Tag Archives: CBS

Big Bang Theory Isn’t That Fucking Good – Redux

1 Mar

A couple of years ago, I wrote this essay about how confused I was that CBS’s The Big Bang Theory was getting such high ratings on Thursday nights against NBC’s Community. I blamed the Nielsen ratings system. It’s not that I expected Big Bang Theory to get low ratings, or that I thought Community could or should eclipse it, I was just boggled by the fact that Big Bang Theory was the highest-rated sitcom, period, and decimated NBC’s offering by a factor of five. I mean, to be clear, I think Big Bang Theory sucks, but I’m not amazed that it’s popular.

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Last night, the fourth episode of the fourth season of Community aired. This season, which was supposed to begin in October 2012 but was inexplicably pushed to February of this year, is the first without creator Dan Harmon on writing staff. He was canned for reasons about which I am unclear and don’t really care to know. I like Dan Harmon, I think what he did with the show touched upon brilliance, but I don’t think he’s a flawless writer. There were lots of dropped points and gaping plot holes left in his wake. But it was pretty clear, and is crystal fucking clear now that Harmon loved these characters. Even Pierce, despite Harmon’s public feuding with Chevy Chase, was handled with humanity when it came time to film. I say this with renewed appreciation for Dan Harmon, because Community fucking sucks a dead dog’s diseased dick right about now.

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It’s tough to wield such a large cast every week, at least I can imagine. But that doesn’t mean you need to shoehorn every character into each episode just to justify their paychecks. Write them in. Use your ability to write. I could make an episode of Troy and Abed having a conversation while every other character gets a walk-on opportunity to cut a fart. But I wouldn’t have really written anything except for Troy and Abed’s lines. This is sort of where the show is now, an A plot and a lamer B plot and then Pierce and Shirley are marginalized to mutter under their breaths or–this is actually true of the first episode–make a series of lame dick jokes. Dan Harmon was good at satire and parody, and the show reflected that under his guidance. I expected that to change with a new writing staff. What I didn’t expect was a lazily-written sitcom so contrived that I wished there was a laugh track so I’d know when something funny happened.

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Last night’s episode, where the study group fought for their study room, was the last straw. Never mind the fact that the foosball episode from last season was one of the least likeable episodes, if you’re going to revive that annoying German trio, then at least have Nick Kroll back. The whole thing with their “war” was worse than a Scooby-Doo hallway door chase scene. The resolution, where the group painted a bunch of broom closets to appease the rest of the school, was stupid and difficult to believe. The scenes with the Dean and Chang were painful, and these guys are supposed to be the comic relief–on a show that is already supposed to be funny! Fuck this show. If you’re still watching it out of a misplaced sense of loyalty, you’re an idiot. Flip over to The Big Bang Theory instead. At least that show has a laugh track to tell you when to chuckle.

Here’s How We Know that Television Writers Have Zero Fucking Integrity

7 Mar

It can certainly be said that I watch too much television. I’m an old hat at watching too much television, having put in four- and five-hour days of watching TV before I was in junior high school. You’ll never find me extolling television’s many virtues: truth be told, it has very few. However, when you want to be passively entertained, and you don’t mind being subtly mocked by the very thing that’s entertaining you, television is your best bet. Advanced television viewers can suffuse themselves in the hyper-irony of MTV reality programming, but most of us will have to do with the idiot box’s written offerings.


How I Met Your Mother on CBS is about one and a half notches better than your average moronic sitcom. The only thing that sets it apart from other programs, except for more recently-debuted shows which are ripping it off, is that we already know how the series ends: the main character meets the woman of his dreams and marries her. How I Met Your Mother is actually told in retrospect, a narrator relating the events which led up to meeting the mother of his children to his children. It’s a reasonably clever premise, one which demands continuity and therefore regular viewing. Often an episode will employ storytelling devices you don’t see too much of in prime time. Plus, Neil Patrick Harris is a very capable, funny actor: I dare say the show would be unwatchable without him.


So we’ve been going on for however many millions of seasons already, each episode getting closer and closer to the Mystery Woman that is the lead character’s future (or present?) wife. There have been hints throughout the series, points where the future married couple have brushed past each other at a party or whatever, but from the vantage point of the viewer, we haven’t met this woman yet. I assumed that, for the sake of keeping continuity and an overall story arc that wouldn’t just peter out and diminish the entire series, it was all coming to a preordained conclusion, hopefully sometime before I start collecting Medicaid. I mean, these television writers, they’re artists too, right? They got into the business because they had a bunch of great ideas to share with the public, they wouldn’t want to belittle their own talents by beating this thin premise into a dead horse? Right?


Wrong. I’ve just found out that How I Met Your Mother has been extended to the 2012-2013 season. What this means up front is that we’ve got at least another year and a half before we meet this invisible, fertile dream woman. But the implication is that the writers of this show have not devised a cohesive, finite storyline, but just a stupid premise, a lazy storytelling device which can be extended or shortened at will. This shouldn’t be a big surprise, but it’s sort of disheartening. The show isn’t How I Met Your Mother, it’s How I Milked Your Studio. It’s not the story of these characters, but the story of how the writers and producers can buy their fourth summer homes.


Most people reading this probably wonder why I am assailing a show like How I Met Your Mother in the first place. It doesn’t profess to be high art, it’s a diversion, a fictional story that impacts nothing real unless we allow it to. But I know that it isn’t like this everywhere. The best example I can think of is to compare the BBC and US versions of The Office. The BBC version is two seasons long and only becomes redundant by the end of the second season. The US version on NBC has been running for-fucking-ever and is painful to watch these days. We could demand more, and not even a lot more, just a little more. How about instead of pitching unending premises, people start pitching tight story lines? Three’s Company put the sitcom premise shit to bed thirty years ago.

Big Bang Theory Isn’t That Fucking Good

7 Mar

I’ve been watching seasons of the CBS sitcom Big Bang Theory on DVD recently. It’s a decent sitcom with a serviceable premise: four genius-level nerds with differing and severe social disorders cope with life in Los Angeles, city of beautiful people. Plus, a hot chick lives across the hall from two of them which adds to the stammering merriment. It’s pretty satisfying in the way I feel that most television should be: each episode is fairly well encapsulated and the situation resets to its default by the time each half hour is up. In the current season I’m watching, season three, the main character begins dating the blond woman from across the hall, but this is no more a progression in the story as it is fodder for several more ludicrous premises.


So I’m pretty okay with Big Bang Theory. However, I find it unbelievable that it’s the highest-rated sitcom on Thursday nights and one of the highest-rated comedies on television, period. Thursday night, my patient readers and millions of television watchers will recall, is when NBC runs three hours of comedy programming, at least an hour of which is worthwhile. And the kicker is that one of the more worthwhile shows, Community, goes up against Big Bang Theory head-to-head each week, and loses.


If you’ve never seen either show, well you’ve probably stopped reading this essay by now. But if you’ve seen both shows, then you might be as befuddled as I. Using my New York myopia, I can see how Big Bang Theory might be more palatable to middle America than Community, but the former blows the latter away in ratings every week, practically quadruple the number of viewers. And part of me (the same New York myopia, just a different facet) feels like Big Bang Theory wouldn’t sit will with the Bible Belt and fundamentalist America. I mean, the show’s theme song describes the creation of the universe through the big bang theory and goes on to detail evolution. The main characters are physicists trying to determine the behaviors of subatomic particles. And there was even one episode where the most autistic character decried Christmas as a pointless sham. I don’t think that would fly in Kentucky.


Seems to me that the real culprit here is the Nielsen ratings system, a technique developed by Arthur Nielsen in the 1920s to establish demographic groups, then applied to radio in the 1930s, and finally to television in the 1950s. Even armchair statisticians would be thoroughly impressed with Nielsen’s model, which extrapolates the entire nation’s television viewing habits from a small sample. There’s only one flaw with the Neilsen ratings system, and that is the system doesn’t really work.


I think it worked many decades ago when the sampling was much lower. To have a television in 1950 was a big deal, they were expensive and often entire families and groups of neighbors huddled around them to watch the flickering screen. There were only three broadcast networks which ran during daylight hours; programming was limited. Now, most homes with televisions have two or three in them. The kids have their own, the parents have one in the living room, one in the bedroom. Often, people could be watching PBS downstairs and American Idol upstairs. So the notion of “household viewing” doesn’t apply as much any more. It didn’t even apply when I was a kid and would be watching Growing Pains in my room while my parents watched Some Boring Foreign Movie downstairs, and my grandmother would watch Dynasty or Some Shit on the first floor.


But the main problem with the Nielsen ratings system is the stupidly small size of the absolutely not random sampling of the populace by which they make their determinations. There are twenty-five thousand households participating in the Nielsen system–all of them by choice, all of them aware that they are contributing to these ratings–and that only constitutes 0.02% of the total households in America. So 0.02% of the television watchers in America determine which show is most popular, and therefore which show can charge the most for advertising. I don’t give a shit what anyone says, Community is far and away a better show than Big Bang Theory, though some manufacturers might not bode well the idea of advertising during a prime-time television show where the main character wears hair gel. And so these companies might have a vested interest in perpetuating the outmoded Nielsen technique.


Or maybe not. It may not be a great conspiracy, merely a bumbling, shitty system that we’re saddled with, even though the technology exists today that can determine viewers’ habits to a much more specific degree. Our own cable and digital satellite companies know more about America’s viewing habits than the Nielsen ratings system, for crap’s sake. It seems unfair that a relatively witty and creative show like Community must be relegated to obscurity, and probably an early cancellation, because this one statistics company has turned its sights on a lot of hardcore Big Bang Theory fans instead of taking a better sample. However, the fact that we’re using this antiquated system does give me some hope that perhaps people aren’t as entranced by American Idol as the numbers purport. Now I’m really kidding myself.

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