Sunday, January 26, 2014

I Like Big Bang Theory

Every decade or so a major sit com (situation comedy) comes along that captures not only an audience but the imagination of the audience as well. Examples include shows like Odd Couple, Mash, Seinfeld, Friends and, now Big Bang Theory. To the comedy purists I should note that I am aware of the fact that Big Bang Theory uses a laugh track and has both a formula and an ensemble cast. I am also aware of the fact that these are considered ear marks of a cheesy TV sit com. In fact this formula was satirized by Ricky Gervais in Extras. I agree that formula TV sit coms are not generally the height of comedy. But, some times they are and here are some reasons why Big Bang Theory rises above the clutter.

First, the characters are archetypes. We have all known people like the characters in the show. But, these characters are both larger than life and self contradictory. Viewers can both relate, at some level, to each character but they can also relate to the others that the character irritates. If it were a standard ensemble viewers would side with a character while disliking others. But, due to the clever character construction there are things we like and dislike about each character.

Second, they are not only funny but they resonate with the audience. Following the archetypes theme in the previous paragraph, the characters resonate with the audience. We not only recognize people we have known, we recognize aspects of ourselves. And, in recognizing ourselves we can gain insight into our conflicts and sublimate our concerns.

Third, they allow the audience to laugh at themselves as much as they laugh at the characters. Some times all you do when faced with the complexity and unfairness of life is to laugh at the human condition. As we laugh at the characters in the cast we also laugh at ourselves.

Fourth, the comedy is both universal and unique to a moment in time. One of the strengths of the show is that it works at multiple levels. There are universal themes instantiated in the moment. The instantiation in the moment makes it relevant while the universality makes it more enduring.

Of course, the writing is excellent. This is not to say that the acting isn't good. It is. Making these larger than life archetypes is no small feat. But, without the excellent writing there would be nothing to reveal through the characters.

Sixth, the story has legs and the legs are used. Some people feel that serial TV shows should never run more than a few seasons as the story gets stale and forced. But, the secret is to have the characters evolve so they face new situations. This is tricky since we like the show because we know the characters. If they evolve into different characters we might not like them as much. So, the writers walk a fine line between having the characters grow and evolve without making them unrecognizable in the process. So, far they have managed to pull it off. There is a natural entropy in a series show and so far the writers have managed to stave it off.

Seventh, the cast has a natural chemisttry. Three of the cast worked together on the Rosanne Show and already had a working relationship. But there relationships are not the main story. So, you get the benefits of their experience without having it over shadow the new show. 

Finally, they fold in cameos from big name actors which provides a stamp of authenticity. It is an honor, for example, to have Bob Newhart on the show. But it is an honor for Bob Newhart as well. There has been a parade of cameos as big name characters honor the show and receive honor as well. This removes the isolation of sit com in a studio and integrates it into the reality of daily life. This in turn increases the resonance and excitement of the show.

Yes, they have done a wonderful job.

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