If you haven’t been watching The Big Bang Theory (CBS, Thursdays at 8/7 Central), I have but one question for you: How can you call yourself a nerd? This show was made for us. Call it the ultimate geek buffet: a pile of physics, a heaping portion of sci-fi and fantasy references, a cadre of hapless social misfits and one unattainably good-looking female (yes, I realize this most likely also describes the last D&D night you had with your friends, assuming the female to be a non-player character).
If you’re a nerd whose credentials are now suspect, allow me to catch you up. The series follows four professional scientists and their less-than-stellar essays in social and romantic competence. Experimental physicist Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) form the backbone of the cast, and exemplify the two most notorious species of geekery. Cooper is the unassailable genius with a towering ego; unlike his companions he has a complete disinterest in social graces or the opposite sex – he deems social conventions to be onerous and physical contact to be, well, gross. His obsession with nugatory rituals (he must knock three times on any door, and becomes apoplectic if “his” spot on the couch is usurped) and apparent ignorance of even rudimentary human norms approaches certifiable mental illness. Leonard, on the other hand, is the more sympathetic variety of nerd: bespectacled, lactose-intolerant, insecure. He’s brilliant but humble and suffers bouts of loneliness and self-doubt as many of we geeks do. His success with women is hindered by his shyness, his diminutive size, and the fact that he’s a thirtysomething male in an action figure-stocked apartment. Leonard has an on-and-off relationship with the female lead, Penny (of no last name, to date), a waitress and aspiring actress who lives across the hall from the apartment he shares with Sheldon. Though “out of your league” beautiful, Penny’s not sure she’s smart enough for Leonard, and Leonard (in true geek fashion) moved too quickly toward the “L” word while they were together. For the moment, they’re just friends – but the door to a reunion is very much ajar.
Adding much mirth to the proceedings are aerospace engineer Howard Wolowitz, who fancies himself a modern Dirk Diggler but who’s really more of a Pepe Le Pew, and particle astrophysicist Rajesh Koothrappali, so timid around women that he’s rendered mute without the aid of alcohol. The comedic meat of the show is in the interactions between these four friends as they engage in many of the geeky pursuits we all adore – Klingon Boggle, World of Warcraft, comic book collecting, and wondering if it’s possible to supplement one’s income through masturbation. (Surely we’ve all wondered that before?)
The appeal of the series is its realism; the jokes prove again and again that the writers have done their homework in both science and science-fiction. The humor turns on a dime from a reference to Bose-Einstein condensates to a joke derived from the 1981 film Scanners. Kudos are rightly deserved by the actors as well for developing their characters appropriately over time and avoiding the usual stock nerd acting techniques. Hollywood seems to have difficulty portraying geeks without resorting to cringe-inducing cliches (think Steve Urkel, Screech, or The Simpsons‘ “Comic Book Guy”). BBT gives us a refreshing view of nerdery without the stereotypes, geeks who are just as quirky and tragic as we are. These are the guys we want to hang out with on Doctor Who night.
It’s not often that any film or t.v. series can be categorically endorsed for all tastes, but I’m going to be daring and advance the following hypothesis: If you’re a nerd and proud of it, you’ll love this show. So watch it, or I will use my telepathy to make your head explode.