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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Big Bang Theory: “The Bakersfield Expedition”

Illustration for article titled The Big Bang Theory: “The Bakersfield Expedition”
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CBS has a history of incredibly shitty promos, but it pushed a lot of the wrong buttons with its commercial for this week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory, particularly with the ridiculous generalization when the girls go “where no woman has gone before”: the comic shop. Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool has been following comic fan reactions to the promo (his initial posting of the promo currently has 139 comments), posting disapproving tweets from female comic readers and even a letter from an editor at one of the Big Two comic publishers, and there’s definitely a reason to be frustrated and angry with this show, especially after watching the episode.

The Big Bang Theory is a show that traffics in a stereotype that was outdated before this series even began, and its target audience is clearly not the same group of people that it represents on screen. How many nerds do you know that actually watch The Big Bang Theory? I think that when this show is at its best, it has a lot of heart, but those episodes are almost always about relationship issues rather than nerd culture, telling stories about socially awkward people that are struggling to make lasting personal connections. Frankly, this show is extremely insulting to nerds, making their hobbies the butt of jokes that seem to have been written by a junior high jock.

Last week gave us one of this show’s best episodes, and “The Bakersfield Expedition” is one of the worst, not just because its offensive and completely out of touch with nerd culture, but because it’s an incredibly lazy story. The writers room was clearly running out of ideas whenever they came up with this week’s plot, which has the guys dress up as Star Trek: The Next Generation characters for a small comic convention in Bakersfield while the girls dive into the world of comics to figure out why the boys like them so much. It’s clear that the writers didn’t have enough material to fill out an entire episode based on just how short the scenes are, checking in with each storyline for a minute or so before jumping to the other one before viewers realize how dumb it is.

As much flak as the female storyline is getting, it gets better once they leave the comic shop, but up until that point there are lots of groans, starting with Amy’s line about the boys’ obsession with going to comic book conventions: “The four of them work at a major university, they’re all super smart, how can they still be into something made for 12-year-olds?” Since when were conventions made for 12-year-olds? I’m pretty sure they were designed for adults that wanted a place to gather and discuss their common interests and potentially spend a lot of money in the process. When Bernadette suggests that they read some comic books, Amy’s shocked at the suggestion, and it just doesn’t jive with her character, considering how willing she is to do anything to get in Sheldon’s good graces.

When they get to the comic shop, all the men in the store perk up and can’t stop staring because nerds are apparently sex-crazed losers that have never seen women in real life. Stuart evens say, “Can you please stop staring? They’re just girls, it’s nothing you haven’t seen in movies or in drawings.” The biggest thing that bugs me about this storyline is that the manager of my local comic shop is a woman, and I often see women buying comics regularly at my store. Comic book fans are predominantly male, but the industry has been trying to make itself accessible to female readers for years, especially publishers like Vertigo and, more recently, Image.

Stuart recommends that they read Fables, which is a comic I’ve used to get a lot of my female friends into comics, but the girls end up picking up Thor because he’s hot and the writers need something that they can continue to make fun of. But then the storyline takes a fun turn when the girls start arguing the logistics of Thor’s hammer, questioning what exactly determines if someone is worthy to wield Mjolnir and the physics of picking up Mjolnir in the weightlessness of space. To get answers, they dig into the boys’ comic collection, sparking a heated discussion that is still a caricature of actual comic book conversation, but at least gets the girls passionate about comic books.


The less said about the horrible Bakersfield plotline the better, and a good chunk of the episode just involves the guys posing for silly pictures in Star Trek costumes because the writers need to fill time and land a headline on EW.com. Leonard’s car gets stolen while they’re taking pictures and the boys have to walk to a nearby restaurant, and Sheldon gets a slushy thrown at him because the real world has no tolerance for cosplayers. When they arrive at the establishment, the waitress makes a joke about Scottie beaming them up (Sheldon corrects her that they are Next Generation characters), and the police officer who handles their stolen car report asks them if he can call their moms for them (Howard already did that). The experience ends up breaking their spirit and they head home, where the girls are arguing over comic books so everything turns out alright in the end. It’s such a phoned-in story, and shows how the writers are willing to milk a joke until it’s lost every ounce of comedy.

Stray observations:

Having gone to San Diego Comic Con last year, I can understand why the guys would prefer to go to the Bakersfied convention. There really was barely any comic book news, and all the Hollywood stuff just made it incredibly crowded. I’ll stick to my C2E2 here in Chicago.


When Howard comes to bed in his Batman pajamas, its like Bernadette is touching his inner child. That’s just gross.

Some comic book recommendations for the ladies in your life: Fables, Y: The Last Man, Runaways, Saga (most Brian K. Vaughan books are very female-friendly), Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman.


“There were a lot of pictures and one page just said ‘Wack-a-doom!’”

“If Harry Potter’s wand can make decisions, why can’t Thor’s hammer?”

“The slow reader used science, so suck on that.”

The one good line of the male storyline: “Did we at least rent a car from Enterprise?”


Penny: “How can Red Hulk be worthy?” Bernadette: “You don’t know his life!”