Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Big Bang Theory" Companion Falls Short

When I found out that there was a companion book for “The Big Bang Theory,” my interest was immediately piqued, but I was wary of purchasing. Would this book actually have information about the show I didn’t already know, or at least present it in a way worth my time? Or would it just be a rehashing of everything I’m already familiar with?

After flipping through it at a bookstore, I decided to take a chance and purchased it (partially justifying it because of my New Year’s resolution to read more). The next day I headed up to Burbank for a taping, and read most of the book while waiting in line.

“Unraveling the Mysteries of The Big Bang Theory,” by George Beahm, is well organized, and presents detailed information about the show itself, as well as related topics. Unfortunately, it still falls short in too many areas for me to highly recommend it.

The book is divided into seven sections, each of which I will discuss below:

Part 1: A Brief History of Time includes a look at the show’s creators, the unaired pilot (which is floating around on the interwebs, if you can find it), and the changes that were made that led to the pilot we know and love.

If you haven’t seen the unaired pilot, then you’ll find this section especially note-worthy, as it digs into the show’s rough start. And this section probably contains the most opinion and analysis, as Beahm explains what didn’t work, and how those mistakes were fixed. In all, a short but interesting look at the show that could have been.

Part 2: The Stars’ Treks has on chapter on each of the five main characters, including information about their respective actors, and a chapter briefly describing many of the supporting characters.

While Sheldon receives 19 pages of dedication, the others are demoted to about half of that (7 for Leonard, 10 for Howard, 9 for Raj, and 11 for Penny). Given Sheldon’s many idiosyncrasies, it’s understandable that his chapter could end up the longest, but I don’t think it should be more than twice as long as the others.

Obviously every single character detail can’t be documented, but some details get recorded for some and not for others: Sheldon, Howard, and Leonard all have their middle names listed, while Raj’s (Ramayan) is missing. And although Sheldon’s, Leonard’s, and Raj’s siblings all get a mention, Penny’s brother and sister are nonexistent.

The chapter on supporting characters ranges from one-off characters like Sarah (not that anyone cares) to the now-regulars Amy and Bernadette, and about everyone notable in-between. I do feel that Amy and Bernadette deserved more than a paragraph or two each, but I understand they’re stuck in a weird middle between the five we’ve had from the beginning and the other guest stars. Other than that, my only critique here is I was disappointed that Althea wasn’t included (our favorite receptionist/nurse!).

Part 3: Beaming Down to Pasadena consists of 42 pages on the “Sheldonian Universe,” listing locations mentioned within the show, and specifying which are imaginary and which you can actually visit.

The chapter starts by discussing local Pasadena, and from there branches out to greater Southern California, the rest of the country, and then international locations. Addresses are included for many of the local restaurants and stores the boys visit, so you can easily map a trip through Pasadena.

I was left scratching my head at their commentary on Del Taco, though: “Dr. Beverly talks about her recent visit with Penny, where they got drunk at this bar. It’s not actually a bar, though; it’s a fast food place that doesn’t even serve alcohol, so they obviously didn’t come here.”

Obviously, someone didn’t understand that scene. In response to Leonard’s question if they were drunk, Beverly answered, “Well, I hope so. Otherwise, why would we have stopped at Del Taco?” She was not saying they stopped there for more alcohol, but rather implying that only drunk people would eat at Del Taco.

But other than that, it is a pretty thorough listing and description of places mentioned and visited in the show.

Part 4: Fandom gives a brief history of fandom, lists various conventions, and gives instructions for how to score tickets for a Big Bang Theory taping, and how to take a tour of the WB Sturios.

The taping tips and information is actually out-of-date, as it doesn’t distinguish between the guaranteed tickets and standby tickets (a new ticketing system which only started with season 5). But even following these instructions during season 4 would have been problematic - Beahm suggests to “get there by 3:30, and you’re practically guaranteed entry.” While arriving at 3:30 might have gotten you in, it was by no means practically guaranteed.

Although the introduction to fandom is woefully brief (the “short fandom glossary” includes a whole six definitions - including “fanfic,” but surprisingly not “shipping”), the information on conventions is a little better. Just skip the chapter on “Exploring Your Inner Geek” - I’m not sure if these instructions on how to emulate the guys are supposed to be humorous or serious, but the chapter definitely feels pointless.

Part 5: Reliance on Science starts with a “condensed history of the universe” (and they mean condensed - a whole two pages), has a few pages on Dr. Saltzberg (the science consultant for the show), lists the scientists who have made guest appearances, and ends with a glossary of key scientific terms.

For those who actually study science, the glossary obviously won’t tell you anything you don’t already know. But for those who know little about these terms and concepts to start with, unfortunately the glossary won’t be much help either. Why bother listing quantum mechanics when you’re only going to quote a one-sentence explanation from Wikipedia?

Part 6: The Episode Title Explication summarizes each episode’s plot into a few sentences, and explains the meaning behind each title (seasons 1 - 4 only).

This would be a handy reference, if you’re trying to remember the title or plot points of a specific episode, but it’s not foolproof:

The explanation for “The Staircase Implementation” references a statement Sheldon made in the Pilot - “Sheldon insists that if a staircase is off by two millimeters, a person will trip.” And here I always thought the title was a reference to how they started using the stairs because of the broken elevator.

Part 7: Shedding Light on Dark Matter
is a glossary of “science fiction, fantasy, popular culture, and other miscellany mentioned on The Big Bang Theory.”

From “A Beautiful Mind” to “Zork,” altogether there are 73 pages explaining references from the show. While flipping through, I was able to find entries for most references I thought of off the top of my head, but there are a few I was surprised to see missing, such as “Eat, Pray, Love,” Candy Land, “The Lakehouse,” Knott’s Berry Farm, and Snuggie. (If these sound random and unimportant, keep in mind the section does include entries for references such as AnaMantle HC Cream, Jacuzzi,  Kegel exercises, and Seaworld.)

But yet again, there are mistakes to be found. To name a couple, “Million Dollar Baby,” is listed among Sandra Bullock’s movie credits, and Kripke (rather than Zack) is credited with telling the story about being in a Jacuzzi.

In conclusion?

I give the book 3 out of 5 stars. It does have a lot of relevant information that I’m sure many fans would enjoy reading. But the errors throughout, and lack of depth in some areas, prevent me from rating it any higher.

Have any of you read it? What did you think?


  1. I will always refuse to believe that's where they got Staircase's title from, it seems like the author simply found an ep that actually had the word "staircase" in it and tried to associate the title of an episode three years later with that one mention. The word "implimentation" pretty much proves that what you thought is what is in the writer's mind. Remember, connecting that ep title to the Pilot is the same brain that brought you "Beverly thinks Del Taco is a bar." I have never been to Del Taco and even I knew that.

    All in all that sounds like a really cool book, but I think those errors and lack of depth would annoy me way too much, I feel. Stuff like Kripke being credited with the Jacuzzi story, plus the other stuff you mentioned, would drive me absolutely crazy. I'm practically twitching from you mentioning it!

    Also, Althea being excluded from this book is making me way too sad right now. But I am very amused that Sarah Not That Anybody Cares is there!

    Do you feel it was worth what you paid for it, or in hindsight are you regretting buying it? I know you said it fell short, but was it short of your expectations, or short of what you felt was worth your time and money? (I am probably never going to buy it, but I'm curious as to what your opinion is.)

    1. Well, I don't regret buying it, but I also got it at 30% off because of my employee discount. :) And I was never really bored while reading it, which is more than I can say for some HP companion books I've read. I'd probably say if you can pick it up pretty cheap, it might be fun just to check out, but I wouldn't pay full price for it.