13 January 2010


Linda Holmes at NPR has an interesting observation about a sitcom.

I truly despised the pilot of CBS's The Big Bang Theory, which aired in the fall of 2007. I found it unfunny, obnoxious, stilted, and tired. But now, having been persuaded to try it again this fall -- and intrigued by the fact that its audience was steadily growing, which very rarely happened -- I've really come to love it

Funny, I caught an episode of the show early on (maybe it was the pilot) and was similarly unimpressed, and then found myself exposed to it again recently (I think on an airplane?) and had the same reaction. What happened?

She outlines in fascinating detail that the answer is: just a little bit of ... feminism.

When people say things like “male gaze,” it's easy for it to seem (1) extremely obscure and (2) absolutely no fun at all, in addition to (3) not really relevant if you aren't in film school. But the changes in this particular show make for a great example of the fact that you don't just avoid empty, cliched versions of women (or men, and I am looking at you, Sex And The City) because they're offensive or infuriating or anything like that. The best creative reason to avoid them is that they make your show bad.

Click through, if only to see the “Sheldon knocking” montage.


Rhett Aultman said...

It's amazing what happens when you just fix the gaze issues. A true joy in watching "Whip It!" other than seeing derby on the big screen was the fact that Barrymore directed a film that's almost completely free of male gaze.

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone judge a sitcom by its pilot episode?

Jonathan Korman said...

Well, in Ms Holmes' case, she's a professional television reviewer, so it's her job to look at pilots.

It's not quite as bad a way of judging a show as you might think. On the one hand, a lot of things about how a show will work themselves out in the first few episodes, making the pilot a bit unrepresentative. On the other hand, with the extra time and money that goes into a pilot, the makers of the show --- especially the writers --- bring their A game, so especially in a sitcom where the writing is hugely important, the pilot can give a good sense of the show.

Anonymous said...

In good/funny sitcoms, the humor comes from the characters and their relationships. Good/funny sitcoms are not just a string of jokes.

In the pilot, there aren't any established characters or relationships. All they can do is throw out a string of jokes as they try to set up the characters.

The relationships must build over time, though. From that you get excellent episodes and excellent humor.

Anyway, The Big Bang Theory is a great show. There was never anything wrong with the Penny character.