Thursday, August 13, 2009

Reader mail: Does Sheldon from 'Big Bang Theory' have Asperger's?

Today's column, posted belatedly by me due to a minor technical issue, is another reader mailbag. The lead question is one we discussed here back in February: Does Sheldon have Asperger's syndrome?

14 comments:

Chuck Nottheshow said...

Letter about "Dirty Sexy Money" rekindled my disgust at the claptrap of a series finale (I guess the series creators didn't know it would be the final-final show but that episode didn't work as an hour of television to wrap up anything but fish). I hope despite the brief duration of the show this merits inclusion on the "worst series finales" list.

Steven Timberman said...

While I'm disappointed that the Big Bang writers are hedging their bets, I would probably make the same decision.

One of the characters in Skins' latest series also created a similar question over whether calling it Asperger's changed the comedic tone. Any chance that you'll be checking out Skins this year? BBCAmerica just started broadcasting the new series. Would love to get your thoughts on it.

Baylink said...

I hadn't thought about this particular aspect of it before, but he's right: if they actually label it as Asperger's, they're probably taking on a responsibility they don't really want.

Amusingly enough, the conundrum has led to the "Sheldon rule" on the "List of fictional characters on the autism spectrum" article at Wikipedia: you can only add characters who have been *explicitly* noted as having the condition; ie (as is noted in an HTML comment within the page text), Sheldon is Right Out as of the end of S2.

Anonymous said...

Given how piss-poorly Grey's Anatomy handled their Asperger's storyline, it's probably for the best that they won't go there on BBT.

However, I think there'd be great comedy potential in Sheldon's romantic/sexual awakening, and I don't understand why they won't go there.

mary said...

As a 24 year old woman with Asperger's I identify with Sheldon. I have not decided if I think he has AS or just has some tendencies, but I do not dwell too much on the fact. I am very glad to hear that TPTB at BBT will never officially diagnosis him because it would definitely diminish my enjoyment of the show. Many shows have tried and failed miserably to bring AS to the small screen (Grey's and House come to mind).

I have decided that probably the best way to discuss the issue on TV is to put the primary focus on it. Let me explain, to me having Asperger’s isn't as much as an identifying characteristic as the traits associated with them are (ie: extreme social awkwardness, crippling anxiety and a tendency towards routines). As soon as a character on TV is labeled “a person with Asperger’s”, the character is confined to certain expectations (which are probably true about many things on TV). Just like snowflakes, no one person with AS is alike. There are obviously similar characteristics, but the intensity of each trait and level of functioning vary wildly from person to person. Therefore, one single portrayal or someone with AS may not educate the audience about the life of a person with AS as well as the writers intended no matter how well it is done or how factual it is. As of right now, I have not seem AS portrayed correctly on screen (although I admit I might be a little picky), so I have no problem settling for a possibly undiagnosed character who seems to embody a person with AS without the stipulation of being broadcasted as such.

P.S. Asperger’s is not a form of Autism. I understand that sometimes people say that to give people a reference point, but it is not true. Even people diagnosed with High Functioning Autism act completely different then a person with AS. I could go on and on, but I am sure I have already talked too much and you did not want a thesis on neuro-diversity so I digress.

LA said...

I think the Big Bang Theory's decision to avoid the Asperger's trap is a good one. Grey's Anatomy went there, and it blew up in their faces.

Alan, there WERE 4 episodes left of Dirty Sexy Money. They were aired the last four Saturday nights, July 18-Aug 8, with little fanfare. There were 3 episodes of Pushing Daisies burned off earlier this summer (and maybe Eli Stone?), maybe that's the source of confusion?

boffo said...

This came up last year at Comic-Con. Jim Parsons said that he had never heard of Asperger's until people started asking him whether Sheldon had it. He also said that in his interpretation of the character background, Sheldon's mother never had him tested.

jcpdiesel21 said...

Actually, there WERE four unaired episodes of Dirty Sexy Money going into this summer. The first was a Thanksgiving episode that ABC pulled from the schedule a few days before it was set to air.

Alan Sepinwall said...

But did they actually air the Thanksgiving episode this summer? My understanding was that it was cobbled together with unused footage from other episodes, and because of the holiday theme and the fact that it didn't impact ongoing storylines, ABC wasn't going to bother with it.

Kelly said...

yes, they actually did air the thanksgiving episode this summer, July 18. it was pretty much a recap episode and really wasn't worth a watch.

Jennifer J. said...

Alan: That Thanksgiving episode was horrible. It totally ripped off a great film, but I'll leave it at that. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone who was also a fan. In fact, if you think even this goes too far please feel free to delete it. I won't be offended.

Cannot wait for all things Mad Men!!

Steve said...

Alan I may have missed it but did you comment on "Funny People" at all on the blog?

Craig Ranapia said...

I hadn't thought about this particular aspect of it before, but he's right: if they actually label it as Asperger's, they're probably taking on a responsibility they don't really want.

I'd be more generous and say it's entirely laudable that people like Bill Prady and Bones' Hart Hanson don't regard Aspberger's as an opportunity for cheap laughs.

And as I said in the original discussion, someone who is socially inept, utterly self-absorbed and has no filter that prevents them from vocalising everything that crosses their mind is hardly a radical innovation in comic writing.

Is Sheldon -- and Jim Parson's performance -- any more funny if we put a clinical label on the character?

Matt said...

The Thanksgiving episode of DSM was an episode that sounded like a clip show but was not. The family driver is being interviewed by a reporter for a tabloid show. He tells stories, but at the end of the episode, it's revealed that everything he said (and we saw) was made up based off of cues in the room (sort of like the end of Usual Suspects).

And man, DSM derailed badly in Season 2, in part due to the decision to make Nick more part of the Darling world than an outsider looking in.