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Uncertainty Principle: The Big Bang Theory and Sitcoms in Times of Crisis 

Wednesday, May 14 2014

Most TV snobs have completely written off the sitcom genre, myself included. Networks have attempted to redefine the 30-minute form by losing the laugh tracks, adding a documentarian style, and throwing in some homosexuals, but they aren't fooling anyone. We know a sitcom when we see it. My refined tastes have instead naturally gravitated to funny shows that just so happen to last a half hour, like Silicon Valley on HBO or The Office. This admitted hubris, gentle reader, was also extended to The Big Bang Theory, a show I avoided like the plague because it seemed to reek of the stench of old-school sitcoms. It appeared to be an ensemble cast of oddballs with a perky blonde thrown in (yawn) and was created by Chuck Lorre, who is to blame for another sitcom that I hate yet have never actually seen, Two and a Half Men.

But, like so many outspoken blasters of reality TV who find themselves sucked into Millionaire Matchmaker (yeah, we see you), all of this changed for me last week when I was burglarized and left with nothing electronic in the house but my 2-ton TV set. Oh, the little shits definitely tried to take it. I saw their guilty handprints all over the top of it, carefully preserved in the layers of dust. I thought that perhaps my crappy housecleaning skills might finally pay off, but was crestfallen when the CSI tech told me that dust completely absorbs any oil from prints, rendering them useless. At any rate, that night, shaking and violated, I buried myself underneath my comforter and sought total and complete escapism. Suddenly a stupid sitcom with running jokes and quirky characters seemed the perfect panacea.

BBT, for the uninitiated, is about a gaggle of geeks who work at Caltech in Pasadena and have adventures that revolve around their nerd obsessions (Star Trek, Stephen Hawking, Star Wars) and their love-lives. Sheldon Cooper, played by Emmy winner Jim Parsons, is the head dork; a mildly autistic asexual curmudgeon who somehow holds his friends' loyalty despite being a major pain in the ass. Leonard (Johnny Galecki) is the relatively normal one, Raj (Kunal Nayyar) can only talk to girls if he's drunk, and Howard (Simon Helberg) lives with his overbearing Jewish mother. It's the female characters on the show who drew me in though. Kaley Cuoco plays Penny, the "hot one," Mayim Bialik plays Sheldon's cerebral counterpart Amy Farrah Fowler, and Melissa Rauch plays Howard's Minnie Mouse-voiced girlfriend Bernadette.

I had been DVRing the show for months and had hours of it lined up from its syndicated run. It's interesting to watch a show like this completely out of order. In one episode, Penny and Leonard are in love. In the next, Leonard is dating Raj's sister. Earlier incarnations of Sheldon portray him as completely robotic; later he proves himself to be a tender friend (in his own way) to Penny. I stayed up all night watching one after the other, bouncing from one plot to the next, slowly being drawn into their silly little world. It became a game to try and fit together the puzzle pieces from this fractured road map. I stopped worrying that every little noise I heard was the robbers coming back. I still got up now and then to make sure all my windows were closed and my blinds tightly drawn, but then I crawled back under my covers again and locked into Sheldon playing Words With Friends with Stephen Hawking, or Amy Farrah Fowler using high heels to accentuate her "breasts and buttocks" in an attempt to channel Penny.

My friend Spike had always said this about Cheers: Cheers was like your old Uncle Stewie — solid, reliable, funny. You could tune in and see the same people juxtaposed against the same other people, with predictable outcomes that were somehow comforting. The storylines change yet are always basically the same.

Not much has changed since The Brady Bunch in that regard. But our brains gravitate to this stuff. We like to be entertained. We like to see patterns. We like to know what's coming. Opening your door to find your entire house ransacked is not something you see coming. Turning on the TV and seeing Howard hilariously browbeaten by his mother, or watching Penny pretend she knows what string theory is yet again, is something you happily anticipate. So thanks, Big Bang Theory, I needed that.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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