As nerd culture seeps ever more into the mainstream, it’s not surprising to see it cropping up in prime-time network TV. But it’s easy to see which shows really have geek cred and which are just posers. Last night, I saw an example of each.
First up was The Big Bang Theory. I’ve only recently begun to watch this series, mostly while I’m waiting for How I Met Your Mother to start. It’s fairly standard issue sitcom stuff: four genius nerd friends and the hot blonde who lives across the hall. But what sets it apart is the obvious care taken in getting things right. While I’m not knowledgeable enough to confirm the science/math references (the credits list a science consultant), I do know that the geek stuff is bang on the money.
Last night’s episode was about the gang purchasing the original prop of “the Time Machine” from the classic ’60s movie of the same name. I missed the first part, but I gather that the aforementioned blonde derided one of them for his “toys,” causing a crisis of faith which nearly had him selling off his collectibles to the local comics dealer. (I took comfort in the fact that he ultimately changed his mind. And also when one of the nerds called her out on her Beanie Babies and Hello Kitty shorts.)
But what really pleased me was that not only did we get a dream sequence featuring movie-accurate Morlocks (as in the photo, right), but even a dream-within-a-dream which recast them as movers wearing embroidered uniforms reading “Starving Morlocks.” (Which, if you know what Morlocks eat, is pretty funny.) Furthermore, we got references to the Golden Age Flash, the Justice Society of America, and a rare Geordi LaForge action figure mistakenly packaged without his VISOR. And, unlike the film The 40 Year Old Virgin, which decorated the apartment of an alleged uber-collector with whatever random toys they picked up from the clearance aisle at Toys ‘R Us, the props people here made sure to have an actual Golden Age Flash figure on hand.
I’m not a big fan of The Big Bang Theory, but I do enjoy that the geeks aren’t just objects of scorn. Cringe-worthy moments are rare.
On the other end of the Cringe-o-meter was last night’s Star Wars-themed episode of Deal or No Deal. I’m not a regular Deal watcher, but I do believe that the “march of the models” which begins every game is one of the things for which television was invented. And I’ll be the first to admit that my entire reason for tuning in last night was the promise of 26 Slave Leias in formation.
But, despite (because of?) the obvious cooperation of Lucasfilm, it was painful to watch. First off were all of the lame “use the Force” references, which went as far as having Darth Vader telekinetically open the cover of the “Deal” button. (Cue the “oohs” and “aahs.”) And having the Dark Lord fill in as “the Banker” was funnier in theory than in practice. He sat up in the booth, quoting random Vader lines from the films as if he was his very own fanboy. (At least the James Earl Jones soundalike was good.)
|Stormtroopers entering the corporate world.||Oh, Annie, how low have you sunk?|
They had two Star Wars fans competing to see which one would end the game with the larger cash amount (with the winner taking all), but the confluence of real-life geekery and typical game show contestant enthusiasm led to many embarrassing moments, including the worst. Yoda. impression. ever.
Then there were the special guest stars cheering them on. Carrie Freakin’ Fisher showed up to debase herself on behalf of a woman who, as we were repeatedly told, escaped from Vietnam as a child and found a role model in Princess Leia. (The real Carrie Fisher: not quite so much a role model.) Backed up by the leader of the Rebellion and the will of the Force, the contestant achieved a stunningly low total of $13,000.
|“You there! The one in the white helmet!”|
Ms. Fisher was shuffled offstage before the army of Slave Leias arrived, ostensibly to avoid giving the second contestant any clue as to how much he’d need to win, but probably so that there’d be no attempt at comparing drug-and-age-ravaged Carrie to 26 hot, young Carrie wanna-bes. Instead, geek #2 had R2-D2 and Chewbacca in his cheering section. Or rather, some tall dude in a Chewbacca suit. Giving high fives. Honestly, I would’ve thought that any schmoe in a fur coat could make a decent Chewie, but this guy’s performance had me appreciating Peter Mayhew all the more.
In the end, the Lucasfilm-sanctioned event featuring real nerds seemed less authentic than the sitcom in which four actors pretended to be nerds.
Plus, those Slave Leia outfits? Not movie-accurate.