This is a post that started as an email to my list. It's from a series of reflections I wrote as coronavirus ramped up. If you enjoy it, perhaps subscribe here.
I started writing this email as a light-hearted recommendation to watch The Big Bang Theory. I've been enjoying it for about 3 weeks now and it's simple, a re-hashing of sitcom old ground, like Friends but with a group of PhDs who self identify as nerds.
If you don't know the show, the focus is on Sheldon, a theoretical physicist who isn't socially aware enough to know he's being taken care of by his mates.
Obviously, I was addicted from the first episode because my partner and his crew are software engineers. The jokes transfer to our social circle. Sort of.
I've been watching The Big Bang Theory in ten-minute increments to relieve COVID-19 anxiety/it's on in the background while I cook or do grunt through kettlebell workouts (I've also been listening to my feminist idols via the Brené Brown podcast Unlocking Us, and Roxane Gay YouTube interviews. So good.)
But I've drafted this email about 8 times and couldn't finish it. I thought it might be to do with Netflix being a waste of energy, so I was doing you a disservice, but I don't believe that; everyone needs downtime with TV, especially right now.
On reflection, what's making me uneasy are the cultural issues with this kind of sitcom.
I know this is just comedy, but lots of it sit doesn't right with me.
For example, for most of the show there's only one BAME character, and Raj almost exclusively makes jokes about being Indian.
There's a lot of unexamined female experience. For instance, have a look at this interaction between Penny, who has never wanted children, and her friend who's already a Mum:
"You only think you don't want kids, but once you have kids, you'll realize that you did want them."
"Or I don't want them, so I won't have them, so back off."
Penny then gets accidentally pregnant and is immediately euphoric, despite horrible morning sickness, and there's no exploration of what a head spin the situation would be for her.
And there's a longstanding joke about two of the straight male characters being in love, as if that would be a terrible thing.
The point of this email isn't to say I'm the wokiest woke who ever woke, to quote Glennon Doyle Melton. I've clearly got a way to go if I couldn't get my thoughts together until 3 weeks after I started watching the show (though I'm cutting myself a bit of slack as this is my first global pandemic).
I'm also not trying to stop you watching trashy TV. I don't think there's a single sitcom made in the last 20 years or so that's aged well, and if you've found a show that's helping you get through this time, there are worse crimes. I find some Big Bang humour to be utterly joyful.
But if I recommended Big Bang without bringing this stuff up, I have no place in feeling like I'm connected to other humans through all this.
This is key because the groups that aren't treated well in sitcoms will be the ones hardest hit by the economic fallout of the virus. That's the way the world works.
So I can't wholeheartedly recommend The Big Bang Theory, unless you put your social criticism hat on when you watch it.
But you never know, if we keep talking about stuff like this, at some point fighting for equality will become mainstream and they might make a sitcom about us.
And I'd have it starring Glennon Doyle Melton, Roxane Gay and Brené Brown. What a thought. That I would advise watching,