Community vs Big Bang Theory

Community cast

There’s more personality in just one of these characters than in all of Big Bang put together.

The Big Bang Theory bears the somewhat remarkable distinction of being a show targeted at a broad audience, yet that somehow garners derision and scorn from a rather vocal minority who can’t stand its existence. For a show whose humor is supposed to appeal to everyone, it’s something of a surprise to its massive legions of fans that there are people out there who just can’t go along for the ride. If it’s funny, why aren’t they laughing?

To illustrate the problem, I’m going to take a show that not only focuses to some degree on geeky humor, but has been embraced by legions of geeky fans all over the world. The show that “real” geeks watch, rather than middle America laughing at jokes about D&D, all the while having no idea what it really is.

I’m talking about Community. And it’s perhaps the most helpful explanation of what’s wrong with Big Bang Theory anywhere to be found.

Community vs Big Bang Theory

1) Geek humor

I love geeks (but not really)

No you don’t. (photo found here, in a rather condescending article)

Despite the fact that both shows make a point of including geeky topics such as D&D or Doctor Who as a source of humor, there’s a very good reason why Community has geeky fans and Big Bang has proportionately fewer. Community actually knows what it’s talking about when it makes the jokes. You get the sense that the writers have actually seen the nerdy TV shows they reference, and probably like them too. When they say “I won Dungeons and Dragons! And it was advanced!” There’s no way they don’t get that joke. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re probably more of a Big Bang fan.

On Big Bang, generally the only mentions of Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek or other sci-fi programs and geek topics are done in the service of mockery. The characters are dorky for liking those shows, and none of the jokes made on Big Bang require any sort of understanding to appreciate the humor. They’re merely presented as yet another in a long litany of reasons why the main characters are socially awkward weirdos whose interests are abnormal and terrifying to females. The geeky topics are merely the subject of jokes, which more often derisive than celebratory.

Contrast this with the Inspector Spacetime diversion and you can see (if you know what it’s referencing) that these writers actually enjoy those programs, and although they can poke plenty of fun at it (such as when Abed first sees it, and declares “This is the greatest show I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”), they also like it. They’re not there to mock nerds. They’re just having fun with nerd culture, not at the expense of it.

This is a major reason why geeks have a hard time watching Big Bang. All of the nerd jokes come at the expense of nerds. They’re making fun of geeks, and poking fun at nerds for laughs. It’s the TV show equivalent of a jock shoving a kid with glasses down the stairs.

Which brings me to point #2:

2) Quirky characters

Abed and Sheldon

Don’t get me wrong, I like Sheldon too. I just dislike how the show treats him.

This is very closely related to the geekery that is constantly derided in Big Bang. The characters on the show are depicted as socially awkward weirdos, whose interests are lame, whose ability to score with girls is pathetic, and whose only hopes of procreating are to abandon their identities and craft new ones. They constantly talk about how rarely they’ve been with women, how short-lived it was, and how lame they are for liking Star Wars and stuff.

The point is, Big Bang essentially makes the case at every turn that geek culture is dumb. That it’s a hindrance to living a “normal” life and all the jocks who have been poking fun at sci-fi nerds had it right all along.

Leonard is the greatest microcosm for this endless self-doubt, as he seems to feel worse than anyone for liking nerd culture, and is the only one who attempts to break out of it in a meaningful way. His actions are depicted as the “correct” actions, as a character trying to become “normal,” when in fact he is simply a fear-driven loser attempting to abandon his interests for the sake of fitting in with “normal” people so he can get a hot girl. The bottom line is that the show attempts to convey that everything about him is wrong, he knows it, and he constantly tries to escape. Is this really a valuable lesson to convey to children who are different?

In its defense, Sheldon feels the exact opposite. He will routinely behave as though his interests in science fiction, fantasy, science, and other topics of geeky adoration are spectacularly wonderful. His enthusiasm for Spock and Data and so forth are immune to any and all criticism, and his disdain for organized sports or other activities is similarly indestructible. This, I would say, is a defense of nerd culture. He likes Battlestar Galactica. Fuck anyone who thinks football is better.

Sadly, the show doesn’t depict his interests as worthwhile. In nearly every case, his interests (and his intelligence), are depicted as mere novelty. Something to find amusing at best, and a nuisance at worst. Even someone who fearlessly adores Star Trek and theoretical physics is still portrayed as someone who’s incredibly lame. The jocks are still right to love football.

Contrast this with Community, and it’s a totally different story. Abed’s weird hobbies are weird, sure, but are Jeff’s “normal” interests depicted as faultless? More often than not, Jeff’s obsession with fashion and hitting on women is depicted as exactly what it is: A narcissistic foray into objectively useless behavior merely for the sake of his vanity. Abed, while rather odd, isn’t “wrong” to enjoy television as much as he does. Only when it starts getting in the way of his schoolwork do his friends try to stop him. Abed’s weirdness isn’t just played for laughs; it’s depicted as something to be understood, not as a silly aberration of normalcy to exist merely as the target of condescending jokes.

3) Acceptance of others

This is perhaps the most obvious point, and one toward which you can see this argument building.

Abed thumbs up

You’re doing it right.

In just about every episode, the Big Bang Theory portrays nerds as incredibly lame, and if only they’d put down the video game controller and stop reading Star Trek fan fiction they’d get laid. The show refuses to depict their personality traits, or even their intelligence, as assets. Even their genius IQs are merely a weird and useless nothing, which, oddly, never come in handy. Never ever.

If Community is about nothing else, it’s about understanding people. This rag tag group of radically different people have next to nothing to do with each other, yet somehow come together in rather unpredictable ways, and are always supportive of each other, and of their differences. Shirley’s religious fervor isn’t just the source of dumb jokes; nor is Abed’s odd behavior; nor is Annie’s attempts at perfectionism. In every case, they’re simply personality traits, which, as is the case with real life, have their strengths and weaknesses. Every character on Community is a fully-formed person, and they’re not merely the source of mean-spirited humor. Except Pierce. But that was mostly later. And even so, there was more of an effort to understand his motivations than Leonard’s.

And this is perhaps why Community is so widely praised by geeks. Community isn’t even about geek culture. Only Abed and Troy ever bother going into it, so it doesn’t even make up much of the humor. Community isn’t even a show for geeks, at least not specifically, and that’s one of its strengths. It merely wants to tell clever, unpredictable stories about people of all sorts, and at its core, is about understanding and appreciating what different people have to offer each other.

In Community, differences are something to be understood. In some cases, even celebrated. And this is perhaps where the point is most driven home for “weird” geeks or nerds. They’ve spent their lives being different from what’s considered “normal,” in a culture that, for the most part, doesn’t care about what they have to say. When Community makes a point in every episode of understanding people’s differences, it’s easy to see why “different” people would appreciate the lesson.

The Big Bang Theory only pretended to bring geek culture into the mainstream. Jokes about comic books and D&D became commonplace on network primetime, with millions tuning in to laugh at the silly dorks who had grown far beyond their teenage years and still played video games and watched sci-fi movies. And that’s the problem. It’s not a show that even attempts to understand geek culture. All it’ll do is mock it.

So ask yourself, which lesson would you rather learn? That there’s something wrong with certain kinds of people? Or that it’s healthy to make the effort to understand others who seem different from you?

Seems pretty simple.

4) Humor

HA! I won’t even bother with this one. Fucking Community, hands down.

Check out some other shows like Big Bang Theory for some other geek-friendly options.

None found.

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