I recently had the chance to shoot the sitcom spec pilot posted above with some friends of mine, a project which dredged up a lot of thoughts on how nerds are portrayed in the media.
See, I've always had a big problem with the CBS sitcom Big Bang Theory (and not just because of its obnoxious laugh track). Though some have been pleased with the show's attempts to introduce nerd culture to a mainstream audience, too often the show's writers choose to make the character's nerdiness the brunt of tasteless jokes, with the audience laughing at Sheldon & Co rather than with them. This article (author unknown) is one I've always thought does a perfect job of describing the show’s various failings:
“In season one, Penny invites the guys to her Halloween party and they are excited about making costumes, we’re supposed to laugh at them, to think they are silly for dressing as a Hobbit or Thor when everyone else is trying to look sexy. The reason I feel uncomfortable watching The Big Bang Theory is because it’s laughing at me, at people like me.”
As someone who grew up a nerd, I’m definitely used to people laughing at me. I remember me and the other outcasts trading Pokemon in the far corner of the cafeteria, while the other kids made jokes at our expense. Thing is, I don’t really hold those young bullies responsible for thinking we nerds deserved to be mocked.
Truthfully they were only aping what they learned from that era’s popular movies and television shows, characters like Urkel from Family Matters or Minkus from Boy Meets World existing almost solely to be laughed at for their weirdness. The media has a long history of making nerds the brunt of similar jokes, with shows like Big Bang Theory reinforcing that idea -- that it’s “weird” to be passionate about hobbies like gaming or comics. Worst of all, this kind of lazy stereotyping is still wildly successful, with BBT currently the top-rated comedy on television.
I love me some Urkel, just wish there were some less-stereotypical nerds to balance him out.
Thing is, when writing Game Town it would’ve been very easy to rely on the same tired tropes that you see in shows like Big Bang Theory, but I made a conscious decision to avoid that lazy writing as much as possible. I wanted characters who were nerds, but not defined by their nerdiness.
After I posted the pilot, one user commented “Hey, it’s like Big Bang Theory without making nerds feel bad.” I don’t think there’s a higher compliment.
I’m not sure what the future of Game Town is (currently shopping it around to some producers), but I’m incredibly happy to see the community’s response both to it, and to other fantastic nerd-produced series like The Guild.
For too long the media has seen our culture as something to be mocked, though we’re changing that now, with even some mainstream shows finally getting it right (see Community’s fantastic Dungeons & Dragons episode). Between shows like The Walking Dead and blockbuster movies like The Avengers, nerds are now the driving force in Hollywood. Its time they learned to treat us with some respect.