• Tue, Aug 20 2013

The Big Bang Theory Is The Most Controversial Show On Television

The Big Bang Theory cast

If I asked you what the most controversial show on television is, you might say something violent like Breaking Bad or sexual Girls. You might even say a show like Two and a Half Men, which has had its fair share of behind-the-scenes drama. I might have said the same types of shows myself before a couple of weeks ago when I wrote about TV’s highest-rated yet arguably lowest-quality series and received impassioned comments about one show in particular — The Big Bang Theory. I realized how much of a love-it-or-hate-it show we have on our hands here, and how surprising that is considering it’s A.) a comedy, and B.) a comedy about a group of nerds. That’s pretty innocuous subject matter to get people so heated. I also noticed that it’s hard to pin down a particular type of person who likes or dislikes The Big Bang Theory. It could be the one show on television that’s virtually impossible to predict if someone will like. Nerds seem divided over it, and even though it gets awards attention (seven Emmy nods this year) and high ratings (19 million viewers last season), it’s a punchline among TV snobs, even from our favorite person Tina Fey. We say things like, “Oh, I bet he watches The Big Bang Theory” as an insult.

Let me start by explaining why I don’t like the show. I’ve watched multiple episodes from various seasons, but it has never hooked me in the same way shows like Arrested Development and 30 Rock did. I’m left without a desire to watch more, unless that desire is based on the fact that I’m still trying to figure out why people enjoy it. One of the biggest problems is the multi-camera format, laugh track included. I can watch older shows with a laugh track, no problem, but it feels so out of place with new shows, especially when it seems to be compensating for the fact that the jokes just aren’t that clever. The laugh track is a big component to Big Bang haters’ argument against the show, to the point that people have posted videos with the laugh track removed to prove just how unfunny it is.

The other thing that bothers me is that every joke is delivered in such an obvious manner, as if the show is serving it to us on a silver platter. Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune echoed this idea in her review of the pilot, saying, “‘Big Bang’ is the kind of comedy that is so proud of a non-funny joke that it trots it out twice (sorry, but the idea of Klingon Boggle is not exactly gut-bustingly hilarious the first time around).” It’s a very ostentatious style of comedy that lacks a certain amount of subtlety. This extends to the characters, who seem pretty stereotypical. The nerds act like stock characters and the ditzy blonde next door is just that — a ditzy blonde. Add the fact that they’re all so over-the-top (save for Leonard), and it makes for a very annoying viewing experience. It’s like watching four Kramers on one show.

But my preference for more subtle comedy doesn’t seem to be a fool-proof indicator that people who like my favorite shows will dislike Big Bang. I have a few friends who love shows like Community and Parks and Rec but also love Big Bang. I’ve also seen it argued that you have to be a nerd to like it. That can’t be true, since it’s the #2 highest rated show. Are all those people nerds? Plus, even nerds are divided over it. Just look at this conversation that happened in the comments section of my ratings post.

Big Bang Theory commentary

Some people find it refreshing that nerds are being represented on TV, while others dislike the comparisons. While we’re on the topic of commenters, I’d also like to point out that the people who defended Big Bang were reasonable and polite and intelligent. They gave reasons for loving the show that went beyond just following it because it’s popular, but they didn’t try to make me watch the show or criticize me for not liking it, which, if we’re being honest, is more than you can say for fans of cult comedies like Community. Although, to be fair, it’s a lot easier to just agree to disagree when your favorite show’s not in danger of being canceled. Still, I appreciate the civility, and it tells me that smart people are watching this show. So why is it still such a source of disagreement among TV lovers?

Big Bang Theory commentary

Now I want to hear from you. What’s the deal with this show? If you’re a fan, tell me what I’m missing. If you’re not a fan, tell me why. Do you think it’s a good thing that the show’s fans are so hard to pin down? Does that prove that the show reaches a diverse population of viewers, or is it just the type of broad humor that can appeal to pretty much anyone? I love talking to you about TV, and this show definitely gives us a lot to talk about.

(Lead Photo: Chicago Nerds)

You can reach this post's author, Jill O’Rourke, on twitter.
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