People constantly tell me that I should watch sitcoms such as Big Bang Theory or the IT Crowd. They assume I will love these shows because they have geeky protagonists that I should be able to relate to. The truth is however that these shows irk me. I’m not saying they are not entertaining or funny. That’s not it at all. It’s just that they don’t do my people justice.
The way most of these shows are set up is that the main source of comedy is the oddball, offbeat behavior of the protagonists. Basically the whole theme is “look how adorably silly these geeks can be” which strikes me as a bit patronizing. These series do nothing new. They basically continue the old tradition stared by the Revenge of the Nerds movies. They pander to the mainstream audiences by poking fan at the geeky stereotypes, just this time around they throw in a Star Trek joke or some geeky exchange. You know, stuff that will sail way over the heads of 90% of their audience, but will make you and me chuckle and feel acknowledged. And then it’s back to making jokes at the expense of the poor nerds. I believe this is how these shows get their geek cred. But the sad truth is that they still laugh mostly at us rather than with us.
Let me give you an example. Here is a clip from Big Bang Theory in which two of the protagonists discuss the problem with quantum teleportation:
This is actually an interesting subject, and I discussed it at length on this very blog. The fact that series even brings up this topic scores it major points. It is an interesting topic, and Sheldon articulates it very well. But look how the whole discussion is presented. Observe how his friend handles the conversation. Note his dismissive attitude.
There is nothing inherently funny about what Sheldon is saying. What is the joke here? The joke is “look at the goofy nerd”. That’s what kills it for me. The audience is supposed to identify with the other more mainstream and “grounded” character, but I can’t. To me he is just being an ass for no other reason than to paint his compatriot in unfavorable light as “the bigger nerd” at the table.
Of course there is nothing wrong with making fun of geeky stuff. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t laugh at ourselves every once in a while. I’m not saying the series is wrong or offensive because of this approach. That’s not the case. All I’m saying is that I am clearly not the target audience. This is not a show for geeks – it is a show about geeks, which makes them seem silly, fun and non-threatening.
I personally yearn for a real geek centric series. Something that was written from our point of view. Something that we could really relate to. Here is how you do it: you set up your geeks as your straight men, and make everyone else to be comic relief. You know, like in the real life. Make the handful of engineers or scientists to be the only rational, competent and sane people in the whole group/company. Poke fun at managers who are too dumb to live, sleazy marketing people who have more confidence than common sense, apathetic and lazy clerks etc… Make everyone else in that universe either overwhelmingly superficial, staggeringly shallow or batshit insane. I’m not saying these people should be made unlikable – make them fun silly and non-threatening.
Instead of laughing at the fact someone happens to enjoy science fiction satirize things that are shameful but socially acceptable such as:
- Gaps in peoples education (don’t you get tired hearing people saying silly things like “I’m not good at math”)
- Ignorance – cultural, geographical, scientific, etc…
- People’s fear of science and technology and superstitious and ritualistic way they use it
- Obsessions with shallow, and uninteresting reality shows and soap operas
- Ridiculous ways that fans of sports teams tend to behave
There is a lot of comedic potential there. It is not like these things are not funny – it is just seems easier to make cheap nerd jokes. So try to avoid that at all costs. When it comes to your geeks play it straight. Of course you can still have them do “geeky” things like discuss Science Fiction but don’t make that to be the joke. Let me give you an example: when Kevin Smith wrote Clerks he had his characters Dante and Randall have a drawn out discussion about Star Wars:
Can you spot the difference between this and the previous clip? The topic conversation is not the main joke here. Neither is the “geekiness” of the participants. Smith didn’t have a character come in rolling his eyes to signify “look how silly and nerdy these guys are”. No, he has a random guy join in the conversation on an equal footing. They all have an interesting exchange which ends up being somewhat poignant. Yes, they were talking about Star Wars but there is nothing inherently funny about it. Just like there is nothing inherently funny in having conversations about quantum physics or say Star Trek or video games. That’s something I can relate to, because I do have this types of conversations in my daily life. If Big Bang theory did the same with their teleportation discussion I would be thrilled. If they had only dared to explore the topic and come up with some intelligent banter it would be so much better. But instead the writers of that show went for the easy “LOL, Sheldon is such a nerd” cheap-shot.
Do you see where I’m coming from here. Yes, these shows you keep recommending might be funny and worth watching, but they are not made for geeks. They poke fun at us. Not that I’m offended or anything. It’s just that these shows are not what you seem to think they are. Think about it. In real life, I don’t really think of myself and my friends as “the silly nerds”. I don’t find our conversations outlandishly nerdy – though I understand they might sound as such to others. To me though they are just normal day-to-day stuff. That’s my bread and butter..