When The Big Bang Theory first started, I was a big fan of the show. As a nerd, I could relate to the characters, I knew someone who, while maybe not as brilliant as Sheldon, was certainly as annoying. Leonard’s distant worship of the girl next door was a trap I had fallen into many times. Perhaps best of all, there was science, robots and pop culture references aplenty. Now, however, it just seems to be taking random themes from the world of nerditry, getting a random combination then putting them in a blender till something that’s no longer recognizable but easy for the masses to drink comes out.
The first time I noticed this was when the show started having episodes where video games were a major part of the story line, and there have been a few. Penny has succumbed to MMO addiction while playing Age of Conan, Sheldon’s World of Warcraft (WoW) account was hacked and all of his gear was stolen, and more recently the group played the new Star Wars MMO The Old Republic together.
During the episode The Zarnecki Incursion, episode 19 from season 4, Sheldon’s WoW account is hacked and he loses all of his character’s gear. He comments that his Battle Ostrich mount is a simple bird that preferred a simple, leather harness. Together, the boys band together to travel online through the darkest reaches of the online world of Azeroth, finally entering into a Tavern where all the black market dealing’s go down. You also have this exchange between the characters:
Howard: [while playing World of warcraft] Alright this is the tavern where all the black-market trades go down.
Raj: I don't think my character should be in a place like this, everyone is undressing her with their eyes.
Howard: Maybe they'll stop if you stop dropping your sword and bending over to pick it up!
Raj’s character flirts with a local lowlife and manages to get the information they need, that Sheldon’s stuff was stolen by Todd Zarnecki, who lives close by in the real world. Fast forward some, and the boys are at Zarnecki’s house. They eventually call Penny, who kicks him in the groin until he agrees to give Sheldon back all of his stuff.
All of this makes for an entertaining story, but anyone who has played WoW knows it is completely unrelated to what would actually happen in the real world. Realistically, it would be a similar process to what you would expect if a Facebook account was hacked. Sheldon would report his account being hacked to Blizzard, the parent company of WoW. There would be a short investigation, and his account would most likely be restored to the state it was in before the hack in a relatively short period of time. No vigilantism, no possible charges of assault, no sleaziness in an online tavern.
This wouldn’t be an annoyance if it was a minor mistake, or if it was a relatively obscure property, but given that WoW has over ten million subscribers and the entire storyline is about this very process, the whole episode managed to alienate me and anyone else who knows how these games work. This is in comparison to a “non-nerdy” show, Community, which manages to get nerdism right. There hasn’t been a video game episode at this stage, but there are plenty of nods to pop culture in the background. This has included random anime splices during a foosball game, a three season Easter egg referencing the movie Beatlejuice, and a nod to Malcolm Jamal Warner, who plays series staple Shirley’s husband Andre, and his history playing Theo on The Cosby Show.
This is a show that does not need to tear apart its references in order to squeeze them into the show. When it does show video games, it just shows the guys playing together on the couch, completely desensitized to the online violence they are perpetrating (and completely oblivious to the fact that they are playing with a potential war criminal). It is possible to have your gaming references in a mainstream show. Where The Big Bang Theory gets it wrong is that it does so by having a storyline in their head, throwing a well known name into it regardless of how inaccurate it is to portray it in this way, and eventually alienate the group that they claim that they claim to represent.
Also, Amy Farrah Fowler, the character’s name is the Doctor, not Doctor Who. That’s been bugging me for a while.