Meandering Monday about Two Misfit Genius Shows

My significant one and I don’t appear to be much into what’s popular on television (or at least what’s considered worthy of viewing by the gatekeepers at the various networks.) So many shows that we enjoy watching from the very start are suffer early death-by-cancellation. Timeless and The Colony come to mind, among others. I think the longest running current show we’re into is Blue Bloods (ten seasons so far), although we didn’t even start watching it until season five or so (bless the maker of streaming – sometimes we think about giving up on new shows and waiting until one has a few seasons under its belt before we start watching. I hate it when I get invested in something so that I’m really excited about what is going to happen next, only to have it not happen at all, like a book series which the author has promised, but the conclusion never materializes because George R.R. Martin doesn’t care about the readers he has strung along…

Sorry, I digress.

It may be because we’re in a heavy science and technology age, but there are a lot of shows built around geeky, nerdy geniuses (that may not be an entirely valid observation – Sherlock Holmes was a genius, and anything but normal.) Nonetheless, there do seem to be a lot of them nowadays.

When Scorpion came on the air, we started watching it a couple of episodes after it started (on the recommendation of a friend), and fell in love with it. The characters were well developed, and the relationships interesting. It only lasted four seasons. To be honest, I was getting a little tired of it by the time it went – I was still disappointed, because I cared about the characters, but the show had started to wear on me. Why? I think what did it was that the show was supposed to be about High IQ Geniuses, solving mysteries and saving the world on a regular basis while struggling to deal with normal people. The characters were genius, outside-the-box thinkers, and a lot of times I wasn’t sure that the writers shared enough of that ability with the characters. It’s hard to write what you don’t know. I remember an episode where they need to resce a dog that’s fallen into a hole. The ground is unstable, so they can’t bring in heavy equipment without burying the dog. There’s a large drainpipe that reaches the hole, so they decide to seal up the opening to the drainpipe, then flood the hole and float the dog to the top. Walter the genius crawls through the pipe to seal the opening. He’s within a foot of the dog, only separated by a wire grate. The dog is smaller than Walter – he could have cut the grate (any number of tools would have worked, and he knew the grate was there while they were trying to solve the problem) and brought the dog out the way he came. Instead he seals the hole and they float the dog out.

Perhaps the main problem they had was that they tried to play this as a drama with a slight comedic element. This means they put themselves firmly in the real world, then created situations and solutions that strained credulity. The show had many JUMP THE SHARK moments, including in the very first episode, where they need to deliver a software fix to a jet, so they have it fly low over the runway while they drive a sports car under it on the runway. Traveling at high-speed, they grab a cable, hook it up to their laptop, and transfer the fix to the jet. Only my interest in the characters and the fact that up to that point they hadn’t done anything that crossed my believability line. (You know what I mean? Like knowing that dragons aren’t real, but you see some in a movie that you can accept, and others that don’t look like a REAL dragon?)

The Big Bang Theory is another show we didn’t get into early on – we may have seen parts of an episode or two in the first couple of seasons, but we’re not heavily into comedies, and it seemed (despite all the genius characters) somewhat mindless. I don’t remember when and how we started taking an interest in it, but it was at least halfway through its TWELVE YEAR RUN before we started watching semi-regularly, and then catching episodes (mostly out of order) as the show appeared on various cable stations.

This is an odd show in the way that it works. The main characters are stereotypes; most are geniuses (with the exception of Penny) with definite social problems. Over the course of twelve years, the characters go through very few deep changes in their personalities, pretty much keeping to their stereotypes, and even their jobs. Additional characters are added to help expand the comedic situations (and these characters are also stereotypes.) And yet it works. Sure they have some of their own JUMP THE SHARK moments, but it’s a comedy, so easier to accept (even Howard freaking out on the International Space Station.)

I find that I care about the characters, and can even identify with them, which seems odd, as much of a caricature they all seem to be. It’s because deep down they’re just human beings struggling to fit in somewhere, while they try to have what they think everyone else does. They aren’t as different as they think they are (or as they seem.)

Ultimately, it’s about identifying with the characters. Scorpion is about being super-smart and confident, while The Big Bang Theory is really about being ignorant and insecure. I think most of us identify with the latter, which is why The Big Bang Theory managed its twelve seasons.

Just saying…

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TruthInAdvertisingCoverWilliam Mangieri’s writing – including his most recent release “Truth in Advertising” – can be found in many places, including, but not limited to:
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