Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Scott Garner Defends The Big Bang Theory

In an effort to show how impartial I am in my various hatreds, one of the biggest being CBS' The Big Bang Theory, I've decided to let friend and fellow writer/blogger/former journalist Scott Garner to guest today...

... So he can defend The Big Bang Theory. Understand, I want to pepper your judgement at this point. I want to poison the well and remind you all that The Big Bang Theory isn't for geeks and nerds, that the producers hate you, that it is, in fact, a Geek Minstrel Show.

But I'm not going to do that. That would be unfair to Scott and underhanded on my part. So sit back, and enjoy Scott Garner defend... God this is hard... defend The Big Bang Theory.

Oh, and be sure to check out Scott's blog here when yer' done. Take it away, Mr. Garner...


In the fourteen months since my son came into this world, the dinner hour is generally filled with the sounds of syndicated reruns of How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory. The theme song to the latter is young master Atticus’s Most Favoritest Song Evah. At the end, as the Barenaked Ladies yalp out their final “BANG,” my son triumphantly throws his arms into the air.

The proprietor of this fine blog calls BBT a “minstrel show” and generally rates the contribution to geek culture generated by Sheldon, Penny and the guy who used to be on Roseanne somewhere between DC’s latest attempt to reload their brand and anal splinters. He’s not a fan.

After fourteen months of Big Bang Theory reruns, I have come to develop an affinity for the program, if not a downright fondness. This means I’m in a pretty strong position to come to the show’s defense. With some caveats, of course.

If you need a Cliff’s Notes version of the program, here it is: two scientists, one geeky and the other geeky and Asperger-y, both geniuses (the latter Wile E. Coyote, super genius-y), live next door to a smoking hot blonde of average (or possibly lower) intellect. Non Asperger-y geek falls hopelessly in love with unattainable blonde. Hijinks ensue. The cast is rounded out by other colorful characters, most of whom are also card-carrying Mensa types.

Here is where we collectively pause for a second. At this point, I am one paragraph short of beginning my defense of BBT. Before travelling any farther, I should state explicitly and for the record that I am not attempting to change anyone’s mind. Internet arguing is the sort of stupid that warrants a two-hour block of programming on either E! or Fox News. Please understand this is a defense of BBT not a Clockwork Orange attempt to reprogram the reader. If you really don’t like the show, nothing I write is going to persuade you otherwise. Perhaps, though, if you accept the arguments I will lay out, it might be possible to begin to understand the broad appeal of the show and not dismiss anyone else who enjoys the program as mentally ill.


FIRST POINT: It’s a fucking sitcom. With only a few notable exceptions—including All in the Family, MASH, Roseanne, Seinfeld and Louie—the entire sitcom form is riddled with artistic bullet holes. Plot contrivances, caricatures, deus ex machina and laugh tracks are just a few of the intellectual slaps in the face we’re forced to endure to squeeze thirty minutes of “entertainment” out of a network’s need to put something on to hold a place for the commercials. There are five levels of creative accomplishment awarded based on how a show handles these pitfalls.

                Level 1: The Simpsonsonian Ideal. Y’know. Perfection. We’re talking seasons 3-8 for the zenith, but even the nadir of The Simpsons is better than anything on Level 3 or lower. If you’re going to argue this point, please stop and cut out your reproductive parts now. You’re bringing nothing to the collective gene pool or this conversation.

                Level 2: The MASH Pit. Great enough to create cultural touchstones, even if some of these shows—I’m looking at you Married… With Children—don’t always stand up to repeat viewings. These shows have something in the premise or execution that separates them from the pack. And all of them are unambiguously funny.

                Level 3: Good Enough. These shows aim for the middle and hit the target. Occasionally, one will capture a zeitgeist moment and float improbably high in the ratings. These shows are neither great nor terrible. They’re like sex with an ex-girlfriend: you pretty much know what’s coming, but it’s still better than watching reruns of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. The Big Bang Theory is unapologetically a Level 3 sitcom. It’s keeping company with such classics as Night Court and Sanford & Son, so the peer group isn’t horrible. (Good luck getting the Night Court theme’s baseline out of your head, by the way.)

                Level 4: Thelma and Louise. These shows start strong for a few episodes then drive off a cliff. You know why it’s hard to think about an example for the Level 4 show? Because they were neither good enough nor bad enough to remember. Anything that lasted a season and a half on Fox is probably a 4.

                Level 5: Inexplicably Green-Lighted. This is the pond scum. Cavemen ring a bell? Or Whoops, which was both the title of the show and the inevitable punch line of its miserable existence. Right. Moving on.

SECOND POINT: Geek Nation has more dysfunctional, warring tribes than the Middle East. Nerds, Fanboys, Hackers, Cinephiles, Beer Geeks, Wine Snobs, Game Geeks, Role Players, Cosplayers, SF Fans Who Detest “Space Opera,” Trekkies, MMO Gamers, Fantasy Football Wonks, Foodies, Political Junkies, Hipsters, Performance Artists, Theater Geeks and Internet Trolls are just a few of the subspecies fighting for geek supremacy.

There is only one piece of connective tissue binding the collective body of “geekdom” together: passion. Geeks love something. They integrate their love of this thing (or things) into the fabric of their being. Their love isn’t always healthy, either. Just mention Episode I to a Star Wars fan and you’ll get everything from a frown to a full-on Kathy-Bates-in-Misery, get-me-the-goddamn-hammer-and-a-block-of-wood. Lynching would be too good for Jar Jar. Geeks love their passion and they expect creators to take good fucking care of their baby. Because no genius, not even the one who first created C3PO and the Millennium Falcon, are too good to get a foot in the ass (via a scathing online screed, of course).

THIRD POINT: Dismissing the entertainment value of a sitcom because the characters do not exactly handle their broadly-drawn attributes, meant to be hyperbolic exaggerations in even the most forgiving of critiques, might be more a symptom of being a geek. If the stereotype of a comic book store where a guy called Captain Sweatpants shops cuts a little too close to the bone, perhaps it is because the intended hyperbole lands close to the truth. (True story: a fat kid in a tee shirt and sweatpants was in Barnes & Noble last week while I was there, browsing through the manga with solidly one half of his crack hanging out. He did not appear out of place.)

The one admirable quality of The Big Bang Theory is how the show actually takes all of its primary geek characters and makes them incredibly successful. None of them are unemployed. Most of them are in meaningful relationships. They enjoy their lives and are passionate about the things they love, just like all of the real geeks I know. It’s a third-tier sitcom, folks. Considering where the bar is set, perhaps we can give BBT a little leeway.

The Big Bang Theory isn’t the greatest show ever to hit television. It does boil the diaspora of geek culture down to a dozen or so easy-to-digest stereotypes. But these geeks are the heroes of this show. In the end, they are going to win their battles. The finale of BBT, whenever it comes, will feel clunky and awkward but even those of us who have lost interest by then watch for sentimental reasons. Penny and Leonard? I’m pretty sure they’ll end up together, just like Ross and Rachel. None of this may convince this blog’s proprietor to change his mind about the show. The jokes are still going to be sitcom lame (or sitcom funny, which is still several rungs below “belly laugh”) but because the jokes involve things geeks love, that lameness can be damning. Still, the jokes aren’t so bad in the context of the sitcom milieu. In fact, they are often better than average, even if ”average” is like being the valedictorian of Summer School.

And they’re more than good enough to keep on during the dinner hour, if only to see the little Future Geek in my house throw his arms in the air for that final BANG.


  1. As probably one of the few people in existence who has only seen bits and pieces of maybe two episodes of the show, I can appreciate both sides of the argument. Well-written stuff, Scott.

    Thank you for allowing it, Chris!

  2. It was very well-written. I enjoyed it. Ultimately though, all it's saying is that BBT doesn't suck that badly.

  3. I am a proud card-carrying member of the geekdom, and I LOVE BBT. I was actually pretty surprised to like it this much because I was initially put off by the stereotypical premise as it appeared in the ads and previews. I was also avoiding How I Met Your Mother until another geek (actually, my old science teacher) posted the video of Neil Patrick Harris as Barney Stinsin delivering his under 60 seconds monologue summary of the previous seasons whereupon I was instantly sold on that and set out to catch up on the non-abbreviated history. (Loved everything but this current season, which has been phoned in from every possible angle excepting a few eps.) But having seen the commercial teases for BBT in the process of watching the back eps of HIMYM, I finally gave in and checked out BBT.

    It is consistently something that gives me at least a couple great guffaws every show, and an awful lot to relate to. I think the criticism of the harsh critics is pretty spot on, as some of the gags are so spot on geeky that I sometimes wonder that they are even mainstream funny enough to carry the show that long. Too close to home for comfort, I agree.

    But I guess I like the show because it makes me nostalgic about the years I spent hanging out at MIT even though I went to Emerson across the river. I love that I am Penny and Leonard rolled into one!

    I've never understood the nerd shame. I love nerds and always have. If anything, my criticism would be that the nerds always want the HOT chicks and complain that they don't want the geeky guys but the dumb jocks that are insensitive to their needs. But the girls also portray a truth in the show that is not as funny when you realize the stereotype is true too. I'd like to see Amy getting some play from a hot guy and Sheldon getting a little jealous but how likely are they to write THAT?

    I was lucky to be the cute brainy girl, and I still got passed over for the hot dumb ones with big boobs. Then I got smart and bought boobs, and boy what a difference that made!

    Talk about POWER. Sadly the boobs

    I could rule the world if I were EVIL.


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