Yesterday, I wrote a post about the interrelationship between The Big Bang Theory and Star Trek, saying that the linkages were not only about the references of the former to the latter, but about the structure itself. Today, I want to say a bit more about that.
Ok, you say, I’ll buy that the characters have similarities, but what about the plots? Well, I think the plots too.
In the original Star Trek, the Starship Enterprise was dedicated to seeking out new worlds and boldly going where no man had gone before. To that end, it visited alien planet upon alien planet.
Well, in The Big Bang Theory, the new worlds (for the original three guys) are women, sex, and the larger worlds of relationships. When the series begins, they don’t know much about the first, they haven’t had much of the second, and, because of this, they inhabit a relatively small portion of the third. (They had sociability and relationships with each other from the beginning, of course, but almost none with the non-geek world.) In fact, the third episode shows Leonard being extremely anxious about asking his neighbor Penny out—so nervous and awkward that he sweats profusely, throws up, and finally injures himself to the point of bleeding.
In this new voyage, though, Leonard is the leader. At the beginning, Sheldon doesn’t seem interested in any relationships, it is hinted that Howard has pursued women inappropriately, and Raj has selective mutism, where he can’t talk to women—or even when they are around—at all.
Throughout the entire run of the series, each character has followed Leonard into moving into the larger realm of sociability and relationships; now most have stable relationships. These are their new worlds.
Indeed, a number of episodes present their fascination with science fiction as being about their initial social awkwardness and timidity. Penny even tells a possible competitor that it is about keeping their shields up.
In the plot coordinates of the show, where geek-ness provides the grounds for the guys’ sociability and relationships, Penny—who is at ease with dating and sex, and whose relationships are formed by her friendliness and her prettiness—is something of an alien. The humor is that her friendliness could be one of the elements that mark her as an average American type—but in the world of the show, she’s anything but.
I have to say that it is one of the charms of the show, to me, that in a culture that often assumes that relationships and sexuality for single people are a given, with its corollaries that people who don’t have them are charmless and beyond social redemption, in this show none of that is true. In that sense, it continues the Star Trek tradition of generous inclusivity.