We Recommend: The Big Bang Theory

Science meets Friends.

The Big Bang Theory is the current best approach to describing the origin of the universe. It has allowed the development of a cosmological model which fits the data obtained by scientists. A basic explanation of The Big Bang Theory is that the universe began life as an extremely hot and dense ball of matter which rapidly expanded, and is still expanding today. A Big Bang, if you will. This Big Bang started approximately 14 billion years ago.

This event, central to our existence as it is, has penetrated pop-culture to an extent that Barenaked Ladies saw fit to create a song around this very topic – the lyrics to the first verse are shared below:

Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,
Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started. Wait…
The Earth began to cool,
The autotrophs began to drool,
Neanderthals developed tools,
We built a wall (we built the pyramids),
Math, science, history, unravelling the mysteries,
That all started with the big bang!

Wait. Aaah, yes. This is not The Big Bang Theory we actually wanted to tell you about. Nor is it something you’d be looking to read about given this is Television at The Digital Fix. The song is still relevant though – it is the theme tune to the wonderful CBS made sitcom The Big Bang Theory, centered around the lives of three scientists, an engineer and a waitress called Penny who really wants to be an actress. It is set in California, after all.

You’ll be singing along to this within seconds
The situation fuelling the comedy the viewers find laid out before them describes two roommates named Dr. Leonard Hofstadter (an experimental physicist) and Dr. Sheldon Cooper (a theoretical physicist). They are friends with Dr. Rajesh Koothrappali (Astrophysicist) and Howard Wolowitz (a non-PhD engineer) who work at Caltech alongside Leonard and Sheldon. Leonard is the most ‘normal’ (read: least geeky) of the four. He has his work, he likes Halo, he speaks Klingon but he is the nice guy who tends to finish last when it comes to women. Raj can’t speak to women until he’s had a drink and quite often there are jokes made regarding his married-couple type relationship with Howard, a Jew who still lives with his Mum but is entirely sex-crazed. In the first episode Penny moved into the apartment across the hall. She is the crux around which most things happen – she is, after all, the attractive girl next door. To Leonard, Howard and Raj she’s like manna from heaven.

Sheldon is the most unusual character though, and also one of the two biggest and most appealing aspects of the show. He is truly unique. He is disinterested in procreation and doesn’t understand other people’s obsessions with pursuing coitus. He is always right and believes himself to be the greatest mind living today, supported by the fact that he had earned his PhD by the age of 16. He lives by extreme routine, including allocating bathroom time to anyone staying in his flat. He has his own seat determined by position with regards to windows, radiators, television, social interaction and more. He tends to avoid social situations unless convention dictates he must take part (extending to other typical mores such as gift-giving for birthdays). He is one of the finest comic characters ever written and the acting is beyond reproach. If you have never seen Sheldon you must do so – at least once – before you die. If you have seen him you’ll understand exactly why this is the case. The acting of Jim Parsons is first-rate.

The show is now into its fifth season in the US and is regularly shown in the UK on E4. It is a remarkable comedy. I first heard of the show when it started in 2007. I dismissed it immediately. My reasoning was that it’s probably just very geeky and not all that funny. I’m a scientist myself and I was all too aware of the levels of geekiness that I was into, so why would I want to watch some other dudes being just as, or even more, geeky? What a ridiculous reason that was not to watch a show. The only good reason not to watch a show is because you have done and you didn’t like it. With The Big Bang Theory – as it turns out – that was never going to be the case.

In late 2010 I finally did watch it. I haven’t stopped since. It’s on series record on my PVR and it’s the first thing I recommend to my wife we should watch every evening we relax together in front of the TV. In the past year out of the 90-odd episodes made to date, we have watched around 50-60 and some more than once. It really is that good. It doesn’t matter if you’ve watched from the beginning, either. We only saw the first episode this week and yet our enjoyment has never wavered.

Sheldon, as mentioned, is one of the two most appealing aspects of the show. The other is the relationship between Penny and Leonard. Whilst they have spent periods of the show together, apart, arguing and so on, it’s the real-life aspect of the situation to fall back on. Bringing the show out of its intense geek-fest Penny is a fantastically entertaining character but her repartee with Leonard really elevates the humanity. Sure, she has funny scenes with the other characters as well – especially Sheldon given she, as well as Leonard, can provide aid with regards to awkward social forks in the road – but her and Leonard makes you think of Friends, and that is never a bad thing. There’s also other things to remind you a little bit of Friends as you can see below:

Right now, this beats Smelly Cat
There is such attention to detail as well. The science is accurate, Howard has collectable belt-buckles (a NES pad, a Batman logo etc.) and Sheldon’s T-Shirt colour reflects his mood. In an early episode they remark upon the actress who played Blossom having a PhD, then later in the show’s lifetime she appears as a new long-term character. It’s also funny seeing Leonard and his ex-screen partner Darlene from Roseanne. Well, it makes me chuckle, anyway. So many little things which all add up to create the hilariously enjoyable wackiness of The Big Bang Theory.

This is why The Big Bang Theory works. It has so many levels. You have actual science dialogue and experiments (experiments such as making cornflour dance thanks to it being a non-Newtonian fluid; bouncing laser beams off the moon’s man-made reflectors to prove mankind visited it) which, as a scientist, excite me greatly. But if you don’t get it, don’t have the background or are entirely non-plussed, you have Penny who brings things back to the real world. We see comic book narratives discussed and argued as well as attempts at getting it on with the ladies. My wife sees a lot of the show and sighs and hides at times because it’s so inherently geeky (and probably reminds her a little of me unfortunately) but then she sees Penny use Star Trek shields as an analogy when in conversation, prompting her to stop in shock and horror attempting to understand quite how she knows this. Something my wife can relate to! Underneath all of this you have the romance and the friendships and the will they – won’t they. Try The Big Bang Theory and watch your love for the show explode and continue to expand.

Luciano Howard

Updated: Oct 27, 2011

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We Recommend: The Big Bang Theory | The Digital Fix