5 Reasons I Don't Like Big Bang Theory
I've often had a love-hate relationship with the show The Big Bang Theory. At first I thought it was great, because it touched on issues that aren't normally brought up in a sit-com (like whether teleportation à la Star Trek could work). I will admit that it's funny, but it also has huge flaws that sometimes prevent me from being able to enjoy it.
1. Bad Behavior is OK, If Leonard Does It.
Oh, Leonard. I wanted to be able to like you, I really did. I mean, you are the obvious hero of the show, right? Destined to get into Penny's panties instead of anyone else, because you're the main character. Always right in an argument, even when you shouldn't be, because you're the main character.
Hey, I get it. I've tolerated lots of douche-ish behavior from main characters before. Harry Potter's father, James, was a bully. In My Little Pony, Twilight Sparkle sometimes seems paranoid, alarmist, and obsessive, and would be so if the plot didn't usually prove to the audience that her hunches were right (like when she accused Cadence of being evil, for example). But when Leonard can get away with things like lying to a long-time friend about Penny just to sabotage the friend's chances with her, or, idk, jeopardizing another long-time friend's entire research career just because you found him a little annoying as a traveling companion? That's a little harder to swallow. I also hate how Leonard is the designated love interest for Penny, when she has greater chemistry with Sheldon, and seems to understand him better than, and have more patience in dealing with him, than anyone else does.
Furthermore, Leonard's personality is not that good. He's whiny, and always focused on himself, even when his friends are having real problems and his are relatively minor. He also whines way, way too much about not getting laid. He also admits in one episode that his entire relationship with Penny was at one time all founded on lie after lie after lie; he admitted to pretending to like things she liked to do, and generally enjoy her company, solely as a deception to get in her cooch. I feel that a relationship should be based on honest communication and a real understanding of each other as well as a real mutuality of beliefs, values, and interests. Even if you don't like the same things as your significant other, you still owe them to be honest about it. For example, I never give my boyfriend the impression that I like baseball, and he never pretended to like anime. Why should the audience of the show be sold on one hand the idea that the Penny/Leonard ship is seaworthy, even romantic or cute, and on the other hand be told that the times they were together almost everything Leonard said to her was a lie so he could have sex with her? I mean, if all that matters to Leonard is sex, why doesn't he just rent it.
That also brings me to my next point about the show.
2. The Entire Show Is Way Too Smutty to be Geeky
It's probably because of the pun of the show, but why does every plot of the show have to revolve around sex? The show is just as smutty as say, 2 And a Half Men, but dressed up with occasional references to Star Trek, comic books, gaming, and physics.
I don't have a problem with the idea of sex, or even sex being shown or extensively discussed in entertainment, but when the sexual content of the show becomes the focus of a show that pretends to be more clever than that, I kind of get mad. I think it's because Big Bang Theory is a rather pretentious show that tries to stand out as different than the traditional sitcom by showing a different sort of people than would ordinarily be featured in one. (This has been done better, by the way, in the brilliant geeky office comedy from England, I.T. Crowd) However, Big Bang Theory fails because they fail to accurately understand the people they're trying to portray.
Every character is defined by their relationship with sex and little else. Howard is the failed, miserable, playboy, defined as not getting any (until he hooks up with Bernadette). Raj is the failed, miserable shy man who can't talk to women without alcohol or drugs. Leonard is a miserable failure because he chases after an unattainably hot girl who, as I've said before, has absolutely no mutual interests with him on which to base a good relationship. Only Sheldon and Amy are interesting then, because they are asexual and as such get to be fully-formed human beings defined by more than their reason for their lack (but they still are). In this world, the writers oversimplified what it means to be a geek; they boiled it down to meaning "unlucky with women" and also to mean someone who bitches about this problem nonstop.
Many geeky men do have trouble getting dates. And some of them like to joke about how unlikely it seems for them to get any. However, most of the truly smart people I know out there not only 1) develop the confidence to ask women out eventually, even if they didn't have it on a level with their peers in high school 2) are more respectful to women in general, which many women like, and 3) (And this is an important point) HAVE THINGS THEY CARE ABOUT OTHER THAN SEX!
I mean, do you think Einstein would have been Einstein if he had spent all his time pacing around wondering if a certain girl liked him? What do you think the people who made ground-breaking scientific discoveries cared more about 1) Their research, or 2) how many times they could get women to talk to them? They do this in other things, like A Beautiful Mind, where Nash helps some buddies in a bar get laid using math. However, it's obvious at least there that the math was the primary fixation of Nash's mind, and that getting his friends some lady companions for the night was just a one-time bonus. But in Big Bang, every character seems exhaustively obsessed with their sex life, and little else. Howard rarely talks about engineering, Bernadette about biology, etc. And, for me, the academic stuff is actually what I'd find more interesting, shockingly enough, there are people like that out there. Think about it, we're a primate, there are 7 billion + of us on this planet, sex has been around for as long as we have. It isn't new, or interesting, by itself. What is interesting is anthropology, physics, technology, science fiction, biology, etc. Geeks primarily live their lives in the world of information, but the show assumes we all think like extroverts, focusing primarily on interactions with and competition between others. We don't, for the most part, think that way, and I wish the show would recognize that we actually are people who like the geeky stuff we're doing and aren't sitting in an armchair somewhere brooding over how miserably lonely and dateless we are. I imagine that an extrovert who had to endure our frequency of human contact or sex might go insane, but we aren't extroverts and for us, what is valued is quality human contact, not quantity. We also prefer to focus on ideas and information than on other people and our relationships to them.
For this issue, I would recommend that the writers of the show turn their attention to books written about the experience of being an introvert. My favorite would be Introvert Power by Laurie Helgoe.
3. Penny Is An Annoying Character
Oh yeah, if there's one thing us geek girls love, it's annoying, slutty non-geek girls trying to fake it so they can end up with a guy who isn't a dishwasher. Especially if they're mean, catty, stuck-up, egocentric, prance around in hardly any clothing, and have grating, high-pitched pep-squad voices. (I also personally have a vendetta against anyone who calls people "sweetie" who aren't their significant other. I find it creepy at best, condescending at worst.)
In one episode, Penny nonchalantly admits that she was a bully who did terrible things to another girl in high school. Bullying is not acceptable, and ties into what I said about this show being infuriating in it's case of "designated hero" syndrome. Penny is there to be a love interest for Leonard, and to show T and A to the audience as often as possible, and to be the surrogate for the non-geek audience members who "don't get it". But they don't try very hard to make her a likable character, or a good female role model. In fact, if I had to describe her in one word, it would be "bratty". In two, "bratty and obnoxious". In three, "bratty, obnoxious, slutbag".
She's not just a terrible excuse for a human being, but not even good for what the writers intended her to be, which is Leonard's designated love interest. She doesn't show any signs of sharing any of Leonard's interests, and he doesn't share any of hers. When they hook up one time it was because she was drunk. They don't really seem to have any chemistry or any reason to be together other than that the plot of the show demands it. It's very forced-feeling, which can be downright painful to watch.
Also, when I first started watching the show I thought that in terms of feminist/gender egalitarian principles, it was in the stone age. The only female character, and she's an almost-naked bimbo. Why can't these guys find girls of equal or greater intelligence, I wondered. Does Hollywood still think men are "threatened" by smart women? I'm glad that they fixed this problem with the show by introducing other good female characters such as Priya, Amy, Bernadette, Leonard's mother Beverly, and Leslie Winkle. All of these characters contribute to mending what was originally a lack of good female characters in the show. However, despite all of the characters I've mentioned being more of interest to me than Penny is, Penny still gets the most screen time, greatest number of lines, and is the focus of the show's main romantic tension. This kind of grates on my nerves after a while.
4. The Unrealistic Treatment of Mental Illness (especially with Sheldon)
Quick, what DSM-listed disorder does Sheldon Cooper have? The answer: Which ones could we rule out? He seems to have a little of everything, from OCD to ADHD to autism/Asperger's Syndrome. Just for fun, they threw in some occasional spurts of delusion, paranoia, and anxiety. And yet, unlike a real special-needs person, Sheldon's issues aren't given much consideration by others and he's bullied for being mentally ill, rather than getting any sort of medical or therapeutic help. For a show set in modern times, with characters who believe in the scientific approach to most problems, it seems ridiculous that Sheldon doesn't have a therapist, and equally ridiculous that Leonard doesn't have one for his self-esteem and horrifying mommy issues, Raj for his social anxiety, or Howard for his problems with his mother and women.
In one episode, Raj takes an experimental social anxiety pill to talk to women, but can't deal with the side-effects. Do the writers realize that there are perfectly safe anti-anxiety meds available out there? It seems baffling that he never researched treatment options for this problem, as they do exist and would have been available to him. It seems like a little much for a plot to demand that I imagine a true geek whose initial response to some kind of social problem isn't to either ignore it, as I've said we have other interests, or to try to fix it in the most proven, scientific way available to us.
But the show doesn't exist without each character possessing certain quirks, as it were. And then the main problem of the show becomes that these quirks are, for one, exaggerated beyond realism, and also fixable psychological issues that aren't treated like medical conditions like they would be by the characters if they were real. (And, they would probably also know better than to use incorrect terms like "pathological shyness" for social anxiety!)
I just feel that if a show does not have a premise that's believable, it's not a good show. I have seen the "There Are No Therapists" trope in other works pulled off successfully, but I don't think it can be pulled off in this show.
For example, I think the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion was able to make it seem plausible that the mentally scarred teenagers didn't get psychological help for their myriad issues. First of all, their psychological states were deftly being manipulated by scientists for the purpose of making them pilot and fight well. Second, I find that teenagers are often reluctant to open up to adults about their psychological weaknesses, because they like to give an outward impression of being strong, and they can also be mistrustful of parents and other authority figures. Considering that many parents and authority figures in Evangelion were abusive, lying, untrustworthy, or uncaring, it's obvious why none of them thought to seek out the kind of help an ordinary person might if feeling depressed or unmotivated.
5. The Show Still Makes Geek Culture Seem Abnormal
To me, this is most apparent in the bits that feature Amy Farrah Fowler. Unlike Penny or Bernadette, bubbly blondes (again with Hollywood and hair-color-based stereotypes, yay), she is what I would call authentically geeky. However, the show presents the audience with a wildly exaggerated version of the female geek. She is an alien, inscrutable, incomprehensible. Almost every word she gets out gets drowned out with the cued laughter. She is something to be feared and ridiculed at first, and eventually warmed up to where she can be "fixed" with a make-over or by spending time with other women socializing and learning to better fit the mold of cultural gender conventions. Of course I find this treatment of female geekery unacceptable and demeaning. Why can't Amy be accepted for who she is, and why is it that they had to make her so cuckoo in the first place?
That isn't the only problem. Every joke in the show is aimed at people like me, and every joke in the show can be re-imagined as being directed at us hatefully by a bully on the playground or a snooty preppy kid in high school. This show seems to paint itself as a show about geek acceptance, but it makes fun of everything that makes us special without taking much time to defend our right to be who we are and enjoy what we enjoy. I feel like this show is always telling me how weird and different I am, how wrong and unusual I am, and how normal people are Penny and if I can't be Penny (or date her) I'm a loser. I'm nobody. And when people have been telling me those things since kindergarten, I don't feel the need to participate voluntarily in what is, for me, a public shaming and bullying re-enactment.
Further Reading on this Subject:
- Shouting Into The Void | The Problem With The Big Bang Theory...
The Problem With The Big Bang Theory... I’ve been meaning to post something about The Big Bang Theory for a while now but it’s taken me ‘till now to really understand what it is about the show that...
- My personal crusade against anti-nerd humor - Destructoid
I recently had the chance to shoot the sitcom spec pilot posted above with some friends of mine, a project which dredged up a lot of though...
Do you like Big Bang Theory?
Questions & Answers
Why do you assume that the guys on Big Bang Theory have mental problems? They like to immerse themselves in physics, gaming and comic books, and what you call 'mental illnesses' are quirks and a part of the character. I myself relate very strongly to Sheldon, an outsider to a confusing world that made sense with SCIENCE.