So naturally I’m envious that Ken Masugi and John Presnall made major contributions to BIG BANG STUDIES before I could get around to posting on the show.
And all I have time to do today is to give some random notes.
1. THE BIG BANG THEORY is a network show. That means the continuity is better than on the HBO series (which disappears for long periods only to rise again). It also means it has an annoying laugh track.
2. The characters improve as relational beings. Amy Farrah Fowler meets Sheldon (via the dating website) only to satisfy her mother’s demand that she date once a year. Now she plans to marry Sheldon in four years. She can’t tell him, though, because she’s knows he still a “flight risk.” And her bodily urges are becoming less creepy (because detached) and more relational. The spanking show was an important transition here.
3. Ken makes a path hbreaking observation on PARENTS. The theoretical kids are wounded, in large part, because their parents were “monsters” (in two cases). Leonard’s mom, of course, is more like Sheldon than any other character on the show. The difference is her hyper-creepy clinical approach to sexual satisfaction and the relevant bodily organs. She is mind and body, with no relational stuff in between. Then, there’s Howard’s mom, who has (almost) none of the warm qualities of the smothering yet self-absorbed Jewish mother. Raj’s parents aren’t monsters, and Raj probably is the least wounded of the four major male characters. The most unrealistic part of the show, maybe, is that he’s unable to find a woman who appreciates his charming feminine side. Someone could say a lot on the connection between Raj’s relative “normalcy” and the fact that his parents are together and his dad lays down the law (with somewhat indulgent and very uneven success).
4. Sheldon’s mom loves him and knows what best for him. (His dad, apparently, was a monster too.) She knew what to say to get him back together with Amy, and when she lays down the law, Sheldon obeys. (Penny–with Leonard’s encouragement–deployed that nuclear option once.) Sheldon, of course, is in many ways a big baby (who needs to hear “Soft Kitty” when he’s sick). His mom may wish he wasn’t like that, but she accepts him just as he is. (It would be easier for her if he were just gay.) So Sheldon’s intellectual contempt for her is true enough on the level of impersonal “mind,” but she has what it takes to rule in this world. Ken has said a lot, and there’s a lot more to be said, about the telling fact that the least wounded character in the show is a fundamentalist Christian.
5. The show portrays caricatures that are only semi-fleshed out (but who get more fleshed out as the show goes on). The guys: THE THEORETICAL PHYSICIST, THE EXPERIMENTAL PHYSICIST, THE ASTROPHYSICIST, and THE ENGINEER. That is: the mind caught in an alien body; the not-quite-genius nerd who’s “the king of foreplay” or will do anything to “get laid” and, really, anything to have a relational life with a pretty girl; the highly erotic metrosexual who turns the whole cosmos into a romantic tale that has room for appreciating “The Good Wife”; the guy who is better than he says (but still genuinely short on manliness), but who is creepy in his ingenuity when it comes to using his robotic gadgets for personal satisfaction.
6. Those who have compared the show to Aristophanes aren’t wrong. But a big difference is that show has almost no civic dimension; these theorists are no danger to America (except when they use government stuff to pursue personal goals). They’re less of a danger than humanities professors, actually. They actually love America for its intellectual freedom, easygoing techno-prosperity, and openness to comic-book adventures. In no other country could they get away with wearing their superhero costumes…
7. They are (except maybe Raj–a complicated man) ideological secular humanists, but they’re not very evangelical secular humanists. If Sheldon really did return to Texas to teach evolution, things wouldn’t work out well for him (his day as a professor was a pretentious failure), and Leonard’s somewhat uncharacteristic showdown with Penny over astrology was a lesson for him in relational humility.
It turns out I could go on and on, but this contribution to to BIG BANG STUDIES should be considered ill-considered and incomplete.