Tune in, switch off - Geeks scrub up well

10th April 2009 at 01:00

The formula of The Big Bang Theory is simple, but the science teachers among you should look away now, especially those trying to persuade the fairer sex to take their subject.

First take two nerds. You need one with a brain the size of the Large Hadron Collider. Physicists are best, "indoorsy and pale", because it's safest to mock what we can't comprehend, even though they've given us some of the best discoveries of the 20th century. Then, sprinkle in someone "normal" for reference, preferably of the opposite sex, to highlight the geeks' inadequacies.

Finally, watch our geek and super-geek trying to be human and cope with life on a planet - Earth, if you were wondering - in which behaviour rarely conforms to scientific principles. If you think you've seen it all before in Third Rock from the Sun or The IT Crowd, well the computer says you're wrong.

In fact, no formula can do justice to the quality of the writing in The Big Bang Theory on Channel 4. And the real targets of mockery are not the young Einsteins, but those of us who think we're normal.

In the episode called The Bath Item Gift Hypotheses, super-geek Sheldon reveals an obsession with gift-giving etiquette, which I bet most men secretly share.

When neighbour, Penny, the normal one, presents him with a seasonal present, his reaction is to go into paroxysms of worry about what to buy her in return: "The foundation of gift-giving is reciprocity," he moans. That being the case: "You haven't given me a gift; you've given me an obligation." Now I know why I've hated Christmas for years.

His not-quite-so-nerdy friends take Sheldon to a store selling lotions, bath oils and soaps that they claim is "the oestrogen hat-trick," though our physicist can see nothing there a woman would want.

Like my computer on one of its regular nervous seizures, he locks down trying to comprehend which size gift is appropriate to buy. Which bloke has not been there too? And so, with a logic that defies logic but is scientifically sound, he buys them all.

Why have I never thought of this? The cunning plan is to look up the price of his received gift on Google while "feigning digestive distress", choose the bath item gift to match the value and send the rest back to the store. Genius.

Meanwhile his friend, Leonard, sees Penny swept off her feet by the winner of the university's genius grant for his work on the existence of dark matter. "The guy was just in the right place at the right time with the right paradigm-shifting re-interpretation of the universe. He got lucky," says Leonard.

Well he gets so lucky with Penny that Leonard is forced to feign nonchalance: "Science is my lady." He's living proof of the old joke that physicists don't need to use contraception: the force of their personality is all they need.

So, will all this help persuade girls to study science? With characters so witty, sharply portrayed and loveable, you know I believe it may.

Ray Tarleton is principal at South Dartmoor Community College in Devon.

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