May 28, 2013

GEEK CHIC: I Love ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ And You Should, Too.

It took roughly a week of nightly viewing before I realized how impoverished my life had been for the four years that I was oblivious to “The Big Bang Theory.”

The touchstone, the lodestar, the flypaper for me at first was, predictably, Parsons. In his dervishy nerdiness, he seemed to evoke any number of classic TV neurotics or fussbudgets: Paul Lynde, Tony Randall, Pee-wee Herman. Watching Parsons’s every twitch, wiggle, full-body smirk or social paroxysm — his O.C.D. knocking on friends’ doors (three knocks/name, three knocks/name, three knocks/name), his recurring line about “I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested,” his litany of his “61 mortal enemies,” his continued rebuffing of the advances of his girlfriend, Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) — is alone worth any half-hour spent on the show.

But as the weeks went by, the show’s many other virtues unfurled (by the end of 2011, I had seen almost all the older episodes more than once and started collecting the DVDs; some nights I would wake up after midnight just to watch the most recent episode as soon as it became available on demand). Here was a popular prime-time sitcom in which five of the seven main characters were Ph.D.’s and another had “only” a master’s from M.I.T., a hit show that regularly referenced bosons and derivatives and string theory, a show in which there were running gags about Madame Curie and Schrödinger’s cat.

The real behind-the-scenes heroes, though, are not the science advisers but the geek experts. The accuracy of the nerd oeuvre — the obsession with superheroes, “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” (before their umpteenth viewing of the movie, Howard, the M.I.T. engineer, says to Sheldon, “If we don’t start soon, George Lucas is going to change it again”), comic books and video games — is sometimes so eerie that I feel as if I’m watching a high- (or low-) light reel of my own life.

They’re so good at getting that right, they don’t answer more basic questions: Why can Penny-the-waitress afford her own apartment, while physicists Sheldon and Leonard have to share? Why doesn’t fancy engineer Howard, with a bigshot JPL job, have any money? What, exactly, do they do at CalTech, anyway? Oh, well: It’s a sitcom. And a good one.

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