In terms of traditional television, there’s no denying that The Big Bang Theory is a tightly written multi-camera sitcom and a master of the genre's structure and tropes. And it's a huge ratings winner in the US, where it gets roughly 19 million viewers per episode and here in Australia, where it's run on four networks and first run episodes are watched by over a million people.
But that doesn't make it good.
And no matter how funny we think it might be, there are some downright troubling things about this unbelievably popular show. Here's eight of them:
1. The white inner-circle
You mean to tell me that in the spheres of theoretical physics, astrophysics and aerospace, only one person of colour exists?
Raj, the token non-white character, seems to be the only POC capable of finding an entry point into this elusive inner circle. Sure, we could accept this in a show about Swedish catwalk models or a sitcom set in a KKK household, but in the world of “geeks” and “nerds”?
2. Raj is silenced and spoken for from the first episode
I get it. Taking “not being able to talk to women unless you’re drunk” to its most ridiculous extent is a humorous comic trait, especially for a character with such intelligence. Nobody’s denying that it’s a specific character quirk that could be attached to any number of characters
And that’s exactly the point.
Viewers of Indian backgrounds, even if they enjoy other aspects of the show, can’t help but wonder why this quirk was given to the "foreign" guy.
It’s already difficult for minorities to join a network show as anything more than a token, let alone achieve adequate representation on screen, so when Raj meets Penny and is patronised and spoken for by his best mate, Wolowitz, the parallel to reality is a little too hard to ignore.
3. Racist “jokes”
Here, Amy consoles Penny after she partook in bed-related activities with Raj.
Amy: She ruled Russia in the 1700s and one night when she was feeling particularly randy she used an intricate system of pulleys to have intimate relations with a horse.
Penny: I’m sorry, what does this have to do with me?
Amy: She engaged in inter-species hanky-panky and people still call her great. I’m sure your reputation can survive you shagging a little Indian boy.
4. Raj’s self-prejudice
Throughout the series, Raj makes reference to various Indian clichés, which are apparently hilarious. Though these moments wear a veil of lightheartedness, they move with a sinister white America-centric undertone.
Raj: I don’t want to go back to India. It’s hot and loud, and there are so many people. You have no idea, they’re everywhere.
5. The way it depicts women
Three of the 28 people who have written for The Big Bang Theory are women.
That might be why we get episodes where Penny is down about having slept with 30 men, and plenty of Amy and Bernadette’s quirks are defined as reflections of the male characters. (Amy's neurosis makes Sheldon comfortable. Bernadette is very possessive of Wolowitz.)
It’s a story world where “hot” women (Penny) are too vapid to be into intelligent guys, only dating them as relief from attractive assholes, and “not hot” women (Amy) make others shudder - and trigger the laugh track - when they talk about sex.
I like to think that at some point over the last decade, multi-award winning human cartoon Jim Parsons pulled a Ricky Gervais in Extras and refused to continue shooting unless all uses of the catchphrase “bazinga” are stricken from future scripts. The powers-that-be may have shut him down, but at least he tried.
Sheldon’s world-famous synonym for "gotcha" or "suck it" might have gleaned a genuine laugh the first few times, but as catchphrases boast the lasting relevance of a garage sale sign, any utterance of those seven letters is a boldfaced example of both pandering and laziness.
7. The geek community can’t stand it
Yes, there is such a thing as a self-professed geek. In fact, the geek community has taken back the label, which is now more a reflection of esteemed status in the tech community than a pejorative.
Therefore, they can only see the show as reinforcing an outdated stereotype, turning the specificity of the geek into an "otherness" in need of ridicule. Much of the humour comes from shaming the foursome for - or making them look ridiculous because of - being intelligent.
8. Television comedy has moved on
The conventional laugh track sitcom is all but dead. The Big Bang Theory is one of the last remaining juggernauts. While 2 Broke Girls, Two And A Half Men and Mike & Molly continue to rate, they’re slipping, and even new multi-cams like Mom take on much bolder subject matters.
One can only wonder what would happen if Raj walked into a scene from Master of None or Broad City or Key and Peele or Louie - or heck, even Modern Family.
The 200th episode of The Big Bang Theory airs Tuesday, 8 March at 7:30pm on Channel Nine.