By Mike Medeiros
Welcome to the Spirit of Trek, a weekly column where we identify and celebrate Gene Roddenberry’s vision by discovering how its messages have started to permeate throughout humanity’s collective consciousness by looking for it on the Internet and within popular culture. Star Trek references have been found on television for years with shows like Farscape, Buffy, Heroes, Fraiser, Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis, West Wing, Leverage, Futurama, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Castle to name a few of the more memorable ones. However, there has never been a show that embraces Star Trek like The Big Bang Theory has.
The Big Bang Theory Intro
Created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady with Steven Molaro for CBS, the Big Bang Theory is a sitcom that celebrates Geek culture like no other. The show follows four brilliant, but socially awkward geek guys (Leonard Hofstadter, Sheldon Cooper, Howard Wolowitz, and Rajesh Koothrappali) and Penny (a waitress with aspirations of becoming an actress) that lives across the hall. With regular characters Bernadette Rostenkowski, Amy Farrah Fowler, and Stuart Bloom; the Big Bang Theory celebrates geek culture with regular doses of Trek.
Science, sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book fandom are presented in fun and interesting ways through the show’s quirky characters and humor. Whether it’s dressing up as their favorite characters, visiting the local comic book store, or playing video games and D & D; the show demonstrates the best aspects of geek culture. Take for instance, the episode in which Sheldon decides it’s too dangerous to leave the house and decides to create a robotic avatar, Shelbot, to venture forth in his stead.
Episodes often feature special guests on the show with many of them appearing as fictional versions of themselves. Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Summer Glau, Stan Lee, and Astronaut Mike Massimino were but a few of the most notable. In the episode The Hot Troll Deviation, Howard has a fantasy in which Katee Sackhoff and George Takei make an appearance.
Katee Sackhoff & George Takei
Other Star Trek alumni have made cameos on the show as well. Wil Wheaton was Sheldon’s long-time mortal enemy for several episodes, until Brent Spiner took over the role after opening a sealed, mint condition, signed Wesley Crusher action figure.
Wil Wheaton and Brent Spiner
LeVar Burton made a pair of appearances. The first was to attend a party Sheldon was throwing that he had heard about through Twitter, while in the second, he had agreed to come on as a guest on Sheldon’s Video Podcast, Fun with Flags.
Fun with Flags
Leonard Nimoy has been referenced several times throughout the series, but never appeared on screen. Instead, he voiced a Spock action figure in one of Sheldon’s dream sequences in the episode The Transporter Malfunction.
Leonard Nimoy as Spock Action Figure
Over the course of its six seasons, the Big Bang Theory has directly referenced most of the Star Trek television series and movies except for Star Trek: Enterprise, Star Trek: The Animated Series, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek: Nemesis. However, the show is still going strong, so they may yet make an appearance.
Zachary Quinto was badass on Heroes
The show represents geek culture as a lifestyle filled with rich entertainment options with everything from video, board, role playing games, and even geeky twists of some classic games, such as 3D Chess and Giant Jenga. Some of the games they play on the show have links back to Star Trek, such as the time, the guys decided to put their linguistic skills to good use in a round of Klingon Boggle.
The show’s characters are often seen wearing the latest fashions in geek wear. Every week, the characters don t-shirts emblazoned with science quotes, comic book icons, sci-fi references, formal attire, and more. They are not afraid to let their geek flag fly by jumping into the moment by putting on Starfleet uniforms depending on what the occasion required. As an example, I offer Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler dressed in a TOS era costume, taking care of Sheldon when he’s feeling ill.
Collectibles are another aspect of geek culture often portrayed on the show in the form of various props, toys, action figures, and set pieces. Most of the time, these collectibles can be seen around their apartment or in their rooms, but sometimes they take on a major role in the story, such as when the guys visit the comic book store or the time, Penny gave Sheldon and Leonard sealed, mint in box Star Trek Transporters.
The Big Bang Theory not only references well known popular culture icons and phenomenon, but also obscure geek factoids in which to teach valuable lessons, such as the proper way to settle an argument. Such as the time the time Sheldon and Barry Kripkey, another reoccurring character, have a disagreement and Rajesh suggests settling it with a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock. Sheldon explains the rules.
Paper Rock Scissors Lizard Spock
The show not only shows the good aspects of geek culture, but also some of the worst aspects of it. Sheldon used a reference to the Star Trek: The Original Series episode: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield in a rare moment of spite, when he black mailed Leonard and Priya (his girlfriend at the time) with one of Star Trek’s memes , the self-destruct protocol.
Let That Be Your Last Battlefield
The Big Bang Theory recently aired another geeky Star Trek themed episode. On January 10th, The Bakersfield Expedition had the guys take a road trip to attend the Bakersfield ComicCon, where they made a detour to Vasquez Rocks and dressed up in costume as Star Trek: The Next Generation characters – Leonard was Picard, Sheldon portrayed Data, Rajesh assumed the role of Mr. Worf, while Howard became a Borg drone.
The Bakersfield Expedition
In the same episode, while the guys’ trip takes an unexpected turn, the girls decide to visit the local comic book store to find out what it was about comics that appealed to their men and in the process demonstrate the appeal that comic book stories and characters have on people when they begin to debate Thor’s hammer.
With televisions shows like The Big Bang Theory embracing geek culture and showing that it’s cool to like science, sci-fi, fantasy, and comics. The stigma that it once possessed is starting to fall along the way side. Their portrayals, references, props, costumes, activities, and more have helped illustrate how the Spirit of Trek is being kept alive and well through television shows like The Big Bang Theory.
Leonard Nimoy’s DNA
The time has come to wrap up this week’s column. Thank you for joining me on this journey to discover how the Spirit of Trek has started to permeate throughout our culture with the hope that one day, Gene Roddenberry’s vision for humanity’s future will become a reality. If you come across something that you believe embodies the Spirit of Trek on the Internet or within popular culture, please do not hesitate to share it with me. I may discuss it in a future article. Live long and prosper.
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