Shame is funny.
"Funny" as in odd.
I have no trouble writing about personal stuff. My kids, my life. I once wrote a column about getting naked for a dominatrix. I've written about being an agnostic, about going to rehab, all the time my large head— which I've also written about — held high.
But a certain subject has been straining forward in its seat, going "oh oh, pick me!" For months and, coward that I am, I've been ignoring it.
Because ... I'm ... well ... embarrassed.
Okay, here goes.
The Big Bang Theory.
When I say to my wife after dinner, "Let's watch TV," what I mean is, "Let's watch 'The Big Bang Theory.'" The only show on television, now in its 11th season Thursday nights on CBS. Plus shown continually in syndication. Some nights TBS runs it seven times in a row, from 6 p.m. to 9:30. Reading the newspaper listings is like giving a hammer to a toddler: "BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG."
And there, on the couch, night after night, is Mister I-Don't-Watch-TV, aka me.
At least I'm not alone. "The Big Bang Theory" is the top rated show on television. The most popular show in syndication for the past ... 338 consecutive weeks.
So what is the allure?
The premise — for the handful not familiar — would not seem something guaranteed to captivate a nation where half the citizens cower in self-constructed hallucinatory states. Viewers are invited into the lives of a pair of Caltech physicists, Dr. Sheldon Cooper and Dr. Leonard Hofstadter. We meet their colleagues: engineer Howard Wolowitz and astrophysicst Rajesh Koothrappali. Plus their loves —" Big Bang Theory" is probably the most risqué double-entendre title of a hit TV show) — Amy, Penny, Bernadette, and whomever Rajesh is seeing at the moment.
To continue reading, click here.
What? You are embarrassed that you watch television? Which has become one of the most interesting forms of storytelling out there? By this I mean long-form storytelling which takes years and years and develops characters and allow them to grow and change in ways and at a pace that almost no other medium permits.
I am shocked that you missed it. And am not quite sure you actually still watch Big Bang. Or more accurately when you say that Howard is an “oily Lothario astronaut, one of the creepiest characters on a TV show not involving zombie,” it makes me wonder how long exactly it’s been since you watched or at least really paid attention.
Howard has stopped being an oily lothario pretty much from the time he met Bernadette. He is now a bit of an old school “hen pecked husband” but that the show has managed to change a fundamental characteristic of one of its players over time is a part of that long form storytelling though it’s admittedly much weaker in sitcoms then it is in hour long drama based shows.
There are so many excellent television shows out there today which bring remarkable storytelling to their audience. Being ashamed of watching tv is like being ashamed of reading because some are trashy and poorly written. The only thing you should be ashamed of is being such an intellectual snob ( and I speak as someone who could drift in that direction ) that you are missing out on how in the last decade or so creators learned to channel the advantages of this media to do something truly remarkable.
I tried watching the show a couple of times but could never get into it. The Sheldon character just struck me as whiny and annoying, and the whole thing came off as a string of nerds-can't-get-laid jokes, which is a humor genre I find tiresome. Kaley Cuoco is a stone fox, but not even her charms were enough. But maybe I'll give it another chance.ReplyDelete
Three of the four main "nerd" characters are now married or engaged. Their lives are much fuller and happier. The jokes have thus changed. Though Sheldon is still a whiner.Delete
Bitter, the quirks of the characters drive the comedy that provides the deep belly laughs too rare in life. Sheldon's oddities would push Leonard over the edge in the real world. Penny is the mitigating factor. Without her, Leonard would be a sorry character putting up with Sheldon. Raj, struck deaf in any females' presence was inspired writing. Laurie Metcalf as Sheldons' mother is comedy gold. On the TV M*A*S*H Edward Winter as Col. Flagg made such an impression that people are shocked to learn he appeared in only 6 or 8 episodes. Metcalf outdoes Winter on Big Bang. Give it another try, if only for Chuck Lorre's end cards.Delete
Mrs. Grizz has two degrees in English Lit. but she is also a math and science geek, and even tutors adults in those subjects for their GED exams. So she likes Big Bang but doesn't watch it much, mostly because I was always bitching about how obnoxious and geeky and dorky all the characters sounded and seemed to be, and how their whole lives seemed to be centered on finding sex partners. I was not amused. Somehow, I must have missed the bus. Also have been missing something as funny as hell.ReplyDelete
If the show is so highly rated and has survived for eleven years, perhaps I need to rethink my original condemnation and give it a chance. I found myself in a similar situation 45 years ago. No way could a show I derisively called "Korea Can Be Fun" be worthwhile. Hell, it was still wartime in Real Life!
Gave it another try the following season and was hooked for life...or at least for another decade. And far beyond. Mrs. Grizz and I still watch MASH marathons on Sundance every weekend,(it also airs on at least four other channels, including WGN) and have memorized whole stretches of dialogue and know many of the punch lines by heart. Apparently, "Big Bang" is today's answer to MASH, and I need to catch the next bus--the one that goes to Cal Tech--and do some binge-watching. We've got over a decade's worth of catching up to do.
I've always been a big fan of escape. In these times, we need escape and laughter more than ever. Beats crying and sleeping too much.
Neil, when I look back at a conversation we had about Big Bang, I remember feeling a kinship, a common bond. It was as though we had discovered that we have the same friends, but had somehow never met each other. I set the bar pretty high when deciding which shows I allow into my life. Time is precious and TV is, for the most part, filler. Big Bang hurdles that bar, week after week, year after year. It's brilliant. It's flawless. I'm a little surprised it's never come up in your writing.ReplyDelete
Since the show seems to be on all day and night, I will try it one of these days. I've found the title intriguing, but never gave it a second thought. Madmen also seemed intriguing, but when my daughter gave me a disk of the first year, I was unimpressed after watching one episode. Struck me as banal and not funny. Also Mike and Molly. Saw the pilot at my brother-in-law's house in Hollywood -- he was lined up to play the father -- and after one forced and unfunny joke after another, I thought that the show had no potential whatsoever. And I guess so did my brother-in-law; he gave up the job. Therefore, if it turns out I don't like The Big Bang Theory, it's probably me, not the show.ReplyDelete
Mad Men (which I loved), while it had its funny moments,, was definitely not a comedy. I'd really urge you to give it a second chance, as a drama.Delete
To those who haven't watched past the first few seasons: like many shows on TV today, the characters have changed and so have the jokes. Three of the four main characters are married or engaged. The show focuses more on life as a mid-life adult (balancing work and family, professional problems jealousy and work issues, dealing with parents when one is an adult, negotiating the ins and outs of close friendships) then it did when the show started and it was about how "nerds" struggle with ever having a romantic life. Howard, who Neil calls an "oily lothario" has not been that in years. He met the woman of his dreams and that was it. He is a loving (if sometimes idiotic) husband and father. One of Howard's biggest problems in past years was worrying that he'd offended Steven Hawking (he was asked to work on the mechanics of his chair and voice software).ReplyDelete
This is what TV can do when a show is on for years and years. It can change fundamental characteristics of its characters and still make it funny.
Some shows evolve and others don't. The original Rosanne went from mildly diverting to awful. MASH changed quite a bit when a couple of the characters were recast. I've avoided Big Bang, but will probably get around to it when they stop running Fraser, MASH, Becker and Murphy Brown.Delete
Tom, you mention MASH successfully recasting characters. Big Bang has had success, not by recasting, but by actually adding characters to the mix. Neither Bernadette or Amy are original to the show, but without them, the show would undoubtedly have ended several seasons ago. The producers are like master chefs. They've only added what improves or enhances. Even the recurring characters are fully realized and perfectly cast. Christine Baranski as Leonard's mother, Laurie Metcalf as Sheldon's mother, and Bob Newhart as Professor Proton. This show is a masterpiece in progress. It hasn't missed a beat.Delete
And some shows just get unwatchable and you gotta bail. Hill Street Blues was one that comes to mind. Mad Men got pretty strange after a while, especially near the end, but the characters had as many layers as an onion, and it was fun to peel them on the message board (IMDb) where I was a regular for many years. Plus I lived through that era, and it was also fun to catch all the goofs and mistakes, like Parliament cigarettes in flip-top boxes, and the like. I'm good at trivia like that. I'd make a good prop man.Delete
MASH lost two major characters early on, and two more not long after. Yet the show grew and changed and actually got better in many ways. Until the last few years, anyway, after which it mostly became the Alan Alda Show. But it's still as enjoyable as it was when I began watching it 45 years ago. Kind of like smoking used to be.
Obviously, never having watched the show, I shouldn't say anything about this topic. But what would web comment pages be like if everybody followed that policy? A vast wasteland, I tell you! Unlike the treasure-trove of reasoned analysis and cordial dialogue they are in reality. ; )ReplyDelete
Annie says: "There are so many excellent television shows out there today which bring remarkable storytelling to their audience." Which is very true. But she then refers to "the last decade or so," which sells this development *way* short. As for "long-form storytelling," "The Sopranos" started in 1999, "The Wire" in 2002, for example.
There's so much great TV these days that one can't come close to keeping up, even if TV was one's primary interest. If one watches little, choosing is hard! Alas, from the get-go, due just to what I absorbed from the zeitgeist and random clips, I formed the opinion of "Big Bang" that Bitter Scribe related. Perhaps I've been wrong the whole time, but I'm not about to find out at this point. Certainly the most interesting thing I've ever heard about the show is that, out of all the great things available to watch these days, our host has somehow settled on this.
You mention Sheldon's "dry frosty Asperger calm". It has never been said on the show that Sheldon has Asperger Syndrome, though it is blatantly obvious to anyone who is familiar with AS and the show. But Sheldon also exhibits the anxiety that comes with AS (remember the episode where he makes Leonard wear an itchy sweater for an extended time so Leonard can understand the mental discomfort that a small thing being out of place can cause Sheldon to experience)? Despite sometimes being played for comedy, Sheldon is a very good model for what AS can look like. As someone myself with AS, I've been saying for years that clearly Sheldon is written as an Aspie. I wish Chuck Lorre would do us all a favour and make that explicit by having someone say it on the show. I wasn't diagnosed til I was in my late 40s. It's not too late for Sheldon to be diagnosed. Can they make it funny? Maybe not. But they could definitely make it poignant. If Sheldon received the diagnosis and reflects on his life and sees how it puts everything into perspective... it did for me, and from what I hear from other late-diagnosed Aspies, that is a common reaction to a later-in-life diagnosis.ReplyDelete
Padraig, I think the reason that they don't label Sheldon's idiosyncratic behavior as Asperger Syndrome, is because if they did, they would have to fine-tune their presentation of the character. They seem to have done a good job using the syndrome as a template, but they've wisely left themselves a little wiggle-room.Delete
Hi Tony. It makes sense that they might want to preserve some artistic freedom that they might lose if they were to commit to the character having a specific diagnosis. I'm just thinking that it would help a lot of people who may be wondering why people react to them in ways they don't understand, why things that seem to be so easy for others are so hard for them, how they can be at the same time so smart and yet so stupid... all questions I grappled with for decades... by speaking the "A" word (Asperger or Autism). It might encourage more people like me to seek a diagnosis and more importantly the treatments that exists for AS (behavioural therapy, mainly, or cognitive therapy). Maybe in the final season, when artistic freedom might be less important than public service?Delete
All valid points, Padraig. You mentioned that you weren't diagnosed until you were in your late 40's. I don't know how old you are now, so I don't know how long ago you were in school, but in today's world, public schools do their best to identify and provide services for autistic children. Sadly, that wasn't always the case. Kids today have a better shot at a level playing field, but it's still a battle.Delete
You might consider writing to the Big Bang people, whoever they may be. Mention that awareness leads to understanding which leads to acceptance which leads to equal opportunity. Seems like a reasonable argument.
That's a good idea, Tony. I think I will write them. I'm 57 so I was in school in the 60's and 70's. At the age of six, I was tested and they decided I had a fourth grade math level and an eighth grade reading level. So they moved me from first into second grade. With the meanest nun in the school... a real head case who got of on making kids cry. Thanks, Catholic school system!Delete
It wasn't just the parochial schools. There were teachers in the public school system back then who were like your nun. I'm 63. I saw a few of those.Delete
50 years ago nobody understood who you were. I'm happy to see that today's kids are understood and getting the level of support they deserve.
Never got into "Big Bang" though I've seen snippets of it. It's tempting to give it another look-see, having a healthy respect for what our blogmeister deems worthwhile viewing, except it's been on TV for SO long that I feel I've already missed the boat on the whole concept and would be a late-to-the-party bandwagon jumper.ReplyDelete
Besides, I'm too busy keeping up with the latest adventures of my favorite thought-provoking, intellectual reality show "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills".
Hold on a second! Stop the presses! Tony's comment at 4:21 ... Christine Baranski AND Laurie Metcalf are on the show? I may have to rethink this.ReplyDelete
There's a new spin-off called "Young Sheldon" in which Sheldon is a young boy-genius, already in highschool and always the smartest person in room. Laurie Metcalf's real life daughter plays Sheldon's mother. Annie Potts plays his "Meemaw".Delete
A couple I know found Seinfeld long after everyone else on the planet had seen it. Loaned season one on DVD they saw it from episode one through the disappointing finale. I recommend the same process to you latecomers. Give it a full season, it's not like I'm asking you to watch Hannity.ReplyDelete