Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Big Bang Theory (sitcom) and Superman

To be clear: The show is not about comics, Superman, or comic geekdom. However...

Last week, due to a DVR catastrophe/ meltdown, we missed the opening episode of the new CBS sitcom "The Big Bang Theory", a title which suggests either something either more in the realm of Nova or skewing into the adult film spectrum than the show actually delivers.

I wouldn't normally be up on the latest of CBS's sitcom offerings, but The Big Bang Theory stars Jim Parsons, a guy I know from high school and whose mom is still very pally with The Karebear. This week we got ourselves situated and watched the show rather than just letting it record (Jamie had also missed Heroes last week, and was quite despondent).

I am delighted to say that Jim is great as Sheldon, one of two geeky physicists living in an apartment across the hall from "Penny", an attractive Cheesecake Factory waitress. Of course, Penny is pretty, so the geeks across the hall (Sheldon excepted) awkwardly try to pitch woo while becoming distracted with geeky pursuits. Sheldon is the one decidedly not infatuated with the girl, and is, perhaps, mildly annoyed by his friend's infatuation. The program is a sort of "clash of cultures" comedy that pits stereotypes of socially awkward, but brilliant, minds against the stereotypes of pretty, anti-intellectualism without ever really taking sides.

What's interesting is that Sheldon is supposed to be a DC Comics fan, as hinted at through wardrobe choices and the opening segment of this week's episode in which the geeks were prepping for a Superman movie marathon.

It is odd to know exactly where you stand when you hear characters uttering actual conversations you've had as a point of amusement. Especially when the conversation is accurate, according to The Science of Superman (although Wolverton doesn't foresee Lois being cut into pieces as much as being smushed when Superman saves her).

Alas, I suppose I know I'm a geek. The 20-somethings at work have remarked as much, as have most girls in middle-school and high school. My wife. My parents. Jason, as often as possible.

What I do find curious is that the show looks at these sorts of things as tics rather than merely deriding comic fandom as a clean intersection with loserdom on the geek Venn Diagram (although most of the audience will surely read it that way, bringing their own opinions into the mix). The show has to ask you to respect Leonard and Sheldon to some extent, or else the premise of the multi-camera sit-com won't work (single camera sit-coms do not ask that you actually like the stars of the show. See: The Office, US and UK, and Arrested Development). So, just as Dustin Hoffman once bought his underwear at Sears when he wasn't counting matchsticks, our intrepid heroes ponder the might of the Green Lantern Corps when not discussing Newtonian Physics.

Further, its a sign that the 80's (and perhaps the 90's) have ended that the premise of the show is NOT the transformation of the leads "from geek to chic", but in letting Penny, and therefore the audience, discover the men behind the Superman t-shirts.

Now, from experience, I assure you, comic fandom may come part and parcel with a PhD in Physics (though I doubt it), but comic fandom absolutely does not equal genius in the sciences or much of anything else. It is nice, however, that the stereotype of my early comic reading days, that comics were for the dimwitted, apparently no longer applies (I was asked a question along these lines during an e-mail exchange with a journalist when I wrote for Comic Fodder. I was asked if I found readers to be kind of slow, or wasn't it a sign that the readers had no imagination of their own. No, she had no idea she was being sort of insulting.).

I withhold any opinion on The Big Bang Theory until more episodes air. I'm not sure how they intend to make the premise work over multiple seasons, but the producers do seem keenly aware that the trick to a show is a simple premise at first, then to build around the characters.

Anyhow, tune in and watch Jim.


Unknown said...

Good Ratings For The Big Bang Theory In week 2 Again !!

The show finished # 2 in its time slot behind the mighty Dancing With the Stars, and it built on its How I Met Your Mother lead in by 13%. It also beat NBC's critically acclaimed Chuck by a whopping 14 %.

The Big Bang Theory is thriving !!

Anonymous said...

I haven't watched yesterday's episode, but Jen and I sat down and watched the season premiere last week. I liked it, but I have a geek side to me too (as Jen likes to tell me). I do have a cool side though. I have kissed girls, I play drums in a rock band, etc...

Although, my geekness wasn't comics. I saw my geekness through my time as a EE undergrad at A&M. I knew they were talking about the Heisenberg principal in one of the opening scenes, I finished sentences involving the wave-particle theory, and one other modern physics/quantum mechanics thing that made Jen just look at me. How I got a B in Quantum Mechanics/Modern Physics, I'll never know, but I did and I didn't cheat.

I had already planned on giving this show more of a chance than I normally do with a new show, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked the show regardless of your connection to one of the main stars. Series premieres in general are usually not the best episode of a series.

I agree that comic fandom does not come part and parcel with a PhD in physics. I beat my comic addiction in late high school.

Jim Parsons does a great job in that role as does the other main star (wasn't he on Roseanne playing the boyfriend of one of the daughters)?

J.S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J.S. said...

Can anything cement your geek status faster than declaring unilaterally that you also have a cool side? ; )

The League said...

I believe McDonalds once had a sandwhich in the late 80's which was packaged in a two-piece foam container, ensuring that "The hot stays hot and the cool stays cool".

The burger failed to sell well enough to stick around, and would have been doomed when McDonalds moved to more eco-friendly packaging.

I do not know if that has anything to do with anything.

Anonymous said...

League, you refer to the McDLT.

The League said...

But sort of back to Reed's point, it will be interesting to see these guys portrayed as protagonists when they are spouting off on the Heisenberg principal, black boxes and particle/ wave physics. Egg heads have not usually been front and center in sitcoms, and usually are portrayed in the Urkel vein, as hopeless caricatures.

I will be curious, as the show progresses, if the writers will insinuate that scientific curiosity equates to a doom of spurned romantic advances and/ or sexual confusion while insisting that sexually attractive females, by definition, lack the intellectual capacity to keep up with our protagonists.

Michael Corley said...

I was on the radio for exactly one year. Once a week, during that time I had "The Geek Report" and the first of which I interviewed Wolverton on his Superman book.

I gotta get me some gravitrons.

The League said...

We'd all feel safer if you didn't.

Anonymous said...

Sara Gilbert comes aboard The Big Bang Theory this Monday to play Johnny Galecki's love interest. It should be an interesting David and Darlene from Roseanne reunion.

The League said...

Excellent. I always liked Sara Gilbert.