The Big Bang Backlash

Well, I suppose it was an inevitability that their characters would have seen coming a light year away: a once, hip situation comedy about a group of nerds has now been receiving more and more negative feedback from the web. Not surprisingly, this coincides with the show’s continual rise in the ratings. Also not surprising is the social media commentariat has found a newer show set on the west coast about social misfits to carry the banner as their darling. Is there more to the debate of The Big Bang Theory vs. Community other than pop culture’s Attention Deficit Disorder-like tendency to gravitate towards the newest product, and/or the hipsters’ backlash toward anything mainstream and popular?

The Big Bang Theory (BBT) has been evolving from a sit-com to more of a rom-com – not that there is anything inherently wrong with that. Many TV shows past and present revolve around couples (e.g: from I Love Lucy to Modern Family). Even Friends ultimately decided to pair up two of its main cast. So why is wrong for fictional nerds on television to find love? Even though it could be argued that the addition of Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch has strengthened the show, BBT still suffers from two significant flaws: (1) the show’s writing and execution has been become stale and predictable; and (2) the characters , if anything, have become more unlikable than when the show first started (i.e.: if they were real-life people, they may have started out tolerable, but you would not want to hang out with them now.) this is a complete contrast to Community, which currently possesses neither of those flaws. (Yes, I said it: a show that stars Joel McHale and Chevy Chase has more likeable characters than BBT.)

Jim Parsons does a remarkable job portraying Sheldon Cooper. He has made Sheldon an iconic character; joining other memorable TV characters such as Hawkeye Pierce, Archie Bunker, Gregory House, among others, in the pantheon of insufferable bastards. But whereas the other characters on this level had been occasionally called out for their jackassery, Sheldon constantly gets away with behavior that would get you, I, and everyone else in the real world punched in the face. While soap operas (and a few dramas) live on having multiple characters that we love to hate, and heck, Seinfeld thrived on the fact that the entire cast were supposed to be jerks, the rest of BBT’s cast is…just meh – neither likable nor unlikable. The initial premise of the show is typical sit-com: a clash of two different lifestyles. In this case, we have the nerd culture (the guys) meeting the culture of sexy (Kelly Cuoco’s Penny) when she moves into the apartment next door of the guys. As I mentioned, the addition of Rauch and Bialik to the cast has helped the show in some ways, but it weakened it in another. With Penny being able to able talk to other girls on-screen, we have lost the archetype sit-com character path of her trying to become “one of the guys.” Although, since the male cast characters are not so masculine to begin with, Penny already knew more about “guy stuff” (e.g.: sports) than the guys. Without her having to try so hard to interact the guys due to the newly created female clique, the show has evolved into a typical “battle of the sexes” sit-com instead. In and by itself, that is not necessarily terrible. However, since the men are now neither lovable, nor obnoxious losers, and the females are neither charming, nor a reasonable counterpart to the guys, the show is just treading water.

While BBT talks and references the nerd culture, Community lives it. Community doesn’t have the ratings as BBT, but it does have a rabid fanbase amongst the internet’s commentariat. One reason is because the characters of Community are those that other social misfits and outcasts can relate to. Also, the characters recognize the fact that they have issues, and are trying to do something about it. Because of that, there has been some character growth and development within the show’s first three seasons. Despite their flawed personalities, they have created an environment which looks like a lot of fun. Now that Dan Harmon, the creator and showrunner has left, it will be a challenge to prevent Community from falling into a rut (if it doesn’t get cancelled first). The show’s meta-style comedy and general randomness of certain episodes may be the main reason why the rating are so small, but it is also why the show is unique and has a devoted following. Should it morph into just another comedy, expect a huge backlash, and cries of “Betrayal” from the same online community that has previously kept the show on the air.

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