Monday, February 9, 2009

Paul Collins (and me) on The Big Bang Theory

Paul Collins recently wrote an article on the CBS sitcom "The Big Bang Theory" for Slate Magazine.

I thought it worth sharing for a couple reasons. First of all, if you have not read Paul Collins' book Not Even Wrong: A Father's Journey into the Lost History of Autism, stop reading this right now and go either order it online or, if you're concerned about the demise of local small businesses, go out to your favorite independent bookseller and purchase it.

Not Even Wrong is part historical investigation of autism (Collins is a historian and McSweeney's editor) and part memoir of a family coming to terms with their son's diagnosis. The two distinct aspects of the book are beautifully threaded together, illuminating each other, creating a story that is far more compelling and intelligent than the typical parent-autism-memoir.

Previously, I've written about the radio interview with Paul Collins and his wife, Jennifer, that led me to this book.

But, anyway, this article in Slate.

I watched a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory after my parents recommended it. The premise involves:

...the travails of four Caltech researchers... The running joke of The Big Bang Theory is that these guys are brilliant at understanding the workings of the universe, yet hopeless at socializing with...a waitress who lives next door.

But a more subtle theme is that [one of the characters] Sheldon — flat-toned, gawky, and rigidly living by byzantine rules and routines — appears to have Asperger's syndrome.

I found a good deal of it funny and well-written. Clearly, there are a bunch of real scientists and geeks on the writing staff because regular people just could not make up the dialogue, especially the diatribes on Klingon scrabble or quantum physics.

It's fun to see a character on the spectrum, even if not explicitly stated, in a comedy rather than a weepy Hallmark Hall of Fame-type show. It seems to normalize the traits, while at the same time highlighting (lovingly) their comedic aspects.


But, for me, The Big Bang Theory is actually more funny when you're talking about it or quoting it than it is when you're watching it. That's because it's shot live, in front of a studio audience with the laughs "sweetened" after the fact by a laugh track.

For me, the sound of a laugh track helps me understand what it might be like to have Sensory Processing Disorder. The sound is grating to me and makes me feel agitated such that I can't focus on anything else.

Not to mention it ruins what would otherwise be fine comic timing, as lines are "held" unnecessarily for laughs.

If this show were shot and edited like 30 Rock or Arrested Development, with all the quick cut-aways, throwaway flashbacks, and faster, more subtle timing, it might be one of the best shows on TV.

Or, perhaps you could just combine the best of both worlds. Sheldon and Leonard could somehow get hired as some sort of physics consultants for GE, and they would meet Tracy and Liz and Jack, and get caught up in some kind of hijinks and mistaken identity on the set of the late-night comedy show and...

I guess I'll just leave that one to the fan fiction crowd.


Jordan said...

I just read the book last week and absolutely loved it. AND, I have that podcast in iTunes, still waiting to be listened to, and had NO idea it was Paul Collins and his wife being interviewed, so now I cannot wait to hear it! Thirdly, I need to find out when this show is on and check it out. Thanks for putting it all together for me!

Sharyn said...

Agreed! I also found the book via the Speaking of Faith interview and I'm glad I did.It was quite the page turner...and not just because I am the mother of an autistic son. I feel like the topic - and the way Collins approaches it - has more universal appeal.

Need to look into The Big Bang Theory too. Cheers!

MOM-NOS said...

Thanks for the link! I've never seen the show, but I echo your recommendation of Not Even Wrong. And if you haven't read Collins' other books (Banvard's Folly, Sixpence House, The Trouble With Tom), run right out and get those, too!

Deirdre said...

OK. I started reading this three times before I figured out that you were not talking about Phil Collins. Of Su, Su, Sussudio.