The key to “The Big Bang Theory”
The mother of all nerd series is a long-term sitcom about natural science for humanities. In the following we present the dramaturgical key to the interpretation of “The Big Bang Theory”.
© CBSVier Nerds, a thought: At the Halloween party in episode I,6 everyone wants to dress up as the comic character Flash.
When Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons), theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, Caltech, and one of the highly talented main characters of the TV series “The Big Bang Theory” returns from an unwanted trip to Texas in the eleventh episode of the seventh season, he initially knows one concern above all else: How can he catch up on the missed episodes of his favorite TV series as quickly as possible? And one episode later, he is already tormented by a similar problem when, for the sake of his neighbor Penny (Kaley Cuoco) – she has landed a supporting role in the TV series “Navy CIS” – he is forced to wait until episode 246 before he can start the major crime thriller production – “that’s unnatural,” he says. The pedantic Sheldon, who pursues series watching as a science, can only bear this circumstance with a mental hand from his girlfriend Amy (Mayim Bialik), neurobiologist, who advises him to simply imagine that the earlier episodes were part of a prequel. At least he swallows this toad.
The most radical connection between serial fixation and oblivion, however, is made by Sheldon’s roommate Leonard (Johnny Galecki), an experimental physicist at Caltech, in the sixteenth episode of the seventh season. When Sheldon complains that Amy has changed his personality, Leonard replies sarcastically, “Sheldon, you didn’t have a personality, just some TV shows you’re into.” What a vile statement! On the other hand, what kind of show addict wouldn’t understand if he had to force himself to turn off the TV early in the morning.
© CBS Sheldon and Leonard devoutly consider the sword from the fantasy series “Game of Thrones” as a fan article – from episode V,5 on it hangs as a reminder next to the front door of their shared apartment. Who are these people in “The Big Bang Theory” whose lives follow an ever-same pattern: using the bathroom according to an agreed schedule in the morning, a sophisticated cereal variation for breakfast, lunch at 1 p.m. in the Caltech cafeteria, a comic-strip shop or video games in the afternoon, dinner on the sofa in the evening according to a cyclical menu, being permanently right in between? Well, as word has long since got around, they are nerds – people who, according to a conventional understanding, try to minimize in their everyday lives everything that “normal people” would classify as “real life”. And they’re scientists who, aware that there’s not much new in physics, as Leonard says in the third episode of season one, are looking for meaning in artifacts that are convenient for scientific thinking – that is, science fiction movies, video games, comics, over and over again.
This in turn leads to an atmosphere of uselessness throughout the series. The scientific experiments that viewers see at Caltech are infantile, and the mixture of entertainment and science in the nerds’ leisure activities is of course not without its logical flaws, as Sheldon and Leonard know all too well. In summary, one could say that the scientists portrayed not only get nothing out of it, but also their lives are not in order. But interestingly enough, it is precisely this world-opening-vacuum that creates a point of contact with art and the humanities. For in “The Big Bang Theory” everything from the roommate agreement to the “Superman” marathon is so useless that the longing for a meaningful structure creates an immense pull. Basically, “The Big Bang Theory” is a programme about scientists for scientists in the humanities, but natural scientists can also have fun with it. That’s probably also what makes the production so successful.
© CBS-typical experiment at Caltech: How long does a laser beam take to heat up a cup of soup? While the characters in “The Big Bang Theory” strive in their own way to unravel the mystery (see also episode VII,3), in this blog seminar under the irregular heading “Series Understanders” we want to try a similar interpretation approach in the future. Based on a solid binge-watching of our favourite series, we want to use the small and large philological cutlery to present the key to the respective series, even though this approach may seem as cute as Sheldon’s scientific attempt to “discover the root of humour” (VII,12).
The prelude of the “series understanders” has to be done by “The Big Bang Theory” itself, of course, in which the crucial leitmotif, as we will prove in the following, is surprisingly “beer”.
Anarchic gap filler
© CBSDThe place on the kitchen wall next to the hanging frying pans (left behind Penny’s head) is still empty in the first episode, and the first beer in “The Big Bang Theory” occurs after exactly twenty minutes. During this time some drinks have already been carried through the picture (lemonade, water), but the beer is introduced with a joke. At first it only appears in a virtual form, in a video game that shows rocket scientist Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) to Penny, the new neighbor in Sheldon-Leonard’s apartment. As a fantasy avatar, he stomps through a cave-like room and raves that a “great home brew” is being served here. At the same time, this scene is marked by the motif of “alcohol and sexuality”, which plays an important role in the series, not only for the permanent dredger Howard.
© CBSSchon in the second episode, a beer poster is displayed above the sink, but the beer in the second episode makes the decisive appearance. While in the first episode the wall in Sheldon’s kitchen above the coffee machine next to the hanging frying pans was still bare (see picture above), in the tenth minute of the second episode, a poster is suddenly displayed (see picture on the right), on which a robot is located, just smiling and sampling beer. The brewery that belongs to it doesn’t exist anymore for a while, as you can quickly find out on the internet. It has remained known mainly because of the fonts that are used on this poster and which, like the beer, are called “Petre Devos” (this only for nerds).
Almost as important as the beer motif on this poster is the symbolic act of the sudden appearance of the poster and beer in the series. To put it pointedly one could say: Not half an hour could “The Big Bang Theory” do without beer. Beer is the decisive gap-filler in the series, and the poster motif contains yet another clue: Only beer makes the robot man, condemned to mechanical action, happy. Beer as an anarchic element expands the space of experience.
The beer as MacGuffin?
What this means in concrete terms can be seen right away in the fourth episode, in which plenty of beer is drunk from the bottle during a department party at the elite university “Caltech”. Only our super nerds don’t touch a drop yet.
Only in the sixth episode, in which Penny celebrates Halloween in her apartment, the beer motif (almost) comes to completion. One beer follows the other and at some point Penny unexpectedly gives Leonard a first kiss, one that he doesn’t want to take advantage of, which embarrasses Penny and leads to the very important tension between attraction and repulsion. Whereby the rapprochement (see also episode III,23) is always due to Penny’s alcohol consumption. Mostly she drinks to forget her frustration about the missing acting career.
© CBSCatwoman Penny kisses the hobbit Leonard after the excessive consumption of beer.and another dramaturgically important motive is due to beer: the fact that the Indian astrophysicist Rajesh Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar), who is also a friend of Sheldon and Co. If the alcohol is missing, he can’t make a sound until the sixth season. Here, too, beer is used to fill in the gaps. The scriptwriters probably realized that Raj, who was originally designed to be particularly uptight, was difficult to integrate into the series in the long run – and gave him a kind of magic potion.
At this point a suspicion arises: Is the beer in “The Big Bang Theory” in the end just a MacGuffin, a – according to Alfred Hitchcock’s definition – more or less arbitrary object that keeps the course of the plot going without being of any particular use? We will come back to this question later. Here just this much: it has too much substance for that.
The beer jokes get tired
© CBSRaj is the biggest drinker in “Big Bang Theory” next to Penny, but first of all it has to be critically noted that even such a robust motif as “beer” is not spared wear and tear in the long run. At some point in time Raj’s “selective mutism”, which can be overcome by beer, became too much of a hassle for the script writers. Since the seventh season, he has been able to talk to women without having to drink barley juice – a wise decision from a dramaturgical point of view.
But unfortunately, other new episodes show that the “Big Bang” authors no longer only come up with original ideas about beer – maybe because the characters have all become much more relaxed and lifelike in the course of the series anyway and they don’t need the beer as an anarchic stimulant so much anymore. Whereas in previous seasons there were such funny ideas as the ambitious plan to make beer table tennis an Olympic discipline and Penny boasted that she could drink beer underwater as well, in the ninth episode of the seventh season Sheldon, of all people, is chosen to get drunk with Bernadette’s father on Thanksgiving, who washed up – but without any real profit, he completely falls out of Sheldon’s role. The climax of his disinhibition is reached when he slaps his girlfriend Amy on the butt and asks her to get him more beer, which she seems to find totally sexy. What’s less disappointing about this joke is its conventionality than the fact that it is no longer embedded in the plot in a dramaturgical way. It’s just a gag that is prepared with a lot of effort, yet short-lived.
© CBS disappointing beer episode (with burping) in episode VII,9In total, however, the importance of beer in “The Big Bang Theory” as an anarchic, hidden emotion in the rationalistic robotic man evoking element cannot be overestimated. One could even see in the embedding of the motif a confirmation of the thesis of Josef H. Reichholf (“Why people settled down”), according to which only with beer does the long-term human culture begin.
Back to the MacGuffin beer question. One can also answer it immanently against the background of episode VII,4. In this episode, Sheldon is tremendously upset that Amy coldly proves to him that the “Indiana Jones” part “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, one of Sheldon’s favorite movies, is a low product because the movie would have come to the same conclusion even without the main character’s intervention. Indiana Jones a replaceable MacGuffin? You can’t say that about the beer in Pasadena’s Nerd WG. That’s why it’s the most important single motif in “The Big Bang Theory”.
Send contribution by e-mail
The key to “The Big Bang Theory”
By Uwe Ebbinghaus The mother of all nerd series is a long-term sitcom about natural science for humanities. In the following we present the dramaturgical key to the interpretation of “The Big Bang Theory”.
An error has occurred. Please check your entries.
Recipient’s e-mail address
(Separate multiple addresses with commas) Your e-mail address Your name (optional) Your message (optional) Security code To generate a new security code, please click on the image. Please enter the security code shown above.
Send contribution by e-mail Thank you very much
The contribution was successfully sent.