The Lazy Geek’s Guide to: The Big Bang Theory

Never given The Big Bang Theory a try? You're really, really missing out. Here's Lee to sum up what you've missed...

There has always been a perception that scientists are geeks, nerds, whatever you wish to call them. Television has not helped this by mainly making scientists the stereotypical geek.

But in 2007 there was a show that dared to go against this stereotype. They took the bold step and made the scientists the stars of the show. Would they buck the trend of making the scientists uber nerds?

Well, the answer is no. The stars of The Big Bang Theory are some of the geekiest television characters ever to grace your screen.

But, and there is a ‘but’, it is an homage to the whole geek universe. The show not so much takes the mick, but embraces the world that most people ignore and cast off as something strange and odd.

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Currently in its third series, The Big Bang Theory has brought us ‘Selective Mutism’, ‘Secret Agent Laser Chess’ and, quite possibly, one of the best characters a sitcom has ever created.

The Premise

Drs Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper are two twenty somethings living in Pasadena, California. They work at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and share an apartment together.

They are friends with Howard Wolowitz and Rajesh Koothrappali, who also are employed at Caltech. Together they enjoy what many people their ages enjoy: comics, Battlestar Galactica, computer games, MMORPGs,  the list goes on.

Life is good. They are all contributing to science and get to live out their lives the way they want.

That is, until a monumental shift in their existence threatens to send shockwaves through their way of life. Well, that is what Sheldon would have you believe, anyway. In reality what happens is Penny, an incredibly attractive woman, moves in to the apartment across the hall from Leonard and Sheldon.

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Thus begins a huge struggle as Penny has to deal with their geekiness, social ineptness and their tendency to over think very simple situations, whilst they have to deal with Penny’s ‘social prowess, big ex boyfriends and general common sense, resulting in both sides becoming friends and embracing conventions from either side of the spectrum.

Well, except for Sheldon.

Main Characters

You could describe him as the main man of the group, Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) is one of the more socially natural members of the foursome. He works at Caltech as an experimental physicist, mostly spending his day using lasers to hurt cylons or heat his soup.

He owns many ‘geeky’ things, including a Bat Signal. He never tries to deny his geeky roots, but as soon as Penny moves in, Leonard instantly takes a shine to her and tries to get close to her with the aim at starting a relationship. Initially, he tries to hide his geeky side, due to being afraid it will push Penny away, but having Raj, Howard and Sheldon as friends doesn’t always help. During the series he becomes more and more confident and at times is able to snag himself a girlfriend or two.

Intelligent, arrogant, socially inept, these are some of the things that only come close to describing Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons). Sheldon was a child prodigy, always believing in science and the understanding of it, quite difficult when your whole family are devout Christians.

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As a child he managed to build CAT scanners, get a hold of uranium and even make an armed robot using his sister’s Easy-Bake Oven. At 16, he received his PhD and when we are introduced to him he is working at Caltech as an experimental physicist.

Throughout the series, Sheldon displays a remarkable ineptness for any social convention. He is condescending, calculating and doesn’t have a grasp on sarcasm, humor or humility. Luckily, Leonard is around to either explain Sheldon to people as well as explain people to Sheldon.

Who is the cause of the upheaval in Leonard and Sheldon’s universe? That would be Penny (Kaley Cuoco), the attractive young blonde who has come to California to work as a superstar actress. Unfortunately, at the moment, she works at the Cheesecake Factory as a waitress. The only acting work she has had is doing a play above a bowling alley.

Like most TV conventions, Penny is not the most intelligent, but she does have great social skills and is able to help the boys when they venture out of their comfort zone. She can, on occasions, have drastic mood swings, generally brought on by Sheldon or the others. She is kind, gentle, caring and is very tolerant of Leonard and Sheldon.

Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg), he has a Masters in engineering. As he keeps telling everyone, he feels he has to justify his role in the group. He is employed by Caltech as an aerospace engineer to work on the space program. On many occasions he uses this to instigate conversations with women. Out of the group of scientists he is the only one not to be a Dr. He is creepy, inappropriate and has a rather odd relationship with Raj. They are rarely seen apart.

He maintains that he is friends with Sheldon because “We liked Leonard, and Sheldon came with the package”. He still lives at home with his mother with whom he never stops arguing.

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Rajesh Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar), originally from India, works at Caltech as an astrophysicist. Apart from Sheldon, Raj is probably the most socially inept of the group. He has selective mutism which renders him incapable of talking to women unless he is drunk. He gets around this by whispering in Howard’s ear whenever he needs to speak around women.

He also has a nervous bladder so, in those situations, he gets the sudden urge to use the little boys room. Despite being from India, he knows very little of Indian culture and doesn’t like curry.

Other characters that appear throughout the series are the mothers of Leonard and Sheldon, played by Christine Baranski and Laurie Metcalf, respectively. You can clearly tell that Leonard would have preferred to have Sheldon’s mum and vice versa for Sheldon. Sheldon’s mum is warm, caring and loving, which is vastly different to Leonard’s mother who is cold, arrogant and is always set to a routine.

Lesley Winkle, a fellow Scientist at Caltech and played by Sara Gilbert is basically Sheldon’s nemesis and the former girlfriend of Leonard. She is as smart as Sheldon but also has the grasp of the real world that Sheldon doesn’t.

There is also Barry Kripke played by John Ross Bowie. Although he has only appeared in a few episodes, those episodes have revolved around him being annoying and condescending to Sheldon or Leonard. Despite having a severe lisp, he openly mocks the others without reprise and could be described as the bully of Caltech. But within the Caltech universe, being a bully is not as bad as a high school bully.

Why We Like It

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What’s not to like? The show is huge fan service to the entire geek world. From Star Wars to Star Trek, from scientific principles to comic books, everything in this show has been designed to bring out the geek in all of us and, trust me, everybody has a geek side.

The stories are set in the realms of possibility, but with a slight twist that can sometimes make the outcome or resolution seem implausible. Like someone coming up with a flow diagram that explains how to make friends.

It does help that the show was written and produced by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, both of whom have worked on Two And A Half Men along with Chuck Lorre being a part of a little known show called Roseanne.

The cast are brilliant, with sitcom alumni Johnny Galecki – having been a cast member on Roseanne, along with Sara Gilbert, as the teenage couple David and Darlene – turning in a brilliant performance as Leonard, whilst Kaley Cuco is ravishing as Penny.

But the stand out cast member of the show has to be Jim Parsons’ portrayal of Sheldon. In the first series, Sheldon was annoying to watch, but tolerable. But then in series 2, Parsons knocks it out of the park by portraying Sheldon in a way that is likeable, funny and, at times, sad. You understand why he is like he is, sometimes.

One other thing is the attention to detail. Seeing as Bill Prady was an ex-software developer and self confessed geek, he makes sure that anything put in to the show is well established and considered geeky, as well as calling in real life scientists to make sure that the white boards in the apartment and Caltech offices are all proper scientific theories. This also extends to the science babble that Sheldon and the others sometimes say. It is rare that that much care and consideration goes into making the sets authentic to the proposed setting.

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Lastly, it also has a cracking opening theme tune written and performed by The Barenaked Ladies. If you have 99p, go and buy the theme tune off of  iTunes. I guarantee you will be humming the theme for days.

Why It Sucks

It does bring up the stereotype that all nerds are hopeless humans who can’t talk to other humans. It does try to bring some balance into it, with Penny. But most of the time the stories all follow the ineptness of the foursome.

Howard’s character can become rather annoying sometimes, mainly when be becomes creepy. This does seem to have been toned down for series three, through.

As with all comedy, some of the jokes fall flat. There is the always overused ‘will they, won’t they’ story arc, which, by the way, is the main story arch and nothing else. There are a few episodes that carry on from a theme set in prior episodes, but other than that they are all self-contained. I have nothing against the self contained episodes, but I am sick of having the ‘will they, won’t they’ story arc that so many shows rely on.

Best Episodes

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The Cooper – Hofstadter Polarization

Leonard finds out that he and Sheldon have been asked to give a talk on a paper that they co-wrote together. Leonard would like to do it, Sheldon does not, cusing a severe rift between the two culminating with a fight between each other which ends up on YouTube.

I chose this episode as one of the best due to the character development throughout the episode. In this episode you really see Sheldon and Leonard’s personality out on their sleeves. Leonard constantly seeks gratification for his work and Sheldon’s arrogance and only being out for himself.

That said, there were some awesome geek side notes, a brilliant Scanners reference, and the opening scene with how they turn down their stereo is pure genius.

The Pancake Batter Anomaly

The story for this episode can be summed up in only a few words: Sheldon becomes sick. That is basically it. The episode then follows Leonard, Raj and Howard as they try to avoid Sheldon by going to a Planet Of The Apes marathon, palming Sheldon off on Penny. The story may be simple, but the reason it is a great episode is due to Jim Parsons’ portrayal of a sick Sheldon. It was the first time you see how great Parsons is at playing Sheldon.

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Also, after watching this episode you will always be wary when using a jug to make pancake batter. The episode also gives the world Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty.

The Adhesive Duck Deficiency

Raj, Howard and Leonard are away camping, hoping to view a meteor shower. As usual, Howard is prowling for ladies and comes across some middle age women in Grateful Dead t-shirts. Upon eating some brownies from said ladies, our favorite scientists start exhibiting some strange behavior, like feeling the earth mood, severe munchies and some inner soul searching.

While all this happens Penny slips in the shower resulting in a dislocated elbow. Sheldon, who didn’t go on the camping trip, has to come to the rescue and take Penny to the hospital.

I found it hilarious how Raj, Howard and Leonard react differently to the effects of the brownies, resulting in some brilliant chatter and acting. Also, it is interesting to see that Sheldon doesn’t change when he is trying to be helpful.

The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary

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Leonard has been going out with Penny for a while now, so Howard instigates a pact he and Leonard dreamt up a while ago. Basically, if they ever went out with a ‘hottie’ the other would set him up with the hottie’s friend. Thus begins a tale of Leonard trying to convince Penny to set Howard up with someone.

Meanwhile, Raj and Sheldon enter a Magic The Gathering-style card competition to win some money. The kicker is Wil Wheaton, of Star Trek: The Next Generation is playing. In an interesting twist, Wil Wheaton is on Sheldon’s enemy list due to Wheaton being a no show at a comic convention years earlier.

This episode has one of the best uses of a guest star in The Big Bang Theory so far. It is hilarious to see Sheldon sprout lines from The Wrath Of Khan at Wheaton despite the obvious flaw.

The Barbarian Sublimation

Penny gets introduced to the Age Of Conan MMO by Sheldon, Penny gets hooked and Sheldon tries to get Penny off his back. This episode does a brilliant job of showing the current fixation with MMORPGs and the fact that people can get completely hooked on them. The fact that it is Penny who gets hooked, shows that Leonard and Sheldon are slightly rubbing off on her, as she is becoming a geek in her own little way.

The Lizard Spock Expansion

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This episode revolves around Howard trying to woo a woman name Stephanie, but she ends up dating Leonard. Howard tries to woo Stephanie by showing her the Mars Rover Probe control room at Caltech.

Howard finds out about Stephanie and Leonard, resulting in Howard disowning Leonard, citing that “Leonard is dead to him”. But the promise of a date with a friend of Stephanie’s results in the pair making up again.

This episode showcases the full spectrum of Howard’s oddness, as well as his practice of using secret technology to impress the ladies.

Intriguingly, what Howard does with the Mars Rover leads to a big discovery, mentioned in the end credits, but he will never get credit for it as he erased all traces of what he did.

There are some great side jokes in this episode, but none as great as Sheldon’s idea of expanding Rock, Paper Scissors. Here’s a clue: it’s in the title of the episode.

Nuke The Fridge Moment

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To be honest, The Big Bang Theory has not done anything to really sabotage the show and its followers, so far. It is only its third series and thus far has coped perfectly well. I can foresee a problem, though. They need to start taking the focus off of Penny and Leonard and introduce a new ‘permanent’ dynamic to the show. Otherwise, it will start to get stale and samey.

Current Status Of The Show

Currently, The Big Bang Theory is doing perfectly well. The season premiere of season 3 was CBS’ highest rated show of that evening. Series 3 and 4 were commissioned at the same time towards the end of series 2, showing that there is confidence in the show from the TV executives. It is quite rare that a TV series is renewed for more than one series at a time.

The show broadcasts all over the world including on E4 and Channel 4 here in the UK. Basically, as long as people want more, they will keep on making more episodes, which, hopefully, will be for the foreseeable future.

You’ll like The Big Bang Theory if you like:

How I Met Your MotherTwo And A Half MenThe IT CrowdSpaced

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