The Nerd-Rush of Aught-Seven

The Nerd-Rush of Aught-Seven

Mark your Pocket PC calendars; Fall of 2007 was when television discovered the power of the Geek.

Oh, sure, they’d dabbled in nerddom here and there, mainly in the second-banana roles that sitcoms are so rife with (Urkel, Screech, Potsie, etc.), or on reality shows, some of them blatantly using the stereotype of the intelligent but socially awkward virgin-at-thirty (Beauty and the Geek, which really ought to have been named something more honest, like Airhead and the Geek, all fairy-tale wordplay aside.) Only the late, lamented, cancelled-but-brilliant Freaks and Geeks gave nerds the spotlight.

Until today, that is, when all of a sudden, nerd protagonists are everywhere. Earlier this week, we talked about Chuck, in which the title protagonist is a geek who even works for—nay, captains the tech-support Nerd Herd. And there’s the CW sitcom Aliens in America, which boasts not only nerds, but Pakistani nerds in Wisconsin who aren’t named Fez. And then there’s the king of the mountain (or perhaps more aptly, King Under the Mountain, which would specifically be Thorin III Stonehelm of the folk of Durin, in Middle-Earth, post-Ring War parlance): The Big Bang Theory.

Unfortunate title aside (okay, it’s sciencey, I guess, but the sexual innuendo won’t wear well for the long run this show deserves to have), Big Bang Theory is the best new sitcom of the 2007 season, and maybe the best sitcom on CBS right now. This is a sitcom that almost immediately overcame its broad premise: geek Leonard (Johnny Galecki) falls for the beautiful blonde named Penny who moves in across the hall (Kaley Cuoco). Fairly thin, I admit. But the genius of this show lies in its supporting cast. In the same way that Fonzie became the star around which the rest of the Happy Days cast revolved, the geek-buddies are taking over Big Bang, most notably Leonard’s ubernerd roommate Sheldon (Jim Parsons), but also smarmy-geek Howard (Simon Hedberg) and hyper-shy Indian geek Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar). This fantastic foursome of nerdity works because they allow the standard geek-jokes to be spread around a number of characters, allowing those same characters to evidence some actual realism at the same time. These aren’t stereotypes anymore, even if some of the jokes about them are; these are characters that linger after the canned laughter has subsided.

Maybe the industry nerd-rush was inevitable. Maybe after years of Dungeons and Dragons and video games and comic books and Star Trek, the geeks really have inherited the earth. Perhaps they’ve even risen to positions of power within the Hollywood establishment. There are some select few self-professed geeks who have come out of the comic-book-closet and are operating out in the open. Actor Vin Diesel enjoys role-playing-games. Stephen Colbert not only used to game, but has Captain America’s shield hanging on the wall in the Colbert Report set. What other geeks might be still in hiding, a stash of X-Men comics in their desk drawer hidden under their one copy of MAXIM, an old Atari 2600 Adventure! port on their handheld, a Huttese dictionary on the shelf back at home? What else might be uncovered in this scurry out to the technological territories, with a cry of “there’s nerds in them thar demos!”?

Time will tell. That’s Newtonian time, of course, which is a somewhat subjective and naïve point of fabricated reference, especially given the more satisfying explanations given by Leibniz and Kant, among others. But in terms of TV scheduling, it’ll have to do. -- Teague Bohlen

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