Ah. You must have misread this as “The Big Bang Theory.” Well, that’s what my topic today will be. That being said, I’m not talking about Georges Lemaître’s theory on the expansion of the universe. This week, I want to talk about the widely popular television show that garners higher ratings than every program on both cable and broadcast television, minus NBC’s Sunday Night Football. And even that is not always the case. This week, I’m going to be discussing why this show has consistent Nielsen ratings in the 9s, and I’m going to discuss why that absolutely infuriates me. Forewarning: if you like this show, you may not like what I’m about to say, but it’s needed. Carry on, fellow TV-snobs.
If you have read anything of mine in the past, or you know me personally, you know that I tend to keep an upright nose towards certain things: bad acting, ill-fitting suits, laugh tracks, and “dumb” television, for example. Now, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory breaks three of those four, and I’ll let you guess which one is out. (You thought I’d say bad acting, didn’t you? There’s actually some pretty decent acting on the show, so I shall not be knocking John Galecki or Jim Parsons.) I’ll dive into a few of my reasons for disliking the show, but first, you all should laugh at my joke. Here’s a laugh track to show you how it’s done:
Is that not the most frustrating thing you’ve heard in your entire life? Keep that on for the remainder of this post, and I swear you’ll lose your funny bone.
“But David, I know for a fact that my favorite show, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, has a live audience. I’ve been in the audience four times, and I couldn’t help but laugh every time Penny made a stupid comment.” First, ew. Second, just because there’s a live audience does not mean that it diminishes the quality of the television show. The only show that I give the green light for the laugh track is Seinfeld because there’s some smart writing in there. What’s my issue with laugh tracks, you ask? Well, my superficial reason is that they’re simply annoying. But in all seriousness, they make you think something’s funny, when in reality, it’s really not that knee-slapping. If you take away the laugh track to 90% of the show, it seems to flail around like a Magikarp out of the water. Take this clip for example:
HOW INCREDIBLY AWKWARD IS THAT? A show should not use the laugh track (or a live audience laughing heartily) as a crutch to lean on. There should be smart writing and acting that bring the audience to tears from laughing so hard. It seems so foreign to hear the dialogue without the laugh track because we have become numb to it, in a way. We see shows like How I Met Your Mother, Seinfeld, Friends, and The Big Bang Theory capitalize on the laugh track, and it’s made us less sensitive to genuine humor in television shows. Now, there’s something different about The Big Bang Theory that infuriates me more than any of the others: the writing and the intended audience.
We’ve already established that laugh tracks are the devil. But, as seen with Seinfeld and a few other shows, it’s not an automatic death sentence. It’s simply a pet peeve of mine (and many others, I might add). If you’re going to be a good sitcom, you must have good writing. Now, The Big Bang Theory tends to have smart writing, but it does not have smart writing. (Note the emphasis). Yes, they have both a PhD Biologist and a Physicist on set to ensure correct statements, but who cares? You cannot just throw out this jargon for fun. There needs to be a frame, or the jokes will simply fall to the ground. “Content is queen, but context is king,” so stated my Digital Marketing professor when discussing copywriting. The same goes for screenwriting! Just because you have an impressive equation you can throw up on a board does not make it funny. I would classify The Big Bang Theory as an “add water” show. It’s the kind of show that would go along with instructions of “just add water” and you’re all done! In this case, the water is the science jargon, and the rest is mediocre writing. But, let’s just say that you’ve provided me with a great geeky joke with some good context and dialogue to go with it. Do I still have a problem with The Big Bang Theory?
In short, yes. My final issue with the show is how it tries to cater towards the masses. It takes more than a few quips about Klingon, Master Chief, World of Warcraft, or Battlestar Galactica to be classified as a comedy. The writers take these things that have a lot of meaning to a lot of people, and they blanket them together as popular nerddom. However, this is not my issue with it. I’m fine if you have many allusions to things I like; in fact, I encourage it. I take offense when you use the characters as zoo animals to be ogled and laughed at in a way that comes across as “Hey, everyone, look at this loser who enjoys video games and is socially inept around girls.” There are shows that do this nerdy thing quite well without offending anyone, namely Futurama and Community. So, it can be done. It’s just much harder to do, and the writers of The Big Bang Theory go for the cheap laughs that lead to high ratings in a way that other programs would be criticized for. Take the news, for instance. Will McAvoy in The Newsroom addresses the issue of appealing only to ratings in the following clip. Enjoy, folks. (This is good television, by the way.)
In fine, I hate that there are shows out there like The Big Bang Theory that get away with everything I’ve mentioned above. There are so many other shows out there I’d recommend over CBS’ cash cow. If you’re not the biggest into most television, I’d advise by continuing to stay in comedies until your tastes have widened. Shows like The Office, Arrested Development, Parks and Recreation, and Community are my favorites in this department. If you’re really feeling adventurous, check out some cartoons that have smart writing. As childish as they may seem, both The Regular Show and Adventure Time have surprisingly smart writing, and shows like South Park, Family Guy, and Futurama also would fall into that category. Just please, for the love of everything good in this world, do not settle for shows that insist on the use of laugh tracks. Find something you like, but make it something good.
Now that I’ve exclaimed to the world why I dislike The Big Bang Theory so much, I’m sure you’re all thinking, “But what makes a good show, David?” Well, for that answer, join me next week as I look into all sorts of shows and discuss what I find to be the most important pieces of a good television show.