The Big Bang Theory, back on the air

By Phil Plait | November 17, 2008 9:57 am

I’m a big fan of the CBS TV show The Big Bang Theory. It’s a comedy about two über-nerdy physics researchers who live together in an apartment. One of them, Leonard, has a crush on Penny, the attractive "normal" woman who lives across the hall (more on her in a sec). They have two more über-nerd friends, and the stories tend to revolve around the love interest of Leonard and Penny as well as the goofy messes the men get into because they are so socially maladjusted.

Yes, that’s my mousepad.

At first, I didn’t want to like the show. For example, the character of Penny was, for lack of a better term, portrayed as a ditz. However, over time, they let her grow, and now she’s intelligent and warm, which was a good choice for the show. She’s a lot more normal now, and grounds the characters far better.

As for the scientists on the show… most people would say the characters are over-the-top stereotypes. But I know a whole bunch of scientists just like them. I mean, eerily completely like them (in fact, I know one or two who make Sheldon look like George Clooney). Cripes, I’m not as bad as the guys on the show, but I see a lot of myself in them. I’ve argued over whether Superman flies or jumps (he flies, duh), and I laughed and laughed at the spherical cow reference they made last season. Man, that was beautiful. I must have explained it to a dozen people — and in the episode, when someone told Leonard he should open a scientific talk with a joke, I laughed in my head thinking he should go with the spherical cow. And then they started talking about it.


Then, at Comic Con, I found out Bill Prady, one of the writers of the show (and official BABloggee), is One Of Us. His geek cred is solid.

After watching a few episodes, I realized that the writers weren’t mocking the characters because they were geeks. Sure, there are plenty of jokes at the expense of them being geeks, but that’s true for any comedy featuring some kind of comedic stereotype. But in fact, I think the writers are praising these guys. They’re smart, they’re successful in their field, but they have quite a bit of trouble fitting in with the "real world", and can be pretty irritating… but we wind up caring about them. They’re likable. It would have been easy to make them the butt of every joke in the show, but the writers don’t go there.

So I love the show. Which is why I was ticked initially when I missed the premier of the second season this fall. Busy busy. I may have to get of these TiVo things I keep hearing about.

Or maybe I’ll build one.

OK, I’m not that much of a geek. But I’ll add that my e-friend Clifford Johnson is just such a geek, enough of one that he actually got to be on a clip promoting the show on Extra TV!

Yes, I’m jealous. CURSE YOU, CLIFFORD!

Actually, it’s cool. Here’s the clip, and here’s Clifford talking about it.

I watch very little TV, but TBBT is on the preferred list. Due to the miracle of the intertoobs I have caught up with this season, and so now I’m eagerly awaiting tonight’s episode.

Oh, one last thing: Episode 6 of this season (where Sheldon has a woman "helping" him) has just about the best conflict resolution I have ever seen on a sitcom, nearly equal to how Stewie resolved the time paradox on Family Guy. Wonderful.


Comments (71)

  1. James

    This may be the best show on TV right now. I highly recommend TiVo for watching it over and over for nuances.

  2. Charles Boyer

    It’s a great show, and when I was in my early 20’s, Penny living across the hall would have been just fine by me.

  3. Andy Beaton

    The show clicked for me when Penny asked why they would bother turning on their lamp with a signal sent around the world via the internet,and all 4 nerds answered in unison “Because we can!”. Those are my people! My tribe!
    I only wish it didn’t have a laugh track.

  4. JackC

    I just cant believe that the show title is not itself a reference to DiscWorld ala A’Tuin.

    Haven’t watched (or heard of) the show – have to look for it.


  5. jeri meaux

    Okay, I’ll have to give it a try. But better than “Pushing Daisies?” HOW CAN THAT BE?


  6. Eric

    I actually went through the same ‘process’ when I started watching the show. The first season, I felt something was missing, that they were close but did not quite get it right. I always hate shows that have smart people doing pretty stupid things – “Frasier” was a pretty good example.

    But the show has really gotten better.. and the references and ‘in’ jokes are great. I also had to freeze frame a recent show to examine one of Sheldon’s white boards – unfortunately, he get a Feynman diagram all wrong…

    Eric A

  7. Anne

    Actually, building a TiVo is not that hard.

  8. Quiet Desperation

    But better than “Pushing Daisies?”

    Pushing Daises transcends the medium, and thus is not considered a television show and rather a glorious entity. Can you tell I’m a fan?

    To Phil: Get thee to a store that sells Tivo. You are living in the dark ages. Go. Now. Stop reading this. Go!

    And if you value your time, don’t bother building an equivalent. I know two people who built MythTV rigs. They eventually gave up as they spent more time jiggering with the setups than enjoying shows, and they are hard core tinkering types. Even if you cost their time at minimum wage, they spent several times what a Tivo + a few years of fees would cost.

    Another alternative, as I have done with the new Doctor Who, is to wait for the DVD releases.

    As for TBBT, it doesn’t matter if the writers are well meaning, the stereotype still gets enforced. And we wonder why kids don;t choose science as a career.

    I’ve met lots of professional scientists. They almost all have families and are perfectly well adjusted to “normal” society, whatever that is.

  9. AndyG

    Tivo? TIVO?!
    A true nerd builds their own PVR 😉

  10. TBBT is hard to get because we are full of prejudice, we are aware of how Hollywood portraits geeks and let’s face it, at first glance TBBT is just another Weird Science spinof.

    It takes a whole 2 minutes to realize it’s something else, and the geeks are NOT misfits or outcasts, they DO have a social life. Come on, they even get laid (those with biological instincts related to that, of course).

    TBBT is, IMHO, the best geek show ever.

  11. Glad to hear fellow geeks feel the same way I do about the show. The show manages to appeal to both the masses and us on two levels, much like the classic Steven Spielberg Presents cartoons appealed to kids and adults simultaneously.

    The public gets to laugh at the nerds being very nerdy, and that’s apparently always funny to the average person. But the internal beauty is that every joke they make, every conversation and argument, is accurate to us. Most are conversations I’ve either had myself or overheard. And they’re all right on the money. And when they’re dealing with TV shows, movies, video games, etc., that’s nearly all flawlessly accurate as well. Heck, when Sheldon was playing Super Mario 64 on a crappy emulator on his notebook, the music coming from it was from a dungeon level of… Super Mario 64! How many shows make the effort?

    I couldn’t be happier with the accuracy of the show and the fact that they’ve managed to balance it so well. I never miss an episode, and friends of mine and I are going to see a live taping of it soon (went a few weeks ago, but work kept us just late enough that we were put in standby and lost priority). I’ve enjoyed Chuck Lorre’s other shows such as Dharma & Greg and Two and a Half Men, but The Big Bang Theory takes it to a whole other level and directly into my territory.

  12. Charles Boyer

    A true nerd builds their own PVR

    Or hacks their Tivo to their liking. :-)

  13. I didn’t want to like it either, but it’s hands down my favorite program these days. I think you’ve got it exactly right — the most amazing part of the geek portrayals is how on the nose they all are; I’ve met these people, I know these people, and as much as I try to avoid it, I’m often one of them…

  14. Davidlpf

    I actually like it a lot too and recently caught up too it. I can see some people who I have known in the past, plus I see some aspects of myself in some of the characters.

  15. Davidlpf

    Oh girls like Penny do exist in science programs they tend to be in the biology department.

  16. PG

    That show makes me nostalgic for my undergrad physics days. I don’t see them so much as stereotypes, but as the real sort of people I know and love! :)

  17. glen

    Loved the last episode.
    “BBQ Bacon & Cheese burger with bar-b-que sauce, bacon and cheese on the side.”

  18. RE: DVR

    Then, some of us still have our ReplayTV….
    (the ‘Betamax’ DVR to TiVo’s “VHS”)


  19. Angel

    Not to mention that “Moist” from Dr. Horrible is in it!

  20. John

    I watch this show religiously and the characters could all pass as my roommates. Can’t wait for tonight’s episode.

  21. Ken Youngstrom

    OK, worth a look, but unless the clips on line are not well selected, it seems a bit lame. Can I recommend searching out two BBC sitcoms? “Hyperdrive” is sort of Star Trek meets Yes, Minister via Hitchhiker’s Guide while “Supernova” (not the awful movie, the BBC/Australian BC sitcom) must be the only gas dynamics astrophysicist hero on TV. The science may be grim at times (a radium lens?? and a telescope with what appears to be a floor shift) but the frantic effort to discover and publish rings true.

  22. Chris A.

    What hooked me is how their science references aren’t technobabble. Someone on the writing staff seems to have a clue about real physics, and doesn’t just throw terms around hoping no one will notice.

  23. Gary Ansorge

    I note that some sociologists are now contending that to become a genius, all you need is 10,000 hours of practice. I wonder how that would work for a really dedicated musician who was tone deaf? See:

    I used to consistently watch the Simpsons, occasionally identifying with Homer. Doh! Then,as the years fled by, I noted some similarities with GrandPa Simpson,,,double doh!!!
    One of my physics profs in college would come to class with his shirt hanging half out of his pants, plop down on the edge of his desk and proceed to teach. Definitely a nerd. His speciality was low temp/high pressure physics and often we could hear the explosions in his lab. “Ah,” we would say, “Dr. Babb has done it again,,,”
    Nerdiness is a natural outgrowth of spending 10,000 hours pursuing ,,,something,,,anything, more fascinating than playing ball with other kids. Science, ALL science, was my holy grail. I didn’t even begin to relate to people(dad gum, complicated, unpredictable, irritating critters) until I was 19. It only took another 40 years for me to begin to think I had a handle on them/us,,,

    “People,” As The Professor used to say, “,,,are the CRAZIEST animals,,,” and a whole lot harder to deal with than particle physics.

    Guess now I’ll have to start watching the show.

    GAry 7

  24. SteveT

    I don’t watch TV, so had never seen this show until a recent flight back from Japan to the US. They played an episode during the flight, about the guys going to a Halloween party. I felt really weird being the only one on the entire 747 LMAO! The Doppler Shift costume almost made me spew my tasty in-flight beverage out my nose.

    Like others, I assumed the show would be stupid, but those guys are exactly like the people I knew in graduate school. It almost makes me wish I had cable again.

  25. Old Muley

    My wife loves this show, simply because she sees so much of me and my friends in the main characters. Of course I’m convinced that Sheldon has Aspergers Syndrome.

  26. @SteveT: It’s available on broadcast TV.

  27. Quiet Desperation

    The Doppler Shift costume almost made me spew my tasty in-flight beverage out my nose.

    Do people actually perform spit takes in real life?

    And, yes, out the nose is a subtype of the spit take.

    It almost makes me wish I had cable again.

    Satellite is cooler. :-)

    I have an old “DirecTivo” (DirecTV with Tivo built in). DTV abandoned Tivo’s software in favor of their own in house development (Great business plan: reinvent the wheel) a few years back. Customers complained so much that they are now going back to Tivo’s software. A full 1080p HD DitecTivo is due next year. Yay! 😀

  28. Daniel

    What paradox is he referring to in Family Guy, and how was it resolved? I have seen that episode of Family Guy and don’t know what he is specifically referring to. There are many paradoxes.

    The ONLY thing I can think of is that when he went back to the present, the other Stewie killed him (along with his knowledge of the future).

    Someone please backchannel me the response at

  29. Wait, there’s a show like this?

    On CBS?

    I have been living under a rock. This is awesome! I’ve told the spherical cow joke to family a gazillion times and NO ONE EVER GETS IT.

    I have to rent a season.

  30. David

    My whole family loves TBBT. But I am getting really tired of having to explain half of the jokes to them. I’m even more tired of knowing that my dear wife and three children all expect me to understand and be able to explain the humor. What the heck, do they all think I’m some sort geek?

    I keep telling them “I am not like those guys on the show….. but all of my friends are!”

  31. TMB

    My standard seminar talk is called “How spherical is the invisible cow?”. Should I be worried?

  32. Crux Australis

    That is *such* a cool show. It’s not my wife’s cup of tea, but she enjoys how much I enjoy it! BTW, it is my professional opinion that Sheldon has Asperger’s Syndrome.

  33. Brian Gefrich

    When my fiancee and I watch this, she sings the opening theme and jumps up and down a bit and afterwards she talks about how much she loves Sheldon’s character.

    I think I found a keeper.

  34. Zyggy

    My wife and I ‘Tivo’ TBBT, and watch it together every week. It’s one of the few shows that we actually agree on (we have 2 DVRs, with 2 tuners each for that reason).

    I love the ‘geekiness’, but she enjoys it because she identifies with Penny. She says that the conversations they have on the show remind her of the conversations we have on a daily basis.

    And DVRs are not hard to build, as Anne mentioned…it’s just a computer with a tv tuner card (about $100), but the software can sometimes be a pain to configure. However, the advantages can outweigh the initial annoyance and time spent.

    For example, with some software, while you are away from home or forget to set up a recording, you can simply schedule a recording on your DVR from the web browser on your phone. Also, you can record the programs in any format you like, making it a simple matter to transfer those programs to your phone/iPod/personal-media-player/laptop/whatever, or burn them to DVD for later use. And when you run out of room on the hard drive, just add another one.

    Why? ….Because I can.

  35. Ray

    I love TBBT. Hilarious at times but oh so real. I know guys like that.

  36. This show is a whole family affair at my house. We love it. Leonard is absolutely one of my RPI fraternity brothers! Heck, I went to school with the whole cast it would seem!

  37. Chayanov

    I liked the bit when introductions are going around between the 4 and their boss. They’re all “Doctor… Doctor… Doctor…” until they get to the engineer, who’s merely “Mister”. Later on he whines “But I have a master’s degree!” and their boss retorts with “Who doesn’t?” Funny stuff.

  38. Build your own Tivo, its easy.

    Just build another computer, and plug it into your TV. There are great TV cards, and USB adapters out there. Plus, you get the option of choosing which software you want to use! There are quite a few excellent programs out there that allow you to time shift, and record television directly to the hard drive.

    Another added bonus is watching intertube or other digital video. You don’t have to drag people into your office, or huddle around the laptop. My daughter (and me) loves your videos, and its much better on the couch than in the office.

    If your a Netflix subscriber, they have the awesome ‘Watch Now’ feature. You just open a browser, pick the show you want, and it starts playing. Full screen and all.

    All that video goodness is great, but we listen to music more than watch video. Its wonderful to have the entire album collection available. Play all. Or play all of a Genre, or play all of an artist. Or… what was that song? A quick search, and you find that ‘one’ song you need to listen to. Far better than the archaic searching for removable media.

    I also love that when its time to upgrade to Blu-Ray, I don’t have to buy a whole player, just a drive. Swap out the old drive and your good to go.

    Plus its fun that my kid doesn’t know the difference between a TV, and a Computer, since they both the same thing here.

  39. Everything I know about physics I learned from this show.
    I remember one episode last season made a reference to Schrödinger’s cat. This was roughly about the same time framr you had a post about your own cat, Dinger. Then the following week Bones had a reference to it.
    Boy, was I feeling smart that week!

  40. Kathryn from Sunnyvale

    I’ve watched two episodes, and found them funny. However, they writers couldn’t figure out how to write just one geek girl to go along with Penny?

    It can’t even take the test for Bechdel’s Law, let alone try to pass it.

  41. Davidlpf

    Kathryn they do its leonards lab partner. She is most of the time
    using lab equipment to cook food, insulting Sheldon or sleeping around.

    The same actress played Darlene on Roseanne, the guy who plays Leonard was her boyfriend. Also Sheldons mom played Rosaannes sister.

  42. Daniel

    Sheldon is socially awkward, he does not have Asperger’s. Read the diagnostic criteria, people.

  43. Tom Bridgman

    For an additional laugh, try and catch the ‘vanity cards’ at the end of the show. The producer posts them online at his web site here.

  44. Grinspoon

    I have to admit, i find the show amusing and watch it.

    The best geek show on tv is Chuck.

  45. I see your TBBT and raise you Chuck. I am loving Chuck. Geeky humour too. After reading all the recommendation here though I am going to acquire TBBT.

  46. Of course the very minute I recommend Chuck we get another. Spooky.

  47. Raving Fan

    I’ve never watched, but have heard it believe it or not because of the theme song. LOVE the Bare Naked Ladies. Saw them Live on Ships N Dip III. They had never actually performed it live and couldn’t remember the lyrics.

  48. Davidlpf

    Shane welcome to the dark side.

    I think it would be cool if Sheldon wore a Dalek “I want to beleive shirt”

  49. Davidlpf

    Or better yet Penny and her cousin played by Kristen Bell wearing that T-shirt.

  50. Ginger Yellow

    Damn you all. I’m going to have to give this show another go. I watched the first few episodes on the recommendation of various bloggers, and I hated it. It wasn’t so much the characters as the fact that all the jokes were painfully telegraphed, which sucked all the life out of the episodes. Has it really become better in that respect? Because people claimed that the second series of The IT Crowd was much better than the first and they were lying.

  51. Gary Ansorge

    Ginger Yellow:
    The key word(that shows the juxtaposition of the ludicrous) of any joke should be at the end of the joke, ie, as near the last word as it is possible to get, as in:

    A Texan(call him George) decided to move to Alaska after it became a state because he wanted to be a resident of the largest state in the Union. Upon his arrival in Anchorage, he went to a bar, slammed open the door and loudly proclaimed ” I’m a rootin, tootin Texan and I’m here to become a resident of the biggest state in the Union. How do I do that?”

    Several Alaskans snickered and one stood up, saying to George, “Well, pardner, it’s easy. You just need to do three things. First you have to guzzle a bottle of Red Eye whiskey,,,”
    “No problem.” Says George, grabbing a bottle from the bartender and chugging it.
    “Then you have to rape an Eskimo woman and wrestle a polar bear.”
    “OK!” Slurs George, stumbling out the door,,,The Alaskans laugh as he weaves down the street, thinking they’ve seen the last of this idiot.

    Several days later, George stumbles in the door of the same bar, with the same Alaskans in attendance. He is missing an ear, his clothes are ripped to shreds, and he is bleeding from a hundred wounds. George stumbles to the bar, grabs a bottle of Red Eye and downing half the bottle, loudly asks “Ok! Now! Where’s this Eskimo woman I have to wrestle?”

    There is a moral to this story: Get your instructions BEFORE chugging your bottle of Red Eye.

    GAry 7

  52. cvj

    Hey Phil,

    Thanks for the link! The promo clip was fun to do (including the part where I fake working on a physics experiment that’s actually in a friend’s lab….)

    A major highlight for me would be to somehow interact with Stewie from Family Guy… If I could get to ask him a question (perhaps about his time travels?), that would be awfully cool….



  53. Deepsix

    “Cripes, I’m not as bad as the guys on the show” ~ Phil

    You poor, poor deluded fool. 😛

  54. The concept of the show sounded extremely trite, and the first few minutes of the first episode could have been enough to drive geeks and normals alike away forever. However, I stuck with it, and now I love the show. I have to admit, though, that Penny’s growth has also correlated with a drop in Sheldon’s believability. I think he’s funny, but situations like his not realizing that “Oh, I See” wasn’t an acronym are just wholly unbelievable. Not knowing he was being hit on by a man? Sure. Not realizing what “Oh, I see” was, and other silly problems, make him much less believable. He’s supposed to be too geeky to understand real people, not stupid, and I think they’ve stepped over that line a few times.

    Overall, though, they make me feel good because while I share some of their geeky qualities and obsessions with SciFi, I’ve never, and could never, be anywhere near as bad as they are.

  55. Mrs.Schaarschmidt

    My family and I have the most fun watching this show. My eldest daughter and I laugh until we can’t breathe (once one of us gets started, the we just can’t stop ourselves) and my husband and middle daughter think the show is amusing, but that we are just hilarious.

  56. Jason

    The Big Bang Theory might be good, unfortunately I could last through an entire episode of it because of its obnoxious laugh track. I manage with other shows (like How I Met Your Mother), but Big Bang Theory is so egregiously bad I simply cannot abide.

  57. Jason

    ^ could = couldn’t.

  58. I avoided this show originally because the premise sounded really lame, sounding like just a good way of making fun of geeky scientists without understanding them at all. However, I visited my parents, who sat me down to watch a bunch of episodes, and I became a fan. Whoever noted that they must have a really good science advisor is spot-on – even the throwaway lines are on the money. (“The best thing you can say about a string theory is that it’s internally consistent.”)

    So far, though, I’ve preferred the first season to the second due to the romantic tension. However, I’ve seen most of the first season but only about three episodes of the second, so maybe it just takes some getting used to.

  59. Davidlpf

    One of the best ones this season is driving episode where they try to teach Sheldon how to to drive.

  60. Grinspoon

    I don’t know if it was IMDB or somewhere else i was looking at user comments about the show during the first season. It was all 11 year olds or something commenting how intellectual the show is and how sometimes its hard to understand the language. They were fans, but there were comments like, “sheldon mentioned string theory, i’ve heard of that, the show makes me feel smart.” All commenting how they felt smart because they’d heard of dr who or whatever the most basic references were. Was quite amusing.

  61. TiVO? Don´t you guys know torrents??? Geez….

  62. Quiet Desperation

    Build your own Tivo, its easy.

    Well, like I said, I have two hardcore tinkerer friends who would disagree with your use of “easy”.

    But that isn’t the question. The question is if it’s time well spent. There’s plenty of other projects that could be done that aren’t already served by a mature, reasonably priced commercial product.

    And if you like a show and want a copy, just copy the DVD releases. Heck, there’s some shows (Dexter, for example) that I wait for the DVDs to even watch because I’m not paying for Showtime for one show. And then I copy the discs for freinds to pass around (they provide the blanks).

    If your a Netflix subscriber, they have the awesome ‘Watch Now’ feature. You just open a browser, pick the show you want, and it starts playing. Full screen and all.

    I bought one of those little Roku boxes for that. As for internet video, I can toss them on a DVD-R and play them on the XBox 360. And, actually, Netflix streaming is coming to the XBox this week, I think. Or I could run the Opera browser on the Wii.

  63. Dark_Zits

    How exactly does the joke of the spherical cow work? I don’t get it.

  64. Ram Singh

    I will never watch the big bang ever again because of a comment made by the Indian guy in one episode .He said in “In India we just call them untouchables”.
    This is a racist comment and he must be a racist to say such a thing.
    Woud the American people have found it funny if he had said “In America we just call them niggers”.

  65. Being a physicists, I’m unsure of what to think of this show; however, the chemistry between the “nerds” is terrific! It is great to turn on a show that helps bring me back down to earth. The show may be a tiny bit unrealistic when it comes to how “nerds” actually behave, but you don’t have to be a nerd to appreciate the science humor. In the same respect, the behavior of the “regulars” is a little exaggerated, but is done in such a way which helps accentuate the characters’ contrast.


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