Thursday is my first day I can take a breath this week. The last few have been crazy and so I’ve not found time to edit that bubble video I promised, but it is coming. I hope I can get to it tomorrow.
Today is still full of stuff here and there, including a referee report, another report, some administrative things for my class, and then another attempt to think through a thorny puzzle on a research project. The class admin should have been done last night since Thursday and Friday are supposed to be free of undergraduate teaching issues, according to my agreement with myself. However, we had a seminar visitor – Rene Meyer – and so after my class ended at 7:00pm, instead of doing the administration I went to get a bus to downtown to meet with him and my student Arnab for dinner, at the excellent Blossom, one of my favourites down there. There was a bit of walking around to show them some of downtown’s lovely hidden treasures in the form of so many elegant buildings that are ignored by most. (Yes, people, there are restaurants and cafes and things open downtown at night. And of course bars. Go see.)
Now on to the other thing:
As a result of a phone call that came through while I was hosting Rene yesterday, it seems that later today, between this and that, I’ll be shooting a little, er, “bit” for the TV show Extra, about the comedy show The Big Bang Theory. Maybe. I’ve learned that things are in a constant state of flux in the Industry, and things that were on can be off, and off on, and up down and down up. Even after shooting you never know what can happen. (Recall the Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil thing earlier in the year.) Anyway, it seems that the show is premiering it’s second season next Wednesday and so they’re doing something or other for it. They want an actual theoretical physicist involved, to go with the fictional ones. If it airs, you’ll see what the bit is about. [Update: See here.]
This got me thinking that I’ve never really thought to get opinion from a wide audience about the show. In principle, a portion of the readership of this blog might like it since it is about theoretical physics graduate students, right? Well, let’s see. I’ve never seen a full episode, so my impressions so far are skewed and perhaps unreliable. What I saw was a collection of clips assembled together for United Airlines’ in-flight show and I must admit that I was lukewarm about it. It seemed to just be playing up all the clichés and stereotypes that I try to dispel about scientists: The view that we’re geeky, socially awkward and somewhat otherworldy seemed to be the cornerstone of the comedic aspects that the clips were going for. The view that we’re mostly all male, plain, and dreaming about beautiful females is the other mainstay: The show seems to be about the two guys interactions with the beautiful blonde (of course) girl next door, who is (of course) not herself a scientist.
My idea for well over a decade has been for a TV show about scientists is that it would not just play to the clichés. I think that the time is right, and the audience can get it, if given the chance. I am convinced that one can do drama and comedy while at the same time showing that scientists can be a diverse range of people in terms of temperament, looks, genders, races, and so forth, just like the rest of humanity. Just like in the other “career” shows about doctors, or lawyers, or cops, or nurses, etc. So I was a bit unhappy with what I saw, although I will admit that some of the clips did make me smile.
Having said all of that, I think that I should actually see a full episode or two to see how they do things. I might well be not seeing the big arc (if there is one), and some of the more subtle portrayals and depictions. Being supportive of something that’s almost there, and maybe making gentle suggestions if I get the chance is better than just writing it off, I think. I most certainly want to be supportive of one of the rare prime time network TV shows that has as the main characters people whose main interests are ideas, understanding nature, using their brains, just for the joy and wonder of it. My “people”, after all. Portrayed on prime time network TV. Worth noting and repeating. Here’s their summary of the show (found here):
Created by writer/producers Chuck Lorre (of Two And A Half Men) and Bill Prady (of Gilmore Girls) comes The Big Bang Theory, a sitcom that shows what happens when hyperintelligent roommates/physicists Sheldon and Leonard meet Penny, a beautiful woman moving in next door–and realize they know next to nothing about life outside of the lab. Rounding out the crew are the smarmy Wolowitz, who thinks he’s as sexy as he is brainy, and Koothrappali, who suffers from an inability to speak in the presence of a woman. The show distinguishes itself by being unafraid to toss scientific references and technobabble into an otherwise standard sitcom, even employing a physicist to keep things accurate. In doing so, it allows Sheldon and Leonard to do for science what Frasier’s Crane brothers did for fine dining, art, and opera.
So I will give it a chance and watch a bit of the new season. Besides, good friends of mine who also are scientists have said they liked it, not the least because they recognize accurate portrayals of some of the “types”. (My point is not that they get the types wrong… just that there are more “types” that hardly ever get an airing. My central thesis is that we’ll never get far in improving public appreciation and understanding of science if its practitioners are constantly portrayed as weird and part of an elite class of strange people.)
Anyway, so I’m going to give it another chance. So what do you think? Have you seen it? Do you like it? What would you like to see more of? Less of? I’ll pass your thoughts on to some of the program makers if I get the chance.