After a long day at work I like to return home and watch Netflix for a while before being so tired I have to crawl to bed. I turn the lamp on in the living room, create some ambience and prepare a snack of either chocolate or vegetarian halloumi and red pepper bites from ASDA.
Recently my show of choice has been The Big Bang Theory which I started watching from the tenth season on Netflix, due to my older sister’s love of the show I have seen seasons 1-9 before. So there I a
m sat chuckling to myself in a mostly darkened room while wrapped in a blanket and drinking decaffeinated Yorkshire tea.
The jokes on the show are occasionally funny, the characters all have basic flaws and appear to be some what three-dimensional. Though that is when you start to realise the shows own flaws within its writing.
First of all the character of Penny – one of the main trio of the whole programme – does not have a last name. From the very beginning of the s
hows run when she is introduced she is just ‘Penny’, whereby Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter are clearly established. By lacking something as simple as a last name it speaks volumes about her character, or rather what the writers think of her character.
This is something that becomes a sort of ‘joke’ in the wed
ding episode where she marries Leonard. I struggle to see how trying to back peddle and make a joke out of a simple over-sight of character development is supposed to come across as anything other than rude. It is as though the writers got to the wedding scene and were like ‘oh, yeah..urgh that is weird, perhaps a laugh track over the top will distract people.’ Guess what, it didn’t.
Executive producer Steve Molaro told Vulture, “You know, I don’t think we will [reveal it]. We’re kind of a superstitious lot here. We’ve made it this far without knowing Penny’s last name. I think we’re good not
finding out.” What? By fleshing out a character you may jinx the show? That makes no sense and frankly is a shoddy answer.
According to an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Molaro was again pressed for information about Penny’s last name, he explained that at the beginning on season nine she gets a last name – her husband’s one. He went on to say; “She has taken his n
ame, and maybe that’s convenient, so we don’t have to deal with her maiden name, but she is Penny Hofstadter now.” I am ready to scream and hit something. What? You are dehumanising your female lead for nine years and then your solution is ‘she gets married and therefore no longer needs her own identity’? Though, what more am I expecting from the creator of Two And A Half Men which was dripping in male only juices.
The second problem the show seems to have, which to me is probably one of the most difficult, is the character of Dr. Sheldon Cooper. At the start of the show he is seen to be a highly rational thinking and neurotic person who shows several qualities found in people suffering from OCD as well as those identified on the autism spectrum. To some people these traits though not medically diagnosed or specifically spoken about in those terms on the sit-com create the character of Sheldon as cruel and insociable. However, on the matter while talking to Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dr. Mayim Bialik (who plays Amy Farrah Fowler on the show
) who also holds a PhD in neuroscience said; “All of our characters are in theory on the neuropsychiatric spe
ctrum, I would say […] Sheldon often gets talked about in terms of Asperger’s or OCD. He has a thing with germs, he has a thing with numbers, he’s got a lot of that precision that we see in OCD. There’s a lot of interesting features to all of our characters that make them technically unconventional socially.”
Throughout the show we see all the characters develop and change somewhat from their simple beginnings. In the case of Sheldon this is not through any form of medication or forcing him to suddenly change his social interactions skillset – rather he finds friendship and passions (both personally and romantically) but fundamentally remains the same lovable Sheldon. Yes he does sometimes say the wrong thing but that is part of who he is as a person. It should not simply be boiled down to whether it can be medically labelled and treated.
Mayim Bialik also stated that; “I think that’s what’s interesting for those of us who are unconventional people or who know and love people who are on any sort of spectrum, we often find ways to work around that. It doesn’t always need to be solved and medicated and labelled.
“And what we’re trying to show with our show is that this is a group of people who likely were teased, mocked, told that they will never be appreciated or loved, and we have a group of people who have successful careers, active social lives (that involve things like Dungeons and Dragons and video games), but they also have relationships, and that’s a fulfilling and satisfying life.”
On the other hand Kerry Magro, an adult with autism who is a national autism speaker and advocate, says that Sheldon Cooper has become a figure of importance within the autism community.
Magro, in his guest post for Autism Speaks, wrote; “No matter why you watch the show, after talking to many individuals in our community, the biggest reason why people seem to be drawn to him is that he’s absolutely genuine. He is who he is and doesn’t pretend to be someone he isn’t. He’s just his own unique self.”
It seems that by not labelling Sheldon as someone on the spectrum that it allows a wider range of viewers to gauge and learn about how other people function. Perhaps naming a condition for Sheldon’s unique personality would actually be a disservice for many people who find solace within his quirky ways.
At the end of the day these issues do exist within the show. Though it is still easy comedy. It does not require a lot of thought and at times cringing at the characters is as funny as laughing at them. There seems to be an imbalance in how it portrays certain characters at times and I hope that if this continues the way it has been that the writers learn how to actually do their job. Maybe by the time the series wraps for good all of these creases will have been ironed out. I will continue to watch it half-heartedly, sat in a nearly dark room after a long day at work. Not having to think is always a nice end to the day.
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