I can’t say I’m the world’s biggest fan of The Big Bang Theory. It’s a bit surprising considering that I’m Infinity Dish’s resident nerd writer, but there are a few things about it that just bug me. The laugh track is annoying and a lot of the jokes fall flat, even if I do get a joke’s obscure Marvel reference or when Amy and Sheldon talk about Meme theory.
Last night, as my girlfriend was watching an episode, I think I put my finger on the show’s main flaw. You see, they set up this kind of nerd spectrum wherein each of the main male characters is at a different level of geekiness.
Let’s take a walk towards the most concentrated form of nerdiness known to man, Sheldon Cooper, by breaking down what puts these characters on such an uneven playing field.
Leonard dresses well. His glasses are nerdy, but actually quite trendy thanks to hipsters’ ironic fashion sense. He talks about Frodo Baggins and Darth Vader, but he still gets the ladies — and hot ones, at that. He’s nerdy in his interests, but not at all in his social standing and attitudes.
Howard dresses terribly, lives with his mother… and has a smoking hot girlfriend. Howard’s definitely one step higher on the nerd spectrum due to his goofy his appearance and his awkward living situation, but he’s still cool enough to get some action.
Raj would like to date, but he’s so terrified of girls that he can’t even speak to them. As the only non-white guy, he’s kind of in the position of being a slight outcast from the rest of his friends — not because his friends don’t accept him, but because his India-ness is a constant source of self-deprecating humor.
More like a logic-adoring Vulcan than a person, Sheldon eschews human contact, hates emotion, and has zero sex drive whatsoever. He’s more like a parody of a dork than what a dork would actually be like.
As you can tell, the writers established a scale of geekiness that you can easily see just through their interaction. The writers enforce that scale by rewarding the least nerdy nerds with hot women, while the most nerdy nerds are still virginal and clueless.
At that point, it kind of feels like the show is no longer about a group of nerds, and is instead a show about 2 cool, trendy guys and their 2 awkward buddies, kinda like a much more modern The Odd Couple.
The writers completely rely on the geekiness or the characters’ relative lack of social skills for almost all of their jokes. I couldn’t help but notice that Sheldon got more laughs than anybody else, and that his OCD geekiness tended to dominate the screen. I realize, of course, that actor Jim Parsons has won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his role as Sheldon, so the actor is hard to ignore, but Sheldon getting all of the jokes is more a product of the writing and directing than the acting.
So, Sheldon’s scientific approach to life encouraged me to perform a little experiment. While watching the episode “The Herb Garden Germination,” I counted how many times each character provoked the laugh track, and these were my results:
Miscellaneous Characters: 7
That’s 136 laugh-track-inspiring jokes in all, with Sheldon comprising a staggering 38% of the show’s jokes, more than twice as much as any other character.
The writers are relying much too heavily on their golden goose to carry them through every show. I mean, I like Sheldon. He’s a quirky character who is somehow endearing, yet hard to get to know. But the same goes for Chandler from Friends, and Chandler usually provided about, say, 1/6th of the show’s humor, an appropriate number considering that the show was about 6 friends.
So, The Big Bang Theory writers, do you think you could even out the jokes just a little bit more?