The Big Bang Theory "The Bakersfield Expedition" Review: Comic Book Women

The Big Bang Theory S06E13: "The Bakersfield Expedition"

So the women-in-the-comic-shop storyline didn’t go as poorly as I assumed it would. Cool. Don’t get me wrong, it started out pretty bad. For a show that loves to present itself as “for the nerd, by the nerd,” The Big Bang Theory tends to fall back on stereotypes often enough that I can’t help but wonder if the writers have ever actually been to a comic book shop. The assumption that comics are for boys and not girls isn’t new, both inside and outside of geekdom, but the situation is more nuanced than the lazy reinforcement of the gender divide that “The Bakersfield Expedition” presented. It’s hard to be a female geek, but they exist, and OMG they even go to comic book stores. No, really, I’ve seen it. I’ve DONE it. Carrying around ladyparts doesn’t make anyone incapable of enjoying or engaging in nerd culture. Conversely, if a chick doesn’t like Superman comics, it’s not because she’s a female, it’s because she doesn’t like Superman comics.

I don’t know that I would go so far as to assume that Penny, Bernadette, and Amy arguing over the mechanics of Mjolnir is a sort of turning point, which is unfortunate because it was delightful, not to mention that writing the women as retaining their passionate foray into the Marvel universe could open up so many new storytelling avenues. But let’s be honest—come next week, they will most likely be right back to feeling like pedos whenever their respective partners come to bed wearing Batman pajamas. It was nice while it lasted, though, and I’d be lying if I said my sofa co-pilot and I didn’t get sucked right into the Mjolnir debate ourselves. Also, for all the cringeworthy stuff in the women’s storyline, there was quite a bit of awesome. Such as:

1. Stu! Look, I’m not saying that women don’t ever get leered at by dudes who may or may not still live in their parents’ basement, I’m just saying that it’s not like the entire world stops turning because OMG BOOBS every single time one of them dares to enter the shop and Stu illustrated that brilliantly. “They’re just girls. Nothing you haven’t seen in movies or drawings.” Thanks for the reality check, Stu. Not to mention, he was just helpful in general. Fables was a good call!

2. Penny! Stu recommended the Fables series to the women because it’s well written and has a lot of awesome female characters. However, with Penny leading the charge, they decided on Thor because tall, blonde, Asgardian god types are hot. There’s a lot of debate in comics over the portrayal of women, whether it’s too sexualized and unrealistic, and while the argument that the medium does the same thing to men is out there, it tends to not come up as often. Penny’s objectification of Thor was a smart way to draw attention to that.

3. Mjolnir! Red Hulk! One of the things that bothered Bernadette about the men’s comic book obsessions was, “They spend hours arguing over things that don’t even exist!” She found out very quickly how easy it is to get into those debates about fantastical (but sadly non-existent) things and it was awesome. Her passionate defense of Red Hulk, “You don’t know his life!” made me proud.

While the women got in touch with their geeky side and enjoyed it, the men headed to Bakersfield for a convention with their nerd flag flying high, only to end up slushied and demoralized when their car was stolen, stranding them in the desert in full Star Trek: The Next Generation regalia. The tone of the episode shifted so sharply between the positive experience of the women and the negative experience of the men that I was concerned about whiplash. First the car was stolen, then they couldn’t hitch a ride to civilization, then once they reached a diner, everyone stared and made fun of them and it was actually a big downer, you guys. I mean, you know it’s bad when even Sheldon is ready to pack it up and go home. But at least they were consoled with the sound of their respective ladies bickering over comic book minutiae? Actually, that makes their entire botched trip to Bakersfield more depressing if you take into consideration that everyone on The Big Bang Theory typically reverts to their default state once the end-credits roll. Think of it like the new (awful) DC continuity: “We reboot because we can. Also, thinking is hard.”

However, The Big Bang Theory finally managed to make me feel bad for Sheldon and that’s a pretty impressive accomplishment. The women discovering comics storyline also wasn’t the foaming-at-the-mouth affront to television and society that the episode promo (and the internet) led us to believe it would be. I count that as a win.

The Stray Observation Addendum

– One-liner of the night: “Did we at least rent a car from Enterprise?” —Raj, followed by “Screw you guys that was funny,” because it was.

– Wow, Sheldon’s Data was spot on. Raj and Howard looked pretty great too. Unfortunately, Leonard’s bald cap just weirded me out the whole time.

– Sheldon’s GPS hack was great, especially the trivia. Was anyone else screaming “Eisenhower! Eisenhower!” at the TV following his question about who signed the interstate act?