As a rule, I generally don’t watch sitcoms with laugh tracks. I’d like to think that I’m intelligent enough to know when to laugh, to differentiate between a moment of sadness and a moment of comedy, and to allow the titular ‘situation’ of the ‘situation comedy’ play itself out in a vacuum without these prompts. The Office, 30 Rock, My Name is Earl, most animated series, the general disfunctionality of humanity – this is my kind of comedy.
Of course, if you tell me, ‘but it’s about nerds!’, I need to take a look – usually out of a combination of morbid curiosity, kinship, and a rabid desire to shoot down any stereotypes I might see and disagree with, being a longtime warrior from within the trenches of nerd-dom.
So, I was surprised to be completely drawn into the entire first season of The Big Bang Theory, which I missed on TV but caught up with on DVD. While the promos for the show predicate on the relationship between a cute blonde girl and four nerds, as well as their quest for carnal relationships (ergo, the unfortunate throwaway joke that makes for the title of the show), most of that is usually a sub-plot to the greater qualities of the nerds and how they function together, and with society. Some are more successful than others.
Even better : these are nerds who are MY age. They’re relatively successful people, they have intellectual jobs, and they collect toys and play video games. Sure, they all embody very distinct ‘geek’ stereotypes – the nice guy, the OCD guy, the hapless lothario, and the terminally shy guy – but the interplay and balance all coalesces into a fair picture of the nerd world. I’m not sure how many theoretical physicists have Halo 3 nights, but I’m willing to accept that as a possibility. I don’t know any physicists and I’ve never played Halo 3. Regardless, it’s charming, and I didn’t really find it to be pandering, even if it DOES ultimately involve a blonde with a penchant for wearing very small articles of clothing.
Throughout the show, there are Batman cookie jars, action figures, prop replicas, board games and graphic novels, usually making up bits of scenery or minor plot points. Being a gigantor nerd myself, when they say ‘Alex Ross One-Sixth Scale Batman Maquette’, I immediately picture the exact collectible they’re talking about. I can recognize the graphic novels on the shelves by the color patterns on the spines alone. I know who makes the Green Lantern shirts that Sheldon wears. I know that Wolowitz is holding a DC Direct First Appearance Flash figure, and I KNOW that if Leonard tries to sell it at the local comic shop, he’s not going to get more than three bucks for it. And even though they don’t mention it outright, the board game they’re playing in one of the later episodes is Talisman. And not an early edition, either – one of the later editions with shaped cards to represent the players. Herein lies the kinship.
Episode 14, ‘The Nerdvana Annihilation’, actually deals with the nature of pop culture collectibles at the advanced age of 20- or 30-something. While the blonde initially condemns them as childish and wasteful, it’s ultimately resolved that these quirky things are what make us US. Still, it’s something that I’ve fought with enough times for the whole episode to hit home, as it would for most collectors. It’s ‘only’ a sitcom, but the insight shown by the episode is evident. The creators themselves are collectors, and when theoretical physics gets involved, they actually call upon a physicist to ensure accuracy.
Plus, Johnny Galecki has been great since his days on Roseanne. Watch for cameos from two other Roseanne alumni.
The show began airing as the writers’ strike loomed, and was one of the unfortunate casualties, falling off the air between November of 2007 and March of 2008, which didn’t allow it to gain the momentum that it deserved with an audience. Fortunately, a second season has been picked up by CBS and will be airing on Monday nights, starting on September 22nd. The First Season DVD includes 17 half-hour episodes, and one behind-the-scenes featurette which is moderately informative, but the DVD also allows you to pause the screen right after the credits, where the writers and creators actually write out background information on where the stories came from, or the state of the writers’ strike, or just bits of poetry. These are usually on the screen for less than a second, but they reveal even more heart when they can actually be read.
I’m looking forward to the second season, and I very much dig the first season DVD set.