With all the talk about Mary McDonnell's Grey's Anatomy turn as a surgeon with Asperger syndrome -- or, really, an Asperger-syndrome surgeon, since it's not a people-first kind of portrayal -- have we been missing the first Asperger-syndrome sit-com? That's what a Slate article is calling The Big Bang Theory, a CBS comedy about a group of Cal Tech researchers who are "brilliant at understanding the workings of the universe, yet hopeless at socializing with Penny, a waitress who lives next door."
While the show has not given its characters diagnostic labels, Slate writer Paul Collins (author of one of my favorite autism memoirs, Not Even Wrong) tags Sheldon, a theoretical physicist played by actor Jim Parsons (pictured), as giving a pretty persuasive portrayal of a person with Asperger syndrome:
"Sheldon is an exaggerated sitcom characterization, granted, and yet how else does one describe a string theorist who insists on playing Klingon Boggle and Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock? A prodigy who experimented with his home's staircases to find the exact variant in height at which his father would trip? Who discourses at length upon the precise parameters of Christmas gift-giving? Or who refers to engineers as 'semi-skilled labor'--and is then surprised when they take offense?"
Unlike Grey's Dr. Dixon, though, it sounds like Sheldon's a character, not a bundle of characteristics. "I just think of his actions as 'Sheldony,'" co-creator Bill Prady is quoted as saying. TV critic Alan Sepinwall, commenting on the Slate piece, writes, "Watching the Mary McDonnell arc on Grey's Anatomy, where the character's diagnosis is made explicit, and then used as fodder for jokes, I feel like the old-fashioned sitcom Big Bang provides a more realistic, more human and, yes, funnier take on the situation than the big hit medical series."
Do you watch The Big Bang Theory? Does Sheldon seem like a good depiction of an adult with Asperger syndrome, or one that makes you wince? And speaking of wincing, though I can't speak to the latest of McDonnell's Grey's episodes because it's still languishing on my DVR, you can read some unhappy blog posts about it on The Karianna Spectrum and Psychology Today.
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