I’ve been watching EUREKA and WAREHOUSE 13 again. Some might wonder at my willingness to sit through the whole series again, only a few months after finishing it the first time. To me, the mark of an exceptional show is my wanting to watch the whole thing again WHILE I’m watching it the first time. Waiting a few months, therefore, is showing great restraint on my part!
From the start, THE BIG BANG THEORY tried to market itself as the nerd sitcom, and there are ways in which it has succeeded. I can’t personally attest to the caliber of the science and math shown on the show, but I understand from many interviews and reports that they have consultants on board to make sure what’s shown is real. Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler, played by Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik respectively, are two of the funniest breakout characters of the last several years, and they’ve pretty much stolen the show. How many of us actually care about whether Penny and Leonard continue their whiny, dysfunctional romance? I don’t. The real problem with THE BIG BANG THEORY is the way it handles nerds and humor. At the start it seemed like it would be a show in the audience would be invited to laugh with the nerdy main characters, that it would be full of in-jokes for physicists of all stripes. Instead it has continued the frustrating trend of making the nerds the butt of the jokes. Indeed, the joke is that they ARE nerds in the most stereotypical ways. They are inept with the opposite sex. Their fashion choices are questionable. They are pale man-children who would rather spend the evening playing RPGs or debating comic book characters than anything else. I admit, I still watch THE BIG BANG THEORY, but it makes me wince as much as it makes me laugh.
EUREKA and WAREHOUSE 13, especially the former, do what I thought the THE BIG BANG THEORY would. EUREKA is about an everyman sheriff dropped into a town full of brilliant scientists whose job is to push the limits of discovery and innovation. Consequently, their projects frequently go awry, causing everything from a second sun to inexplicable blind rage to time running in a repetitive loop. While once again I’m unable to attest to the plausibility of the science involved, that part isn’t the point. Not once is the fact that these people are smart made into the punch line. We, the audience, laugh about their inventions, about the way their intelligence makes them overthink every solution. But at the same time we also laugh about Sheriff Carter’s struggles to keep up with his mad-scientist friends, and the ways in which his ordinary intelligence helps him through some of these problems. And if I recall, the word “nerd” doesn’t come up. The show celebrates the benefits of intelligence just as much as it celebrates Carter’s everyday style of thinking.
Granted, both shows (and their sister show ALPHAS) were made for the SyFy channel. But still.
It’s interesting to look at EUREKA and WAREHOUSE 13 and realize the character tropes that come through both. The women – Myka, Claudia, Allison Blake, Zoe, Jo Lupo – are smart and strong. In the case of Myka and Jo Lupo, I mean also physically strong, as Myka is Secret Service and Jo used to be in the Special Forces and is now head of security for Global Dynamics, the company at the heart of EUREKA. They are all hurt in some way. Claudia’s brother was trapped between dimensions for years, and while she struggled to find someone, anyone, to believe and help her, she was institutionalized. Myka is wracked with guilt over the death of her former partner. Zoe’s a classic child of a messy divorce, Allison found herself raising a child alone for the second time, and Jo’s mother left or died when she was a child.
The men, however, are an equally mixed bag. Some, like Artie and Henry, are brilliant, if rather enigmatic. Both have habits of extreme secrecy and grudge-holding that get them into trouble. Steve Jinks is in some way the most science-fiction-y of the lineup, with his unexplained gift for knowing when someone’s lying to him just by looking at them. More interesting to me is the trio of Pete, Fargo, and Carter. While Fargo probably has the highest IQ of the lot, all three are intelligent in ways that are relevant to their work. For Pete and Carter it comes more from experience and probably a naturally high level of empathy to help their gut instinct. These three, however, have something in common that shows the shows come from the same creators.
Pete, Fargo, and Carter all have a problematic tendency to touch stuff they shouldn’t. I’m not talking going behind the velvet rope at a museum just to say they touched the Mona Lisa. I’m referring to things like Carter having to remind himself out loud to avoid touching the “pretty, shiny canisters” of “instantanium,” a supposedly impenetrable compound, set out to fill up the abandoned underground office. Or there’s Pete, having to be told not to touch the (apparently live) bombs holding up the entryway to the Warehouse. And then there’s Fargo. With him we have, let’s see… turning on a Cold War mutually-assured destruction device without knowing if it can be turned off, switching on the faulty personal force field that has killed every test subject, initiating a land mine with his head… According to his Wikipedia profile, “a running gag involves Fargo causing various incidents; his personnel profile uses the phrase ‘inappropriately pushed buttons’ 38 times.” Curiosity keeps trying to kill the cat, but hasn’t succeeded yet. It seems impulse control is a bit of a problem in the SyFy universe.
Maybe that’s why I don’t feel bad about indulging the impulse to watch it all again. When in Rome, y’know? Just don’t touch the bombs.