“He just can’t talk to women.” “Why?” “He’s sort of a nerd!” *laugh track*
I’ll be honest, I’m not fond of The Big Bang Theory. It gives me the feeling that I’m being laughed at. As a nerd of various and sundry things, I enjoy sharing the things I love with people I know. I’ve introduced people to k-pop, k-dramas, comics, cult classic films, television shows, and memes, often with a passion that bubbles over and might be viewed as a tad overkill.
But that’s the definition of a nerd: “One whose unbridled passion for something, or things, defines who they are as a person, without fear of other people’s judgement.” (Zachary Levi) We want to share our love of something, and when people laugh at us, it hurts.
The Big Bang Theory places emphasis in the wrong places, often producing a mix of live audience and canned laughter at the characters because of who they are and not the situations they’re in. Would I want someone laughing at me because my mom had me tested because she thought I was crazy? Or because I needed a routine to function at my best? Or because I wasn’t sure how to handle myself in a social situation? It’s at the least rather rude, and at the most, just plain cruel.
We don’t count these characters as real people, though, and I think part of the problem is that they’re less character and more trope: Dumb Blonde, Ambiguous Disorder and Fetish Fuel. Even after nine seasons, there has only been enough character development to keep the characters from stagnating completely. And it seems tied to relationships rather than internal character development.
Having to rely on relationship drama, petty arguments, and misunderstandings is pretty standard for sitcoms, and it’s not all bad. The Big Bang Theory is hardly the the only show to do this, and I think one of the reasons it’s more popular than many sitcoms is the charm of the actors and actresses, who are able to rise above the tired scripts and bring some life to them.
However, I wish these incredible people had been given the opportunity to develop characters in a show that appreciated them and showed off their acting chops — something like the British sitcom The IT Crowd.
While The Big Bang Theory separates “us” from the “nerds,” the The IT Crowd shows us that we’re all pretty similar. We all have crummy days at work, we’re all uncomfortable in social situations (even when we pretend we’re not), and we’re all a little weird.
IT Crowd’s more subtle approach to geekery (partially due to the fact that they decorated set with the writer’s own geeky cache) makes Chris O’Dowd’s “Roy” and Richard Aoyade’s “Moss” seem more natural and real. They’re very different, but in ways that aren’t always visible. Katherine Parkinson’s “Jen” seems on a different sphere from them at first, but we soon realize that no matter our personal passions, humans are all prone to the human condition.
We laugh as Roy, Moss, and Jen get caught up in the dramas at work, the silliness of social situations, and the awkwardness of interacting with other human beings, no matter who and where they are. This enables us to laugh with them, instead of at them. Moss and Roy are nerds, but that doesn’t mean they can’t go out and enjoy a beer at the pub, or that they don’t have interest in other things (like cooking), or that they’re incapable of interacting with people in real life.
When I watch The IT Crowd, I don’t feel like there’s an “in crowd,” I feel like anyone can enjoy watching the escapades of the IT department and their colleagues, whether they’re avoiding their boss, shirking work, or meeting old schoolmates. While Jen isn’t a nerd, she also isn’t stupid: she’s clever, emotionally sensitive, and knows quite a bit about managing difficult situations.
The IT Crowd manages to make Moss, Roy and Jen real people who gradually develop over the few short seasons, growing in understanding of each other, and even surprising us on occasion with their actions.
I’m not likely to laugh at something like this:
Wolowitz: Enchanté, mademoiselle. Howard Wolowitz, Caltech department of applied physics, you may be familiar with some of my work, it’s currently orbiting Jupiter’s largest moon taking high resolution digital photographs…?
Penny: “Penny…I work at the Cheesecake Factory!”
Penny is working hard where she can while attempting to achieve her goals. What’s funny about that? (Don’t make fun of people for not being able to afford higher education, and don’t make fun of them for not wanting to pursue it either – neither of those things mean they’re stupid or that they’re an object of humor)
I do, however, find this interaction in IT Crowd hysterical:
Roy: You don’t know anything about computers, admit it!
Jen: Will you stop trying to undermine me, now get in there and do some work to do with computers. I’ll be in there in a minute to check up on you.
Roy: Okay, lady. You’ve won this round. But we can wait. You will slip up on day and believe you me we will be there when you do. It will be some piece of evidence that will prove without any shadow of a doubt that you don’t know anything about computers.
Jen: (to Moss) What are you doing?
Moss: Plugging in your computer.
Roy: It might be something you say or something you do but when we notice it and believe me we will notice it, it’s going to be a long way down for you sweet cheeks.
Moss: He’ll realise in a second.
Jen got caught lying on her resume – something we’ve all been warned against doing – and now she’s going to have to deal with the fallout. Moss and Roy, on the other hand, are dealing with an interloper who, it turns out, can help them solve the issue they’re having with customer service.
Do you see the difference?Image Credits: Channel Four Television Corporation, CBS