I’m not proud of this one, exactly. There’s been no rush to write it, in no small part because I cannot possibly encourage you to watch The Big Bang Theory. It isn’t a very good show. It hasn’t been unfairly overlooked by critics, there are no hidden gems. It’s a predictable, unpleasant show and you probably shouldn’t watch it.
And yet, I do. Not, you know, live, like some sort of wizard, and not consistently. But if I’m watching TV, and it comes on, and nobody is around, I don’t change the channel. I’ve been not-changing the channel sometimes on The Big Bang Theory for nigh-on eight years now, with no signs of stopping.
Something about it must channel some form of pleasure to my lizard brain, as I continue to watch despite heartily disliking each and every character and their loathsome catchphrases. So while I am not proud of this habit, I cannot quite bring myself to be ashamed of it either; nothing that brings me pleasure is a waste of time.
I am, I will admit, not proud of my crush on Kaley Cuoco, whose beauty is obvious like the sun; she looks like every popular girl I tried to make laugh on the bus in eighth grade/fell in love with. There is nothing interesting about it. She looks like the god Apollo, and her character’s defining trait appears to be “seeming deeply irritated with every person she is friends with or dating.”
And yet! And yet. She reminds me of every straight girl I have ever uselessly pined for! (CAVEAT THE FIRST: PLENTY OF GAY WOMEN CAN LOOK OR ACT STRAIGHT, CAVEAT THE SECOND: WHAT DOES LOOK OR ACTING STRAIGHT EVEN MEAN, MALLORY, CAVEAT THE THIRD: WHAT’S WRONG WITH GAY OR BI WOMEN, ANSWER: NOTHING, WE’RE WONDERFUL, I DON’T FALL FOR STRAIGHT GIRLS HARDLY EVER, THAT STACEYANN CHIN ARTICLE WAS MOSTLY INACCURATE BUT I ALSO STILL HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS ABOUT IT? BUT ALSO I WOULD NEVER TRY TO MANIPULATE A FRIEND INTO LOVING ME, THIS DIGRESSION IS GETTING OUT OF HAND) That girl! What is it about her? The messy bun, the constant smudge of black eyeliner around her lids, the ex-boyfriend’s black sweatpants she inhabits like a goddess of the hunt, the burgeoning drinking problem – she is a slovenly Siren, and kindles long-dead feelings in me. She is essentially and vitally cute in a way that feels piercing and painful and not in the least diminutive. The kind of cute that hurts, even in the memory of it.
Anyhow. All you really need to know about Kaley Cuoco’s character on The Big Bang Theory is that she is The Girl, and she is lovely, and she is sharp-tongued and throaty-voiced, and the writing is not especially good and her relationship with the main Boy is so atomically opposed to compelling that I do not choose to name him here.
Also, this season, she got a Short Haircut. (Here are my muddled feelings about a TV character who is not real; here is my strange and embarrassing heart.)
If nothing else, please do not think I am attempting to draw a parallel between straight women and Chuck Lorre shows. Straight women are wonderful, like Deadwood or a beautiful opera. Straight women, you are prestige television drama and critically-acclaimed satires, and don’t let anyone tell you different. I am only trying to explain myself to myself.
There is another woman on The Big Bang Theory, and her name is Amy, and she has brown hair and wears heavy clothes and doesn’t know what to say around people (it’s not a good show), and she’s so astonished and starstruck and heady on her burgeoning friendship with Penny that sometimes she loses her mind, a little.
(I did not say it was love because I was young and I thought some friendships just ached like that. I would say it now, because I know how to call love by its right name.)
Amy is dating Jim Parson’s character, for which he has won four Emmys. Jim Parsons seems like a perfectly nice person, but this is an absurdity. But Amy is as enamored – if not more so – of Penny as she is of him.
Sometimes Penny likes her back, and sometimes Penny doesn’t. Amy never changes.
Penny [speaking of a third party]: You can’t force somebody to like you.
Amy Farrah Fowler: What if you just hang around and act like her friend until you wear her down? I mean, next thing you know, you’re in her house, you’re eating her food and drinking her wine.
Their friendship, like all these kinds of friendship, is never even-sided. Amy is alternately territorial, adoring, put-upon, and obsessive; Penny is just beautiful and drunk and wanted. There are jokes, to be sure, about how funny it would be if Amy really liked Penny like that (“The internet suggests that slumber party guests often engage in harmless experimentation with lesbianism,” she offers one night at Penny’s apartment). And it’s an uncomfortable reflection of both the awful, old predatory lesbian trope – a woman who wants a woman wants too much, wants the wrong thing, can’t think properly for wanting – and, sometimes, reality.
There are times, especially when you are young and do not yet know the right names for things, when you might joke and suggest and imply in case you’re not imagining things, but you seek plausible deniability before you seek reciprocation of your feelings, never asking anything that could be answered in a flat No.
Amy: I’ll let you in on a little secret. Originally, we were painted nude. But I had him add clothes cause I thought it was an unnecessary challenge to our heterosexuality.
Penny: Yeah, good call.
Amy: But, if you ever change your mind, all it would take is some warm, soapy water and a couple of sponges.
Penny: You’re talking about the painting, right?
There are, sometimes, friendships with a straight girl that make you feel lumpy and misshapen and leaden in comparison, as if she exists only to be adored and you exist only to feel things in her direction. Those hurt, but you (usually) grown out of them, and learn how to say things like “I love you” or at the least, “Will you go out with me?” and meet women who want to adore you right back.
But you still, usually, don’t commission an artist to secretly paint the object of your affection with you, then present it to her with the announcement that you were both originally painted naked.
(That part stings, because it makes you think about what your wanting looks like to other people. How inappropriate, how excessive, how out-of-bounds. Can you believe it, people could say about you. She might as well hire someone to paint a nude portrait of the both of them, it’s so obvious.)
It also makes it clear just how much the prospect of a woman loving another woman isn’t real, doesn’t matter, couldn’t actually be addressed or accepted or rejected as a legitimate option. There’s no male character on the show who could present Penny with a beautiful, wall-sized portrait of the two of them, painted while she was unawares, tell her it was originally done in the nude, and then just carry on with their friendship. She’d have to say yes, I like it or that’s awful, get away from me. You couldn’t ignore it, or pretend it hadn’t happened.
You’d acknowledge that it was real, even if you didn’t want want anything to do with it.
It’s not a very good show; I don’t think that you should watch it.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.