Saturday, April 13, 2013

Doctor Who - Cold War - A Review

It pains me to say it, but there's really not much good to say about Cold War. Quite frankly, it's dull.

A big problem I have with the way that Mark Gatiss writes Doctor Who (with the exception of Victory of the Daleks) is that he writes stories which belong to the Classic Series. Don't get me wrong, I love the Classic Series, but the tone and pacing of it is far too different to that of most modern episodes. As a result, they feel lacking in energy, a bit lifeless, and out of place in general. And that, I think, was Cold War's problem. The ingredients for a good story were all there; it had the return of the Ice Warriors, a fantastic historical setting (an armed Russian submarine in the middle of the Cold War) and a great supporting cast. And yet they all felt a little wasted.

The positive: the new and updated Ice Warriors.
Mark Gatiss clearly intended for this episode to be his Dalek; after all, it reintroduced an old foe, intended to show us how lethal they are by showing how dangerous just one can be, and pushed boundaries a little by showing it outside of its armour. The main issue I had was that the Ice Warrior we met, Skaldak, never felt any more threatening than a human. His threat came from his willingness to release the submarine's nuclear missiles into the West and thus ensure Mutually Assured Destruction - however, let's not forget that this is something that anyone could have done. Indeed, that was the very reason why the Cold War was such a terrifying time for so many - because people knew that it would only take one fed-up worker one press of a button to bring on nuclear warfare. In the context of the Cold War, Skaldak's threat was nothing new, and it was hardly the way to convince new viewers of the terror of the Ice Warriors. The terror of mankind's ability to destroy itself, perhaps, but not of the Ice Warriors. However, credit must go to Nick Briggs and the FX team. Skaldak's voice was positively creepy and, visually, he looked fantastic, having retained the classic look of the Ice Warriors of old whilst having been sleeked up for a modern audience. Minus points for his out-of-armour CGI look, though. He looked far more menacing as a faint set of eyes in the dark.

One of the many negatives: the CGI Skaldak.

A welcome aspect of Cold War was its portrayal of a Russian experience of the war. All too often attention is paid to the Western view of events, so it was extremely refreshing in this respect. The supporting cast, too, was particularly strong; Liam Cunningham and David Warner were the real stars in their respective roles of Captain Zhukov and Professor Grisenko. The comedic highlight of the episode was surely Grisenko pleading with Clara to tell him about the future, desperate to know not whether there would ever be peace between the East and the West, but whether or not Ultravox would indeed stay together.

The Doctor, Clara and Captain Zhukov atop the surfaced and disarmed Russian sub.

Cold War also saw Clara continue her development as companion nicely and Jenna-Louise Coleman's performance was, yet again, strong. Her "Am I speaking Russian?" speech is a speech veteran viewers will have heard before in various forms, but was still a lovely comedic touch. Matt Smith, as usual, gave a very solid performance as the Doctor, though my one gripe is that he didn't quite hit the highs he hit with his performance last week. However, I'm aware that there was a lack of great material for him to bite his teeth into.

And that's about all I've got to say, really. The biggest problem with Cold War is that it didn't engage me. The good thing about most of the episodes I dislike is that I still feel compelled to talk about them in some way, but with this I felt - and continue to feel, an hour after watching it - absolutely nothing. If you really love your classic Troughton base-under-siege stuff, you'll love Cold War, but it really wasn't my cup of tea. It failed to be the one thing that Doctor Who should always be: fun.

Cold War fails to live up to the standards of modern day Doctor Who.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Doctor Who - The Rings of Akhaten - A Review

I can't help but feel a bit bad for The Rings of Akhaten. It's been getting a lot of flack on the internet, with many people throwing words like "dull" and "boring" around, and I think that's a little unfair. It had its faults, sure, but it was still a very enjoyable episode of Doctor Who. It was a kind of cross between The End of the World, Gridlock and The Beast Below - and since at least the first two of those three were good, that can only be a compliment.

One thing the episode should be praised for is its ambition. It gave us an alien world, dozens upon dozens of alien creatures (the Doctor Who equivalent of the Star Wars cantina scene), a soul-eating god-like sun, and a moped capable of racing through space. I admit, there were moments where it looked a little cheap; the scenes just after Clara and the Doctor step out of the TARDIS and into the marketplace, for example, looked a little like something you'd have found in the original series of Star Trek. But, of course, that's what has always been part of the charm of Doctor Who. The bubble wrap in The Ark in Space added to the charm of the story, didn't it? Well, same goes for this.

The Doctor and Clara visit the Rings of Akhaten in a visually stunning episode.

Before I launch into talking about the other features of this episode I loved, though, I feel the need to mention briefly something I didn't love. The Rings of Akhaten was, at its core, a distinctly atheist commentary on modern religion and, although I'm not religious myself, I didn't really feel comfortable with the way it was handled. This isn't the first time Doctor Who has dealt with religion - it was one of the central themes of Gridlock, to cite a recent example. However, The Rings of Akhaten didn't appear to handle it with the same kind of grace and respect that Gridlock did. The closest it came to any kind of delicacy was with the Doctor's line "Well, it's what they believe," which Matt Smith delivered with a beautiful warmth. Other than that, it reeked a little too heavily of atheist bias. This isn't my way of saying that Doctor Who shouldn't explore religion - or even that it shouldn't explore it with an atheist slant (because it's pulled that off before in episodes such as Gridlock and The Satan Pit) - I'm just saying that something that big, and something that divisive, should be handled less sloppily.

The only other real problem the episode had was a pacing issue. The plot hurtled towards its climax way too early which, overall, made the episode feel rushed and confused. I was about to suggest that it would have been better as a two-parter, but actually there wasn't enough material for that (which was perhaps the very reason why Neil Cross, who penned this episode, was so keen for the episode to peak so early - in the hope that the momentum of that peak would be able to carry the rest of the story), nor was the basic premise of the plot strong enough to warrant two episodes.

The malevolent, fake God of Akhaten. The Rings of  Akhaten reeks a bit too much of an atheist agenda.

But anyway, on to the positive things! Let's start with Clara. You might remember me saying last week that I hadn't warmed to her as much as I'd warmed to other companions. Well, thankfully this week's episode did a lot to rectify that, and that is in no small part due to the injection of some very RTD-like traits into the way she was written. Her interaction with Merry, the young, scared Queen of Years, was reminiscent of Rose's interaction with Raffalo in The End of the World in that it clearly establishes her capability to empathise with those around her. Empathy is something Amy was distinctly lacking, particularly in her first series, and so it's very pleasing to see that they haven't made the same mistake with Clara. Even putting aside the comparison to Amy, though, establishing Clara as an empathetic character was always going to make her very easy to like - and likeability is absolutely vital for the Doctor's companions. 

Another welcome feature of the episode the inclusion of a lot of Clara's backstory, which showed us how her parents met and got married, and revealed that Clara's mother died a premature death. Now, one could argue that knowing that Clara had to cope with the death of a loved one at a very young age means we're more likely to like her because we feel sorry for her, but I'd argue that whilst there is merit to that point it's perhaps too cynical an approach to take. What makes her likeable is the fact that, by virtue of knowing some of her background, we know Clara herself better; she becomes more human and as a result she becomes more relatable. It gives her a lot of depth, too, because it sheds light on why, as became apparent in The Bells of Saint John, the death of the mother of the children she had been looking after affected her so much. 

The quest to find out who Clara Oswald really is is the arc that links this half of the series together; however, whilst we don't yet know how she came to be a nanny in Victorian England or a crew member aboard the Alaska, I'm happy simply finding out about these little details of her life because they're what truly make her interesting.

Jenna-Louise Coleman gives an assured, likeable performance as Clara.

Another real highlight of this episode was Murray Gold's score, which continues to go from strength to strength. The music of The Rings of Akhaten was always going to have to be strong seeing as so much of the plot centres around the singing; indeed, a good 5-10 minutes of the episode features some kind of singing, which makes it very fortunate that Murray delivered such a corker of a song. His real forte, though, was the instrumental music. Every year Murray's music gets more and more epic and more and more cinematic, and this episode is unequivocal proof of that. The track that plays as the Doctor tells Clara "We don't walk away," was simply sublime. Carry on the good work, Mr Gold!

"We don't walk away." A beautiful scene scored by some beautiful Murray Gold music.

And, finally, we come to Matt Smith. I can put my hand on my heart and honestly say that words cannot do justice to how astonishing his performance was in this episode. One scene in particular will, I hope, come to be viewed as one of the defining moments for his Doctor, one of the iconic scenes revered for decades to come - his 'Have I that right?' moment. It's the scene where he stands alone in front of a raging god and gives this speech:

The Doctor: I hope you've got a big appetite because I've lived a long life and I've seen a few things. I walked away from the Last Great Time War. I marked the passing of the Time Lords. I saw the birth of the universe and I watched as time ran out, moment by moment, until nothing remained. No time. No space. Just me.  I've walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a madman. I've watched universes freeze and creations burn. I've seen things you wouldn't believe. I've lost things you'll never understand. And I know things. Secrets that must never be told. Knowledge that must never be spoken. Knowledge that will make parasite gods blaze. So come on then! Take it! Take it all, baby! Have it! You have it all!

And the thing is, it isn't the speech that makes that scene what it is - it's Matt's performance. In his early days in the show, there were times where he made certain acting choices which I didn't think really worked. But in this scene it becomes evident just how much he has matured as an actor since then. That speech, on paper, is actually pretty arrogant. How easy would it have been to deliver it in an authoritative, powerful way? That's what most actors would have done. But Matt opted instead for vulnerability. He shouts it but his voice shakes. His delivery is so passionate that a tear rolls down his cheek. His performance gives life and meaning to that speech and transforms it into something transcendental. It's not only one of the finest displays of acting Doctor Who has ever seen, but one of the finest displays of acting I've ever seen. Full stop.

Matt Smith's greatest performance, and his Doctor's finest hour.

If that's the kind of scene we can get in an average episode of Doctor Who these days, I can't even begin to imagine what kind of treats we're in for in the 50th anniversary special.



Sunday, March 31, 2013

Doctor Who - The Bells of Saint John - A Review

Steven Moffat, take a bow. One only needs to read other reviews I've written on here to discover that I am no fan of the Moff, and that his episodes are so far from being up my street that they're in a different post code. Yet, perhaps because of my low expectations, or perhaps because it genuinely was pretty damn good, I really, really enjoyed The Bells of Saint John.

The Doctor and Clara do milkshakes in the shadow of... the bells of St Paul?
The episode is significant not only because it kickstarted the second half of Series 7 of Doctor Who but also because it introduced us to the version of Clara that we'll be getting to know over the next few weeks (ie. this isn't Oswin Oswald Clara or Victorian Nanny Clara), and with that in mind it makes sense to focus first on the character herself. Now, I'll be honest, I was a bit apprehensive before the episode started. I hadn't liked her at all in Asylum of the Daleks and I'd liked her even less in The Snowmen. She was the same kind of stock-female character that Moffat almost always writes, and I was dreading the prospect of enduring weeks of her as the companion. But how wrong I was. Don't get me wrong, there are still aspects about the way she's written that remind us that she's a Moffat Female Character, but she was much more independent, and a lot warmer actually, than I'd been expecting. I loved how, at the end of the episode, instead of instantly taking the Doctor up on his offer to travel with him, she told him to come back the next day ("because I might say yes"); in fact, it reminded me rather a lot of Martha's departure and River's attitude to travelling in the TARDIS ("whenever and wherever you want - but not all the time"). The ability to say no to the Doctor and to not be overawed by all the things he can offer demonstrates a lot of autonomy and even maturity, and I very much liked that about Clara. And the fact that she has a family of sorts grounds her and makes her much more emotionally identifiable than Amy ever was. It was the lack of a family to come back to that proved to be a massive (though, sadly, one of many) flaw in the Amy's character, so I'm just glad that Clara has people at home that she cares about and who she will one day want to come back to. Furthermore, I like Jenna Louise Coleman's portrayal of Clara. I don't love it, but I like it. And actually, that rather sums up my attitude to Clara as a whole. At the moment, I like her but I don't love her. Thankfully, though, she's got plenty more time to impress.

Welcome to the TARDIS, Clara Oswald.
One thing that nobody could have missed is how stunningly beautiful the episode looked. Of course, that is due in part to the direction of Colm McCarthy (why is he not directing more episodes this series? That's what I want to know!) but I do believe that the real reason for the episode's beauty is its choice of setting: the city of London. I've said it before and I'll say it again, London is one of the - if not the most - beautiful cities in the world, and its landmarks were the star of every scene they were in. I honestly can't tell you how much I loved the Doctor racing through Westminster and under Admiralty Arch, or how much I adored the scene in which Clara and the Doctor have coffee (well, milkshakes) in the shadow of St. Paul's Cathedral and the Shard. London gave the episode a truly epic feel, and Colm McCarthy did the city justice in such a way that he managed to make an episode of a sci-fi show look as majestic as Skyfall. However, speaking of the Shard... How FANTASTIC was the way it was used in this episode?! The scene in which the Doctor rides his antigrav motorbike up the building and into the office on floor 65 was the most fun Doctor Who scene Steven Moffat has ever written. It was like something out of a Russell T Davies script. Fun-wise, it was right up there with the flying bus sequence in Planet of the Dead. And the 'fun-ness' of that scene reflects how fun the rest of the episode was. I loved the TARDIS becoming one of the many performance acts you find on the South Bank! (Did it remind anyone else of the John Cleese/Eleanor Bron scene from City of Death? "Exquisite! Absolutely exquisite!") And I loved the whole plane flying sequence, too! Fun has been something that has been distinctly lacking in Steven Moffat's Who, which is why I'm so relieved that this episode actually was fun. It certainly bodes well for the future.

The Doctor riding his antigrav motorbike up the Shard. What could be more fun?!
The Bells of Saint John - Doctor Who's answer to Skyfall.
So, we've established that London was the star of the show. But do you know who was the other star? I'll tell you - Murray Gold. Words cannot even describe how fantastic that man's music can be at times, and I'm pleased to say that with his score for The Bells of Saint John he outdid even himself. The themes he writes for the companions are always superb and the highlight of the soundtracks in which they feature, and the theme he has written for Clara is no exception. It's beautiful, and at times very Alan Menken-esque, and I can't wait to hear more of it - and maybe even to hear it develop - in future episodes. However, for me, the best musical moment in the episode, without a doubt, came at the end of the episode. The guitar that plays when Clara is about to leave the TARDIS, just as she turns back around to look at the Doctor, is perfect in every single sense of the word. It is very rare to hear guitars (especially acoustic ones) used in soundtracks, so in many ways it was an odd choice to choose a guitar to be the instrument that led into the episode's final rendition of I am the Doctor, but my God did it work. I can't even explain why it worked, it just did. It made an already beautiful scene transcendental, and helped confirmed its status as one of the best ever scenes of New Who. It genuinely gives me chills - it's that good.

The Doctor: Clara? 
Clara: Uh huh?
The Doctor: In your book there was a leaf. Why?
Clara: That wasn't a leaf, that was page one.

"That wasn't a leaf. That was page one."
So, overall, there was a lot right about this episode. Don't get me wrong, it's not quite a classic per se, but it was very solid and extremely enjoyable, with more than its fair share of fantastic moments. For example, the revelation about what the bells of Saint John actually were (the sound of the TARDIS's external phone ringing) was brilliant and very clever, despite having little overall relevance to the rest of the episode. And the scene in which we learn that Miss Kizlet (the episode's main villain, played rather wonderfully by the equally wonderful Celia Imrie) was abducted as a child? Genius! And heartbreaking. That's the kind of depth I wish Moffat would give to all of his minor characters. He proved with Miss Kizlet that he could do it as well as Russell T Davies did it, so let's hope he continues to do so. All in all, The Bells of Saint John was an extremely strong (half) series opener, in fact probably the best one Moffat has written, and if the rest of the series lives up to the promise of this first episode, then I'll be a very happy bunny* indeed.

Happy Easter, everyone!

*(Haha, see what I did there? It's funny because I'm writing this on Easter Sunday.)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Defending The Big Bang Theory

A good friend of mine recently asked me to read THIS Tumblr post, in which the writer intelligently and eloquently articulates why he/she can’t bring themselves to like The Big Bang Theory. There are a lot of good points made in the post but I can’t quite say I agree with them, and so I’d like to take this opportunity to defend one of my favourite TV shows. But before I do, I’d highly recommending reading the whole post for yourself, as I’ve had to cut a few bits out (partly because I’d end up repeating myself but mainly because I’ve only seen one episode of Community!).
The cast of The Big Bang Theory.

And here’s my issue, here’s why The Big Bang Theory makes me feel uncomfortable. We aren’t laughing with Leonard, Sheldon, Raj and Howard. We’re laughing at them. Chuck Lorre has given us four exceptionally intelligent, nerdy main characters and he’s positioned us as an audience against them. When I watch Big Bang it becomes more and more obvious that I’m not supposed to relate to the guys (or more recently Amy Farrah-Fowler). I’m expected to relate to Penny. You only need to pay attention to the audience laughter to realise that TBBT relies on positioning us as an outsider to the nerds, as someone like Penny who doesn’t understand their references, their science, their vocabulary even, and who doesn’t care to learn.” 

I would actually argue that we laugh with Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Raj more than we laugh at them. But because the paragraph’s argument is centred around the supposition that we laugh at them, let’s work with that.
Laughing at comedic characters is not something that is exclusive to The Big Bang Theory, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. When you strip comedy down to its most raw and simple form, a lot of it derives from laughing at people. In Only Fools and Horses we’re supposed to laugh at Trigger; in Gavin and Stacey we’re supposed to laugh at Uncle Bryn; in Fawlty Towers we’re supposed to laugh at Manuel and, to an extent, Basil himself; in The Vicar of Dibley we’re supposed to laugh at pretty much everyone who isn’t Geraldine or David. The list goes on. However, just because we laugh at characters it does not mean we actively dislike them. On the contrary, it’s usually those characters that become the most beloved and memorable characters in their respective shows. (I walked into my university kitchen a few months ago wearing a “Bazinga!” t-shirt with Sheldon’s face on, and the first thing one of my flatmates said to me was, “I LOVE SHELDON!!!”)
I would also argue that not being able to relate to characters isn’t necessarily a problem. In The Big Bang Theory Penny serves the exact same purpose as the companions do in Doctor Who. In Doctor Who the main character is, just like the main characters in The Big Bang Theory, far more intelligent than the audience and well outside our frame of reference. We’re not supposed to be able to relate to him. Through the companion we are able to enter his world, just as through Penny we are able to enter Sheldon, Leonard, Raj and Howard’s world. Therefore rather than simply being outsiders to their world, we’re outsiders stepping in. And actually, it’s from that collision of worlds that a lot of the comedy derives. Sheldon finds Penny’s world just as ridiculous as she finds his. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s quite accurate to say that Penny doesn’t care to learn about this strange, new culture. She might not understand Sheldon & co.’s world and she might not be as excited by its contents as they are, but that doesn’t equate to being completely unwilling to learn about it. If that were the case, we would never have had (to cite just one example) an exchange of dialogue like this:
                    Penny: Do or do not. There is no try. 
                    Leonard: Did you just quote Star Wars?!
                    Penny: I believe I quoted Empire Strikes Back!
                                  -  3.19, The Wheaton Recurrence

You can't say Penny doesn't try!
“The Big Bang Theory rarely constructs jokes. Often it relies on pop culture references as humour. I recently listened to a podcast from The Film Talk where – when reviewing the film Ted – they spoke about the psychology behind reference as joke. We laugh when we hear a pop culture reference out of nostalgia, we remember enjoying it so we laugh at the referenced rather than the reference. Laughing at a pop culture reference also shows that we understand it. It creates a sense of inclusion, we don’t want other people to think we didn’t get the reference so we laugh to show that we too understand, we too know our culture. And don’t get me wrong, I love a good pop culture reference, my all-time favourite show is Buffy The Vampire Slayer and that’s full of them. However, a reference for a reference’s sake does not count as a joke. It’s lazy humour and it’s surprising to see just how often Big Bang utilises this.”
I have to admit, this isn’t a theory that I was aware of, though I think it’s a very interesting idea. I’m inclined to disagree with it somewhat, but that’s not to say it’s universally untrue since humour works differently for different people. Personally, I’d say that even though I enjoy understanding the various pop culture references the show makes, I don’t laugh at them unless I find them genuinely funny. For example, I didn’t laugh when, in The Jiminy Conjecture, Leonard and Sheldon debated the origins of Wolverine’s bone claws, yet I killed myself laughing in The Big Bran Hypothesis when the guys animatedly discussed the scientific validity of Superman saving Lois Lane from falling to her death. I can see how The Film Talk’s theory might hold water during the actual taping of the show (which is done in front of a live audience); however, I don’t think it explains why viewers who watch the show from their living rooms laugh. They, especially if they’re watching by themselves, have no other people to ‘convince’, and therefore I’m inclined to believe that when they laugh, they’re laughing because they find it genuinely funny. Lazy humour is, I think, perhaps the wrong term for it. It’s more the verbal equivalent of slapstick; simple, effective, but still valid. – As I said, though, humour changes from person to person and I’m no psychology expert, so feel free to disagree!

Sheldon discusses Superman.
“But this specifically is not my main problem, lazy humour is one thing but cruel humour is quite another. If you watch, really watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory and pay attention to when the audience laughs it soon becomes clear that what they’re laughing at. What Chuck Lorre wants us to find funny is not the jokes which the characters are making, it’s the characters themselves. At one point Howard mentions playing Dungeons and Dragons. There is no joke attached to this, it’s not the punchline to any set up, however it is treated as one. Howard says the words “Dungeons and Dragons” and the audience laughs. They’re not laughing at a joke, they’re laughing at the fact that Howard plays D&D. And this kind of thing happens all the time throughout the show. How many times has a joke been made out of Leonard owning action figures or Sheldon collecting comics? When, in season one, Penny invites the guys to her Halloween party and they are excited about making costumes, we’re supposed to laugh at them, to think they are silly for dressing as a Hobbit or Thor when everyone else is trying to look sexy. The reason I feel uncomfortable watching The Big Bang Theory is because it’s laughing at me, at people like me.”
Here, I’d like to make reference to my earlier point about laughing at characters being perfectly normal in comedies. The characters in The Big Bang Theory are designed to be funny – just as the characters in shows such as Friends and The Simpsons are designed to be funny. And actually, a lot of the time the jokes are just as funny as the characters themselves. It’s hard for me to respond to the Dungeons and Dragons point because I don’t know which episode that scene is from – but I do disagree that we’re really laughing at them because of what they do. It’s more the enthusiasm they have for what they do that we find funny, but that’s a universal kind of humour that would work in the case of any type of character. Let me explain. At the beginning of The Weekend Vortex there’s no laughter when Raj suggests spending the weekend playing the new Star Wars video game; in The Vegas Renormalization we don’t laugh at the guys playing Star Wars Guess Who?; and in The Cushion Saturation we don’t laugh at them playing inter-departmental paintball. As I said, it’s not them or what they do that we laugh at in the show - it’s their enthusiasm. I think we would find it just as funny if, say, a typical jock-like character were equally as excited at the prospect of dressing up as a football player. We laugh at their enthusiasm not because we’re ridiculing it but because we recognise it. It’s the same kind of enthusiasm that we see in Apple fans who queue up for days just to be first to get their hands on the latest product. It’s the same kind of enthusiasm we see in Call of Duty fans whenever a new game in the series is released. It’s the same kind of enthusiasm we see in football fans when their team have made the cup final. Everybody is incredibly enthusiastic about something, and we love seeing the characters in The Big Bang Theory so unashamedly enthusiastic about what they love because it taps into the fanboy/fangirl part of all of us.

The Big Bang Theory: exposing the inner fangirl/fanboy in all of us.
 “This disdain for the main characters taints the show for me. It seems mean, bullying and like I said before, just lazy. I feel like Chuck Lorre is collectively breaking our glasses and stealing our lunch money. You see, this kind of humour only works if in fact you do relate to Penny. If you relate to Leonard, or god forbid Sheldon, you don’t feel entertained, you just feel belittled. The way that even the three guys laugh at Sheldon seems especially cruel. Yes, he’s painted as annoying, as an inconvenience and as just plain rude, however he is also read by many as autistic. So much so that my friend who works at a school for autistic children believed he had Asperger’s Syndrome and once asked me how they got away with ridiculing a character with special needs. I explained to her that no, Sheldon is not canonically autistic and she was shocked. She told me that he was a totally accurate portrayal of someone on the autistic spectrum and had many characteristics of someone with Asperger’s – specifically the inability to recognise sarcasm or understand human emotion as well as the obsession with “his spot” and his distress when routine is changed. Sheldon is consistently positioned as someone to be laughed at. It’s made to seem ok by the fact that his friends are laughing at him too and, of course, he isn’t technically autistic he’s just almost indistinguishable from someone who is.” 

I’m actually aware that a lot of people believe Sheldon to be autistic, and whilst this isn’t an idea that crossed my mind when I first started watching the show, I can understand why people think this. It’s a very difficult topic, I’ll admit, and I’m still not 100% sure what I think. But I think it’s the fact that, in my view, The Big Bang Theory hasn’t crossed the line between cruel mockery and comedy that keeps it funny. At the end of the day, Sheldon was not written as an autistic character. Pedantry is a trait associated with but not exclusive to autism. The kind of pedantry Sheldon displays stems from his arrogance, which in turn stems from his genius, and this is why it is funny. It’s because we know that, ultimately, although Sheldon may be the butt of many jokes he is also the instigator of many jokes (hence “Bazinga!”) and is still the cleverest person in whatever room he stands in. He isn’t quite as vulnerable as autistic people are which is why it is ‘safe’ to laugh at/with him. If autism had deliberately been the basis of his character then yes, it would be wrong to laugh in the way that we do. But it wasn’t, and it would be wrong, I think, to think less of Sheldon’s funniness as a character simply because he – accidentally – possesses a trait linked (but, to reiterate, not exclusive) to autism. 

Dr. Sheldon Cooper.
“I relate far more to Leonard, Raj, Howard and yes, even Sheldon than I do to Penny. When the studio audience laughs at the mention of Battlestar Galactica, at the fact that Leonard has a bat signal, at the idea that someone would wait in line to see a new cut of Indiana Jones, they are laughing at me too. They are saying they’re better than me, that I’m silly for liking those things and that makes me a target for ridicule. When I talk about alphabetising my DVD collection, or when I mention the fact that I watch certain TV box sets on certain days according to a schedule my older brother calls me Sheldon. He thinks that because I like organisation, because I, like Sheldon, am a nerd, he is superior to me. I am proud of the things that I like. I am proud of knowing a lot about those things. I am proud of being enthusiastic about the things I love and The Big Bang Theory wants to tell me not to be. It wants me to be like Penny, intellectually inferior but far more socially acceptable.
And all this wouldn’t really matter if not for the fact that The Big Bang Theory targets nerds as part of its fan base. We’re used to being ridiculed on TV but it’s usually by shows which aren’t aimed at us. The Big Bang Theory goes to Comic-Con, it sells its merchandise at Forbidden Planet. The fact that it sells merchandise at all says that wants part of a cult nerd following. The Big Bang Theory is the worst kind of bully – the one that pretends to be your friend and then takes the piss out of you behind your back. It will take your viewership, it will take your money and it will laugh in your face as it systematically puts you down.”s
For what it’s worth, in terms of interests I probably relate a lot more to Leonard, Raj, Howard and Sheldon than I do Penny, and I’ve not once felt belittled. I genuinely believe that, at its core, The Big Bang Theory is a show that celebrates people like them rather than one which ridicules them.

A celebration of nerds.
“And this isn’t even touching on the way TBBT portrays women. Most notably the fact that until recently the only female character on the show had no understanding of science or nerd culture, and the episode in which it’s treated as a miracle that a woman is in a comic book store – “she must be lost” they say. Even Amy Farrah Fowler isn’t the geek girl representative we may have hoped for. She’s portrayed as distinctly asexual and when she mentions sex it’s always played for laughs, because of course intelligent, socially awkward women shouldn’t think about sex at all. Another troubling thing about Big Bang is its insidious homophobia. We are supposed to laugh whenever Howard and Raj do something which could be considered as homosexual. The closeness of their friendship is the target of jokes as is their fear and disgust at being mistaken for a gay couple. Again Amy Farrah Fowler’s frequent references to lesbian experimentation are treated as absurd. We are supposed to laugh at her possible attraction to Penny and at Penny’s discomfort when she alludes to this. Considering Jim Parsons (who plays Sheldon) is himself gay, as is Sara Gilbert (who plays the recurring character Leslie Winkle), you would think – or at least hope for a more accepting attitude towards homosexuality. Similarly, with guest stars such as Wil Wheaton, a champion of nerd culture, you’d think they’d refrain from ridiculing nerds the way they do.”
On the whole, I don’t think I have a huge problem with the way in which women are portrayed in the show. Penny is undoubtedly the main female character, but the character of Bernadette (whose intelligence can’t be disputed) has, I believe, been around since the early episodes of the third season. Before her, Leslie Winkle, admittedly only a minor character, was frequently shown to be more than a match for Sheldon. In the case of Amy, we don’t laugh at her when she talks about sex because she’s an intelligent woman talking about sex, or because her sexuality is somewhat ambiguous, we laugh because she often talks about it in a fundamentally inappropriate way, and it comes as such a shock to our systems that in many ways the only thing we can do is laugh.
What I do have a problem with, though, are the constant race jokes that Raj (and other characters) makes about himself. Episode after episode there are allusions to the colour of his skin; there is persistent disparagement of Indian culture, and there is a sort of relentless reminder that he is foreign. Culture jokes are fine when they’re done lovingly and done well (see Bend It Like Beckham if you want a perfect example of this), but when The Big Bang Theory tries its hand at them they are tasteless and uncomfortable to watch, and that is the only gripe I have with the show.

Raj: poorly handled in the show.
 “To bring this to a close I think I found my answers:
Why don’t I like The Big Bang Theory anymore? I think at first I was so happy to see people like me represented on mainstream television that I ignored the cruelty behind the humour. As I continue to watch the programme and see more and more repeats on E4 in the daytime it’s become much clearer that actually I’m not being represented. I’m being ridiculed.
Why do I feel uncomfortable watching it? Because whenever I laugh at a joke, and I do sometimes find it funny, I feel like I’m laughing at my friends, like I’m putting myself and the people I identify with down. And that’s not a nice feeling, that’s not how I want to feel when I watch a comedy.
Why do I get so annoyed when I see people singing its praises online? Because it reminds me that however many times people say that geek is cool, that nerd is en vogue, there will always be people laughing at me and making money from me at the same time.
I’m sorry for the huge post. I just really wanted to get my view of things out there and hear what people think, whether people agree or think I’ve taken it in completely the wrong way.”
Ultimately, I’m really grateful to have had the chance to respond to such a well-written argument. I don’t agree with much of what it says but it’s good to look at both sides of the coin and it’s really made me think about why I do like The Big Bang Theory.
I think it’s a shame that there are a lot of self-professed nerds out there who don’t like the show. I’m quite the geek myself, and I genuinely believe that the show is a celebration of geekiness and nerdiness. It’s a show made for people like us which the rest of the world just happens to have fallen in love with.