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Friday, March 15, 2013

How I Really Feel About 'The Big Bang Theory'

Or Why Pseudo-Intellectualism and Laugh Tracks Annoy Me


I've been anti-'Big Bang Theory' since...well, pretty much forever.

From the get-go the show just annoyed me. Sheldon's annoying quirks, Leonard's annoying quirks, Kothrappali's annoying quirks...there were a lot of quirks and I couldn't find the humor in it. Or rather, I couldn't deal with the "humor" being pounded over my head with an increasingly grating laugh track.*


Now that we're in the era of single camera shows I suppose one could argue that it's simply the style that frustrated me. However, I can sit through plenty of older (and present day) multi-camera shows without wanting to switch the channel. It wasn't until last night, when I was thinking of writing this post and watching an episode of 'Friends', that I remembered that they utilized a laugh track. It wasn't an irritating part of that show. It was just there.

One of the reasons the laugh track in 'Friends' works so well is because it's mostly true laughter: the show was filmed in front of a live studio audience. Often the laughter was supplemented in editing, but while filming the actors and directors were able to get instant feedback. They could tweak jokes and clarify lines. During the show's ten year run the most irritating laugh track moments occurred during the final two seasons. I don't think it's a coincidence that these seasons were filmed privately, without a studio audience watching.

The bizarre thing about 'The Big Bang Theory' is that it's actually filmed in front of a live studio audience. Why, then, is the laughter so distracting? Since I'm not an editor of the show I obviously can't say how much of the laugh track is manipulated in post production, but I suspect that is at least partly to blame. Other Chuck Lorre productions suffer from the same calamity and I don't see how it can be a coincidence. Of course, it's also highly probable that the studio audience watching 'The Big Bang Theory' are the same people who laugh uproariously at it from the comfort of their own homes.

There are other things about the show that also irritated me. The idea that it is a "smart" show has always been one of those things. Sure, 'The Big Bang Theory' throws around plenty of geek culture references and allows its main characters to work highly intellectual jobs (name another show on the air that has an aerospace engineer, a neuroscientist and three physicists), but that doesn't mean that the comedy is intelligent. While the characters are spouting scientific terminology, most of the jokes revolve around their lack of social skills or even basic bathroom humor. And don't even get me started on the running joke about Howard's mom's weight. 'The Middle', a comedy about a lower-middle class American family, also has jokes that revolve around their characters inadequacies (including the youngest son's lack of social skills à la Sheldon Cooper), but these jokes are based on carefully constructed character backstory rather than catchphrases and general caricatures.

Still, I don't think it's fair to reject a show without having watched a significant portion of it. Although 'The Big Bang Theory' has been on the air for six years, I hadn't watched a full episode until last week. Now that I've watched several episodes from both the past and present seasons I feel comfortable with my former opinions. Everything that I found irritating about the show still holds true.

However**, there were moments when I laughed and there are aspects of the show that I find appealing. Perhaps because I'm someone who thrives on character development my favorite episodes are those where Penny and Leonard's relationship progressed.

I had assumed I would be irritated by Sheldon Cooper, but I actually found the character rather endearing. Maybe it's the fact that I've worked with teens with autism, and regardless of whether or not Sheldon is supposed to be on the spectrum I saw a little bit of "my" kids in his character. Although I don't like the fact that Sheldon's quirks are often used to get a quick laugh, I do appreciate that he is generally portrayed as a sympathetic and likeable character. I know it sounds like I'm gearing up for a rant about autism spectrum disorders, 'The Big Bang Theory, and mainstream media...but I'll leave that for another blog post.

Now that I've watched three seasons of the show I can honestly say that I still have mixed feelings. There are episodes that I thought were hilariously funny (S1Ep10, "The Loobenfield Decay"), but there are just as many where I find myself shaking my head in disgust/annoyance/general frustration. When it's funny it can be hilarious, but when it's not it's just...not.

I used to be firmly in the "I hate 'The Big Bang Theory'" camp. But now when my friends ask me how I feel about 'The Big Bang Theory' I no longer have a succinct answer. I suppose I'll just have to direct them to this rambling blog post where I conclude that this is one of the only shows where my feelings are indescribable.

Now I really want Chinese food.

*Of course, my refusal to watch more than 10 minutes of any given episode may have been part of the problem.
** Yes, that 'however' is so important it's in bold.

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