Reed Arvin is a writer of four novels, a record producer, and Amy Grant’s former touring keyboard player. He may very well be an intelligent, thoughtful and insightful human being. After all, Janet Maslin of The New York Times called his writing “sultry, devious, adrenaline-boosting suspense.” But when it comes to explaining why “The Big Bang Theory” is embraced by a larger following than “Community,” Reed Arvin has sh*t for brains. Arvin reasons that the popularity of “The Big Bang Theory” is rooted in the differences between the shows at the “zeitgeist level.”
“Community,” for all its innovation, is actually the more old-fashioned of the 2 programs. Its stars are rooted in a 1990s version of 20-something glamour. Yes, Abed’s quirky, but its stars are mostly beautiful – Jeff Winger’s attractiveness is a consistent plot device, and a part of Annie’s anatomy is so celebrated it’s (they’ve?) spawned its own fan sites.
The Big Bang Theory understands that geek culture celebrates its otherness. The stars of BBT aren’t working towards fitting into the larger culture. None of them, for example, wants to get back a high-paying law job, as Jeff Winger on “Community” does. TBBT crew wouldn’t even be tempted by the notion.
Anthropologist and marketing consultant Grant McCracken, writing in The Harvard Business Review mused, “Our heroes used to be the people who stole lunch money. Increasingly, they are the people from whom it was stolen. This has got to have something to do with the rise of Silicon Valley and people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.“
Put simply: Jeff Winger is the guy who stole your lunch money. Look at that grin on his face. The public is never going to take him to heart the way they do the stars of BBT.
What? The reason the public does not accept “Community” is because Jeff Winger looks like he might steal your lunch money, while “The Big Bang Theory” celebrates its otherness? No. No, sir. That’s not it at all.
The reason the public embraces “The Big Bang Theory” is the same reason the public embraces “Two and a Half Men”: It’s simple-minded. It employs the same brand of crass stereotypes about nerds as “Two and a Half Men” makes about boobs. It plays into the sort of stereotypes about smart people that mainstreamers love. Your average walking ass-crack probably feels considerably better about the wrong choices he made in life when he’s under the impression that people who went to college are socially retarded and no more capable of winning the sexual advances of big-busted blonde women than he is. “The Big Bang Theory” depicts well-educated people as Urkels and lisping dorks, which is comfortable comedy to mainstreamers.
“Community,” on the other hand, is not accepted by the mainstreamers because it’s sophisticated comedy, culturally and self-referential, and because it is challenging. Annie may have an awesome rack, Jeff may have grinning good looks, but that doesn’t negate the fact that you need a base level of intelligence to understand the comedy. You have to know about Ken Burns’ Civil War, for instance, to fully appreciate last night’s episode. To understand the humor in “The Big Bang Theory,” you need only understand that geeks go to Comic Con and watch Star Trek, and those very acts make them lovable comic fools that you laugh at because the laugh track tells you to do so.
Put simply, “The Big Bang Theory” is a dumb show about smart people; “Community” is a smart show that’s less about celebrating “otherness” is it is about depicting “otherness.”