is funny enough, watching Leonard find out that Sheldon actually got to, well a base further that he had with Penny, was just the icing on the cake. The careful nature with which the plot-lines are melded, held together by the real yet the out-there nature of the characters, makes for episodes that are, in themselves, complete packages of entertainment and engaging comedy.
“Engineering—where the semi-skilled laborers execute the vision of those who think and dream. Hello, Oompa-Loompas of science.”
Unencumbered by the burden of having to develop characters to have an emotional capacity that exceeds the radius of a teaspoon, the creators of the show were free to fashion characters that, while not one-dimensional, were geared toward creating moments of laughter through subversion of expectation, either in the lab or in their in the restaurants or their apartments. The characters fit together like well-placed pieces in a game of Tetris. Right after a scathing criticism by Sheldon, Howard would swoop down with a joke about how he is ET, Leonard and Raj would pitch in and then, finally, more often than not, Raj would be shut up by either a racist joke or a girl walking in. There was no real build up to any episode, no such intense focus on a story line that took precedence over all other factors. No, the show is instead focused upon making viewers laugh, developing characters as the show goes on rather than having to have emotional baggage to accommodate for, and reserving the title of the show with the quirkiest and weirdest characters, beating off any competition from Fox News.
“The show must go on, and thankfully all the things my girlfriend used to do can be taken care of with my right hand.”
There are many unforgettable moments on the show—the first few altercations between Leonard, Sheldon and Penny, the fallout from the break-up between Amy and Sheldon, the build up to Amy’s birthday present in the last season, Sheldon’s unnatural urge to cling to what has become even better known to people around the world than that Icelandic commentator who lost it when his team scored a goal, his spot—but those stand out moments stand out only because they are barely a cut above the rest. In all honesty, if you actually sat down and thought about how many golden moments are there on the show, it would be difficult to determine because the show maintains a frighteningly high level of comedy and performance. To all those who are of the factually wrong opinion (yes, they are of the factually wrong opinion) that The Big Bang Theory is like a democracy of geeks—of, for and by geeks—to them I would simply like to say that it’s not. In an age where long-running shows, especially sitcoms, are dying out (see: HIMYM, Two and a Half Men, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and there aren’t enough great sitcoms replacing them, The Big Bang Theory is a beautiful bridge that connects the middle years of the first decade of this century with the twilight years of this decade, as the focus moves from the “geek” to how those geeks fit into life. There is no longer a predominant longing of the creators to maintain focus on the geekiness of life. The show has moved on, the characters have grown up, matured and evolved in ways very few would have seemed believable 9 years ago—Leonard’s married to Penny, Howard’s about to have a kid, even Sheldon gets laid (!) and Raj has become so able to talk to everyone that he is now dating not one, but two women. Yes, the show may have its roots in the kind of comedy one has come to associate with the geek-world, but it has moved on to one that fans of HIMYM and Friends would reminisce about—relationships, life, troubles, sex, work, family—and the pillaring beacon of comedy that has stood unadulterated and flawless through the years. So give the show a watch and when you tell me about it, I’ll quote to you Sheldon’s words which reflected his desire to not be main-stream (like he usually is, of course) “I informed you thusly”