Pajama guy

It’s 12 minutes and 28 seconds, and features a sarcastic, obnoxious narrator (which is unnecessary, but common in many of these videos). It’s taken as read the show is no good. They believe the main problem relates to references. Big Bang is a show with much of its comedy based on references to science or comics or whatever. They give some examples of characters spouting something about physics, sci-fi movies, etc. The problem is the joke isn’t in the reference, but simply about making a reference.

Their main example is Sheldon coming upon Penny, who has slipped in the bathtub. He starts going on about the scientific reasons why she fell. The video says Sheldon merely making a reference to the coefficient of friction is supposed to make us laugh (as the fools on the laughtrack obligingly do).

As they put it: "The actual science isn’t the joke, but the fact that they’re talking about science is. Friction isn’t funny–the reference to friction is funny." They give some other examples of characters tossing in scientific references and note you could slip in pseudo-scientific gibberish and it would play just as well.

To demonstrate how such a joke should be properly done, they offer up a freeze-frame from a Futurama episode where a cinema is called "Loew’s [symbol for Aleph Null]-plex." In this case, the reference actually works as a joke itself. As you may know, Aleph Null stands for an infinite set of numbers, thus "the joke is the impossibility of a movie theatre having infinite screens."

In the Sheldon and Penny scene, we’re not laughing at the reference. The joke is Sheldon’s inability to pick up on social cues. Here’s a half-naked woman lying in a tub who may be in pain. He should be turning off the shower and helping her up, or at least sympathizing with her (and perhaps not staring at her), but instead he’s such a nerd that he can only explain to her the physics of why this happened, and criticize her for not having a safety mat or adhesive stickers.

Meanwhile, the video doesn’t even get the Futurama gag. It’s not the greatest joke, but then, it’s a background gag which you may or may not see (and may or may not get) so no big deal. But the joke is not about how it’s impossible to have infinite theatres, it’s about how ridiculously many theatres are in a cineplex, both today and taken into absurdity in the future.

The video next quotes philosopher Jean Baudrillard and his theory on the four levels of meaning, each succeeding level getting further from an object’s actual value. I don’t think Baudrillard’s questionable theorizing has anything to add to a discussion of comedy–even if you mistakenly think The Big Bang Theory is merely about laughing at references–so bringing him into the argument just wastes time.

The video goes on to note the show, with all the characters regularly dumping on each other, ends up being essentially a takedown of nerd culture. Then the video–rather late–has a history lesson about theorists of comedy, starting with Plato, followed by Hobbes and Descartes, who believed that comedy is a sign of superiority–we’re looking down on others when we laugh at them. However, the video adds, The Big Bang Theory isn’t Seinfeld–"these aren’t horrible people deserving our scorn."

Yes, it’s true, the characters on Big Bang do insult each other quite a bit–par for the course on sitcoms. But they also care for each other, which is the main takeaway from most episodes–of most sitcoms, actually. And by the way, the characters on Seinfeld are also sympathetic (as are the characters in pretty much every sitcom I’m aware of). We watch sitcoms to laugh at the foibles of the characters, but, by and large, we like the people on these shows, for all their faults. ( Seinfeld’s characters did get more heartless as the show went along–almost as if they were seeing how far they could take it.)

As for what makes up the humor in general on The Big Bang Theory, if all they did were reference jokes mixed with insults, we’d have gotten tired of the show years ago. In fact, the show offers the whole panoply of sitcom-style gags–what counts is how well the characters are built, how intriguing the plots are, and how smartly the jokes are written and performed.

There are plenty of things to criticize about The Big Bang Theory. You could say it’s sappy. You could say the characters are one-dimensional. You could say, after you get past the superficial trappings of geekdom, the show is too conventional. Even if you liked it originally (as I did), you could say the show’s been on too long–when it started the characters and gags were fairly fresh, but they’ve been wringing out variations on the same quirks for so long there’s not much new territory to explore. (And Bernadette is now so nasty to Howard I wonder why they stay together.)