We all know what a typical nerd looks like; it's a uniform that ranges from sweater vests and orthopedic shoes to t-shirts emblazoned with obscure comic book or cult film characters, depending on where the wearer sits on the academically gifted to pop culture fanaticism ratio. Add terrible haircuts, glasses, social anxiety and a 90% chance of being male to the mix and you've got your textbook example. The fashion and fandoms may change, but the core stereotype remains.
At least, that's what The Big Bang Theory would have you believe.
On the surface, the mega-popular CBS sitcom about a gaggle of Caltech scientists who are experts in their respective academic fields but clueless about social cues and women wouldn't look out of place hanging out with other irritating and dated oddballs like Family Matters' Steve Urkel; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's Carlton Banks or Boy Meets World's Stuart Minkus. But as the show is set to come to an end after its 12th season in 2019, we have to take a moment and realize that its impressive run, lasting over a decade, really is something of an anomaly.
This has nothing to do with the fierce debate that has raged for years between fans and critics over whether or not the show is actually funny. As of May 2018, TBBT has pulled in between 18-20 million viewers in the US alone from its seventh season onwards. Comedy is subjective, but no one can argue that a lot of people haven't found the show entertaining enough to keep tuning in. Plenty of things have been adored by the general public and reviled by critics. The irregularity of TBBT's longevity has to do with the evolution of the TV nerd -- from geek freak to geek chic.
Though it does have fans in the self-subscribed nerd/geek community, TBBT was fundamentally never made for the people it poked fun at, which is why Sheldon Cooper and co often come across as live-action cartoon characters that have stepped out of an era where "poindexter" was still a legitimate insult. At best, they're silly caricatures -- wind-up toys that spout out things about string theory or Star Trek for your amusement. You don't have to understand the references, because they're just decorative -- like the posters and action figures that cover the set -- but the canned laughter will tell you that, for some reason, babbling on about the science behind the Tardis or the Flash's powers is a joke. And, back in 2007 when the show first started airing, these name-drops were still just about niche enough to be a novelty.
Unfortunately, even as its viewership grew and the general public's knowledge of the topics Sheldon spoke about expanded, The Big Bang Theory never evolved.