From left to right, Raj, Howard, Leonard and Sheldon build a robot to enter a fighting-robot competition. (Courtesy: Warner Bros Television Entertainment)
By Matin Durrani
Yes we know that physicsworld.com is probably not your first port of call for red-hot showbiz news, but congratulations to Jim Parsons for picking up an award for “outstanding lead actor in a comedy series” at last night’s Emmy Awards in Los Angeles.
Parsons, as you may well be aware (and if you’re not, then you really have been living under a stone), plays socially inept physics postdoc Sheldon Cooper on the hit CBS TV comedy show The Big Bang Theory.
Parsons, 38, bagged the same award last year, which marked the show’s first Emmy win. This time he beat his co-star Johnny Galecki, who plays fellow physicist Leonard Hofstadter.
On the show, a fifth series of which is set to start in the US on Thursday 22 September, the two physicists share an apartment together in Pasadena, with Leonard being what my colleague Tushna (who’s a self-confessed Big Bang nut) calls “a quintessentially cute geek”, who stoically puts up with Sheldon’s comical antics.
The appeal of the show lies partly in the relationships between Sheldon, Leonard and their two pals Raj (another physicist) and Howard (an engineer), but also in their interactions with “near-normal” neighbour Penny (Kaley Cuoco), who is the foil to the others’ actions.
But what’s made the show so popular with scientists – 2005 Nobel laureate Jan Hall told us it is just so damn funny – is that the show is peppered with references to physics, most of which are reasonably coherent, thanks in part to the contributions of the show’s science consultant – astrophysicist David Saltzberg from the University of California, Los Angeles.
I sat through about a dozen episodes on a long flight back to the UK from Australia a couple of months back and found the show moderately amusing – if not laugh-out-loud funny – and felt the writing was (like many other US sit-coms) a bit manufactured for my taste.
But, damnit, what do I know? Parsons has won an Emmy so he must be doing something right. And according to that trusted information source, Wikipedia, he, Galecki and Cuoco each earned $200,000 per episode in the last series, which is more than most postdocs earn in five years.
You can read more about the show in this great feature article we published last year, which includes interviews with Galecki, Saltzberg, Simon Helberg (who plays Howard) and the show’s creator, writer and executive producer Chuck Lorre.