Season 6 Episode 13 - "The Bakersfield Expedition"
I don't want to spend too much time on this, because every second spent even thinking, much less writing about The Big Bang Theory is toxic to my soul, but its latest episode, "The Bakersfield Expedition," actually does merit a little discussion. Not over its comedic value – this is The Big Bang Theory, so it is of course 22 minutes of hacky generic lame-brained sitcom idiocy that shouldn't be funny to anyone with a drool-free chin – but over a question regarding the show's very soul:
Does The Big Bang Theory hate Leonard, Sheldon, Raj, Howard and their lifestyle?
It's an honest inquiry. While the show and the roaring studio audience were obviously mocking them for it, the characters did actually have a couple minutes of fun at the start of their journey making Star Trek poses on the side of the road, but that led to Leonard's car being stolen and after that the episode was an incredibly grim slog of the guys being insulted, dismissed, and humiliated for being nerds. There wasn't anything that even suggested warmth or compassion towards these people. It was just a grotesque spectacle of mockery scored to a cacophony of hateful laughter.
I think the iconic moment of this episode – in a way, a moment that sums of the spirit of the entire series – is when the guys, already beaten down, exhausted and depressed from their march down the highway, have their misery compounded by a jock motorist hurling a slushie onto Sheldon with a bullying cry of "NERDS!" It read to me as a very depressing moment of salt being rubbed into fresh wounds, but the studio audience disagreed, instead exploding with joyous laughter. The message is, "This is what you deserve, nerds."
Of course The Big Bang Theory isn't the only sitcom out there to lampoon nerds – Ben Wyatt's Game of Thrones and Star Trek fandom has been a subject of humor over on Parks and Recreation, ditto for Liz Lemon and Star Wars on 30 Rock, and like half of Community is sendups of geek culture via Abed Nadir. But the difference is really one of tone and presentation. Those shows make fun, sure, but there has never, to my knowledge, been an underlying implication that these people would be more complete, happy, self-actualized individuals if they abandoned their passions and conformed. The Big Bang Theory on the other hand absolutely seems to imply that we're looking at stunted, loathsome creatures worthy of scorn.
Now, you might point to the not-inaccurate fact that the episode seemed to end with a moment of impending victory for the guys as they were about to walk in on Penny and the girls (who spent the episode exploring the world of comic books, getting gawked at by the poorly-groomed comic store patrons who had of course never seen women before) discussing Thor and finally getting to enjoy their nerdery.
But if that deserves to be pointed out it also deserves to be pointed out that the episode cut off before we actually saw the guys inside their apartment enjoying even a moment of onscreen triumph or happiness. It's almost like Chuck Lorre and the Big Bang Theory team perceive the show's audience as being repulsed by the idea of seeing anything simultaneously nerdy and joyful. The show is exclusively interested in nerd misery.
In the end, I guess it doesn't matter, because The Big Bang Theory sucks and isn't funny one way or another. But "The Bakersfield Expedition" definitely suggested a hateful show with a fundamentally pessimistic worldview, which in a way makes it the perfect successor to the previous highest-rated sitcom on television, the equally mean-spirited Two and a Half Men.