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The Big Bang Theory - still not funny after ten long years


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A show like The Big Bang Theory could only be produced in America, a country where the expanse of generosity and talent is so vast that brilliant programmes are allowed to carry on being brilliant for many, many years.

But The Big Bang Theory is not such a programme. Now in its tenth year, it is instead the product of another, more regrettable American trait, the ability to be easily pleased.

Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, the show’s creators, dipped their hands into a tepid pool of geeky stereotypes and picked out whatever dreck was nearest to the surface.

Their findings certainly fit the basic definitions of nerds - unfashionable, bad with women, insular, and obsessed with trivial and childish pursuits such as superheroes and science fiction.

However, Lorre and Prady have never been creative enough to have their characters break beyond these boundaries. Not once in ten whole years.

The stereotyping applies in other ways, too. Aside from the ‘straight man’ Leonard, who stands around while the others are ‘funny,’ the characters are so unoriginal that they could technically be considered ‘culturally insensitive’.

Howard, for example, is the embodiment of the stale Jewish stereotype of someone who is smart and funny, but in a self-hating way, and who also lives with his overbearing mother. Raj is an Indian version of this same creation, minus the mother.

Sheldon, perhaps the show’s most famous character, who I was once told I looked like after a particularly extreme haircut (which may be at the root of my hatred of this show), is a gay stereotype – fussy and effeminate, with some other dickhead nerd traits like condescension thrown in for good measure.

The actor Jim Parsons, who is gay, has not only been presented with, but has accepted awards for this ‘performance,’ playing a ‘straight guy’ with all the television traits of a gay man.

And what can one say about the women? Penny is so one dimensional she has yet to acquire a surname. The kind of blonde goddess geeks usually fawn over in vain, she inexplicably falls for one of them in the end, despite having supposed disdain for their weakly-portrayed geek culture. It has never occurred to the writers that someone such as Penny can still be that attractive but also socially awkward, insular, and with equally nerdish tastes (and no, Amy sadly doesn’t count).

As there is clearly nothing original about the show’s characters, there is also nothing funny about them. The joke is in fact on us, as the creators of Big Bang have mastered the art of convincing everyone, including itself, that it is in fact hilarious.

There is a great social philanthropist on YouTube who goes by the name of ‘Sboss.’ This modest account has done the world a favour in uploading a short clip from one of the episodes, the season four classic, ‘The Zazzy Substitution,’ but without the canned laughter. 

Between each of the ‘gags’ in this short extract (and would you have been able to spot them without the cue?) there are sudden bursts of suspiciously intense laughter.

What is more revealing, however, is that the actors actually pause after delivering each line in order to make way for the screeches and howls of uncontrollable ecstasy. There were people on pills in this scene, but it was the audience.

Laughter, real nerds have found, is primarily a social custom. We laugh not because we find something all that hilarious, but to show others in our company that we ‘get’ the joke.

This is why we don’t laugh nearly as much, or as loudly, when sitting alone in our darkened bedrooms staring into our laptops as we do when we are with friends or at a comedy gig.

On watching scenes such as the one above, the viewer hears the hysterics from the audience and subconsciously concludes that they, too, must laugh along with it, even if they don’t stop to consider if the lines are actually any good.

A good sense of humour is subconsciously connected to intelligence, and no one wants to expose themselves as both joyless and a bit slow by not joining in with the general mirth.

As many readers will have noticed, there is something in the zeitgeist at the moment about nerds being cool, and in this sense the show is the natural successor to Friends, which snapped up the most pallid stereotypes of the coolest people in the 1990s and gulled audiences into thinking they too were the height of hilarity.

Popularity, sadly, does not mean quality, and this is true of many television shows, such as Love Island and The Kardashians. Big Bang appeals to the lowest common denominator, rehashing tired gags about equally tired stereotypes in order to dazzle the electrons in the most ossified comedy glands.

Ironically, it makes jokes at the expense of smart people on the fringes of society in order to please those keen to be considered part of the in-crowd like complete idiots.

Written as perfunctorily as a command prompt on one of Sheldon’s computers, and packaged and presented as an ‘original show,’ it’s script runs like an algorithm and automatically expects laughter to be produced every few seconds.

It is an entirely synthetic creation, designed to provoke an equally synthetic response from its millions of pathetic, drooling, cretinous viewers who demand nothing more than it to be known that they, too, are in on the joke. Blessed are the geeks, indeed.

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