Shame is funny.
“Funny” as in odd.
I have no trouble writing about personal stuff. My kids, my life. I once wrote a column about getting naked for a dominatrix. I’ve written about being an agnostic, about going to rehab, all the time my large head — which I’ve also written about — held high.
But a certain subject has been straining forward in its seat, going “oh oh, pick me!” For months and, coward that I am, I’ve been ignoring it.
Because … I’m … well … embarrassed.
Okay, here goes.
The Big Bang Theory.
When I say to my wife after dinner, “Let’s watch TV,” what I mean is, “Let’s watch ‘The Big Bang Theory.'” The only show on television, now in its 11th season Thursday nights on CBS. Plus shown continually in syndication. Some nights TBS runs it seven times in a row, from 6 p.m. to 9:30. Reading the newspaper listings is like giving a hammer to a toddler: “BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG.”
And there, on the couch, night after night, is Mister I-Don’t-Watch-TV, aka me.
At least I’m not alone. “The Big Bang Theory” is the top rated show on television. The most popular show in syndication for the past … 338 consecutive weeks.
So what is the allure?
The premise — for the handful not familiar — would not seem something guaranteed to captivate a nation where half the citizens cower in self-constructed hallucinatory states. Viewers are invited into the lives of a pair of Caltech physicists, Dr. Sheldon Cooper and Dr. Leonard Hofstadter. We meet their colleagues: engineer Howard Wolowitz and astrophysicst Rajesh Koothrappali. Plus their loves — “Big Bang Theory” is probably the most risqué double-entendre title of a hit TV show) — Amy, Penny, Bernadette, and whomever Rajesh is seeing at the moment.
They discuss obscure scientific theories, play video games, eat take-out food and attend comics conventions.
Since journalism about the show invariably focuses on how much each star earns — reportedly a cool $1 million per episode — I want to pause and consider what the performers actually do.
The key is Sheldon, played with praying mantis perfection by Jim Parsons. His superior, scolding manner reminded me of … drawing the veil … a certain young man of my acquaintance. Sheldon will berate his friends for using “who” instead of “whom” while my wife and I exchange knowing glances. Been there.
Parsons doesn’t even have to speak. His blank expression and hooded eyes reminds me of silent film star Buster Keaton, the Great Stone Face, his awkwardness a kind of grace. While Parsons is the hub the show spins around, he has a strong supporting cast, starting with Kaley Cuoco, another actor who evokes a comedy icon. Cuoco’s Penny, the Cheesecake Factory waitress, with her double takes and her easy physicality, conjures up the spirit of Lucille Ball.
Leonard is played by Johnny Galecki, who grew up in Oak Park and starred on the original “Roseanne” (several Roseanne alumni are on the program; the show’s creator, Chuck Lorre, who has a string of TV hits, was a writer and producer on “Roseanne”). They balance each other out: Sheldon’s dry, frosty Asperger calm to Leonard’s flailing, sweaty asthmatic panic.
Room doesn’t allow the rest of the cast to be given their due, but there isn’t a weak actor among them. Simon Helberg plays Howard, the oily Lothario astronaut, one of the creepiest characters on a TV show not involving zombies. A talented impressionist and musician, Helberg held his own performing with Meryl Streep in “Florence Foster Jenkins.”
Why does this show resonate now? It is about something ritually given the brush-off in recent years.
“It celebrates science, it celebrates learning,” said Ken Werner, president of Warner Brothers Domestic Television Distribution, which syndicates the show.
Like all sit-coms, he said, “The Big Bang Theory” offers an alternate family.
“People come to them for comfort,” said Werner, a thought both true and unsettling, and made me realize that, of course, after a day of enduring Trump’s America, I would race for escape for a few hours with my pals in Pasadena.
I keep waiting to get tired of “The Big Bang Theory,” since I watch it so much. But I haven’t yet, and it has been years. I’m glad to finally get this off my chest. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I hope.