Gemma Sharp reviews her favourite episode of The Big Bang Theory.
When I first saw a trailer for The Big Bang Theory a few years ago, I thought it looked terrible. A pretty but dumb woman moves nextdoor to a group of stereotypically geeky male scientists. Cue dangerously dull consequences.
I thought the last thing science needed was a CBS comedy reinforcing the stereotype that scientists are geeky sexually-immature men. But through a combination of a particularly pathetic Freeview box that could only pick up E4, and said-channel’s schedule of endless repeats, I did end up catching an episode.
It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. In fact, it was pretty good. As socially-awkward as the scientists in the program are, only one of them wears glasses! Not half as offensive as I was expecting. I have to admit that even as a scientist, I was instantly hooked.
For the scientists among you who might still need some convincing, here’s an example – my favourite episode, ‘The Zazzy Substitution’ from season four.
As a cat lover (see title of blog, see tedious tweets about my cat, see odd collection of cat encyclopaedias under my coffee table) and an admirer of the show’s breakaway character, Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons), I think the writers might have written this episode specifically for me (too narcissistic?).
The episode revolves around theoretical physicist Sheldon splitting up with his “friend that’s a girl, but not a girlfriend” neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik… aka Blossom!). The breakup itself is probably the most controlled, articulate TV breakup ever – a debate between the couple about the respective importance of theoretical physics and neurobiology, ending with the realisation that they have reached an impasse and the relationship should be “terminated immediately”.
Sheldon claims to be unaffected by the break up, but then proceeds to buy 25 cats, explaining that they “don’t argue or question my intellectual authority”. He names them all after physicists (including Weisskopf, Panofsky, Oppenheimer, Frisch, Teller, Feynman and Fermi) apart from one, which he was going to call Herman von Helmhotz but opted instead for ‘Zazzles’ – “because he’s so zazzy!”.
Sheldon’s behaviour worries his experimental physicist roommate Leonard (Johnny Galecki), who calls Sheldon’s Texan mother (Laurie Metcalf) and asks her to visit him at the California Institute of Technology straight away. On arrival, Sheldon’s mother uses reverse psychology to rekindle Sheldon and Amy’s friendship, and in the final scene the two are seen sitting above a sign saying “Cats $20″ handing Sheldon’s cats and $20 notes to a queue of children.
As amusing as the plot is, I think the show’s main attribute is Sheldon Cooper. I’ve already mentioned I’m an admirer. Or more accurately, I’m an admirer of Jim Parsons’s portrayal of Sheldon Cooper (and, let’s face it, Jim Parsons himself… here). So this episode was pretty special because not only is it very Sheldon-heavy, but we also see him showing a rarely-seen illogical emotional side. Just look at him smiling in the picture below. And of course he’s smiling! Look at all those cats! The man is living my dream.
I may be getting a little carried away.
Anyway, my point is that The Big Bang Theory is witty and certainly original. OK, so it portrays scientists as socially awkward geeks, but at least the characters are likeable and the science in the program is well-researched. It’s the only comedy I can think of about scientists (I’m not counting Lab Rats as comedy), and certainly the only one that includes so many obscure references to science. In a way (alright, at a push) it could be considered an example of very successful science communication – just look at the ratings.
Gemma Sharp is a reproductive biology PhD student from (near) Bristol. She currently works at the University of Edinburgh MRC Centre for Reproductive Health and puts together this very blog that you’re reading right now. She’s on Twitter @ammegandchips.