Monday, March 14, 2011

My "Big Bang Theory" Theory*

*Not actually a theory. The title is misleading. This is what I was going to chat with Abby about today, but apparently she's on vacation so I'm going to blog about it and she can read it at her leisure. It actually ended up being really long, so maybe it's better that I wrote it here instead of in that tiny little chat box.

I heard from several of my friends that I should be watching The Big Bang Theory. Apparently they all thought it was something I would absolutely love. Okay, so one friend told me I would love it, and another friend mentioned it in passing. It really doesn't take much to make me watch TV.

So anyway. I've watched the three seasons that were available at the library. I don't love it. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad show. It's really not. Sheldon is a great sitcom character. I am totally okay with Jim Parsons winning an Emmy for this role.

However, I'm not really sure why that one friend insisted I would love this show. A) I'm not really into comic books or Star Trek or any of the other geeky stuff the guys in the show love, so I don't get a lot of the jokes. Does this friend think I'm nerdier than I really am? B) I fucking hated physics class in high school. Well, that might be a little strongly worded. I slept through most classes, and I like naps, so I didn't hate all of physics. Three out of four of the main male characters are physicists, and there are physics jokes. JOKES about PHYSICSZZZzzzzzzzz

Sorry about that. Before I get into my biggest issue with the show, here's one pet peeve: The character Howard is constantly derided by a few of the characters because he's the only one of the main male cast that doesn't have a PhD. But he has a Master's degree in Engineering from MIT. Now I don't know a whole lot about this stuff, but it would seem to me that Howard actually has the most practical set of skills. Sheldon may be doing fancy theoretical physics equations, but he's doing them in a room in a building built by an engineer. Without lamps there'd be no light.

But anyway: my biggest problem with the show is that a painful number of episodes just seem like showcases for rampant misogyny.

The sole regular female main character, Penny, has a dead-end job is completely broke, and it seems her only reason for existing in the Big Bang Theory universe is to act as an object of desire for Leonard. And I do mean 'object.' SHE DOESN'T HAVE A LAST NAME. I have a feeling that the writers are trying to make this a Malcolm in the Middle-style "we never say the last name!" kind of joke, but it just plays like she's a less important character. And Leonard and Penny have very little chemistry, and no reason exists for them to have any chemistry. They have absolutely nothing in common except for living across the hall from one another. Penny is average intelligence, pretty, and a social butterfly. At least she was in the first season, when we still saw her hanging out with people besides the main four guys. And she used to actually try to be an actress (the character is an aspiring actress, I'm not making a dig at Kaley Cuoco, who is perfectly servicable in this role), and she would occasionally land the lame paying-her-dues type roles in weird productions of plays. I don't think it would kill the writers to either a) have her officially quit acting and pursue something else or b) score a commercial or something. But I guess that would get in the way of her relationship with Leonard, and her character has increasingly become only about Leonard. And Leonard sucks. He's a whiny jerk-ass who thinks he's entitled to Penny because he's sat around for years waiting for her to date him. He even takes advantage of a clearly drunk-off-her-ass Penny. AND THIS IS PLAYED FOR LAUGHS. Leonard is supposed to be smart; you'd think he could put together that "Ridiculously drunk to the point of making obviously bad decisions" = "unable to consent." Congratulations, Leonard. You just date-raped your ex-girlfriend. Hilarious.

So, aside from misogyny (which I'll get back to in a moment), my biggest problem with the show is that it suffers from "We're in love because the script says we are" syndrome. It's mostly seen in bad romantic comedies where there is absolutely no reason for the main two characters to fall in love except for the fact that it's written in the script. Penny and Leonard should NOT be together. They are wrong for each other in so many ways. But the entire premise of the show is that the Nerd has a crush on the Vagina across the hall, so we are constantly being told that they are, like, so in love.

So. Misogyny. HOWARD WOLOWITZ. And also Raj Koothrappali. And Leonard Hofstadter. But seriously, Wolowitz is the worst. His entire existence, outside of being an engineer, is to get laid. He wants sex. Only sex. Women are prey to him. Mindless objects that he can trick into having sex with him if he can just figure out the right pick-up line. Wolowitz is like Barney Stinson, but without the charm. You can actually see why some women would sleep with Barney. I don't understand how Wolowitz has ever had sex, unless he uses the Leonard-approved "fuck her while she's drunk and can't say no" approach. He actually dates a girl for more than one episode in the 3rd season, but it's implied that they never had sex. She's never seen again, and in a throwaway line Howard mentions that they broke up weeks ago. Did the writers not think that Wolowitz actually sustaining a relationship was comedic fodder? Of course not, they want to see their little misogynist back out on the prowl. Yes, I hate Howard. A lot. I wouldn't say it's an "irrational" hatred, though. I think I have perfectly reasonable reasons to hate him. I do irrationally hate his wardrobe though. Fucking turtlenecks and tight pants.

I may have made the show sound worse than it is. It's pretty funny when it decides to stop being entirely about getting the characters laid. And maybe the problems which are so glaring while watching the DVDs are less obvious when you watch one episode and then have to wait a week for the next new ep. I haven't watched the fourth season that's currently airing, so maybe some of my problems with the show have been addressed. Probably not, but hey, a girl can dream about sitcoms where the female characters are treated with the same amount of respect as the men.


Abby-Wan Kenobi said...

Thanks, you've talked me out of watching this show. Several people have told me how much I'd love the show, and I've laughed during the few episodes I've seen, but I've never been sucked in. I thought maybe the jokes build and become funnier over time.

Honestly, I think we should be honoring the spirit of the Bechdel Test more closely. It was made for movies, but it states that if there aren't at least two women with names who talk to one another about something other than men it is not worth watching. I think it can be applied to tv shows - two women with names who talk to one another and have some component of their personalities that isn't about dudes. So HIMYM is in, Big Bang Theory is out. Glee is in, Two and a Half Men is out.

Live it!

miranda. said...

I really feel like the Bechdel Test functions best as an indicatorof the dearth of strong female characters. It doesn't necessarily indicate the quality of a film or TV series. The Shawshank Redemption is one of the greatest films of all time (and a personal favorite), yet it does not pass the Bechdel Test. And sometimes it's iffy if something passes. The Silence of the Lambs, another favorite, has Clarice and her friend at the FBI academy (who has a name that I can't remember) having a conversation that is PIVOTAL to the plot. But they're talking about a man: Buffalo Bill. Does it pass Bechdel if the conversation is about a man but not about a relationship?

I may do a full post on this at some point. I think it's a really interesting topic.