There is one controversial question that comes up time and again when it comes to The Big Bang Theory: is Sheldon Cooper autistic?
If anybody’s able to give a satisfying answer to that, it’s Mayim Bialik. The actress who plays Amy in the show also happens to have a PhD in neuroscience – handy when you’re asked to comment on difficult questions of comedy stereotyping.
And that’s exactly what she did in the science discussion show Star Talk, hosted by scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The full video is available to watch online below, but if you’re short of time here’s the clip showing her brilliant response to the question of Sheldon, social norms and Asperger’s.
deGrasse Tyson opens by saying that The Big Bang Theory has come in for criticism for its “stereotypes”, adding that Sheldon “comes closest to what anyone might describe as Asperger’s”.
Does Bialik think the criticism is warranted?
“All of our characters are in theory on the neuropsychiatric spectrum, I would say,” she explains. “Sheldon often gets talked about in terms of Asperger’s or OCD. He has a thing with germs, he has a thing with numbers, he’s got a lot of that precision that we see in OCD. There’s a lot of interesting features to all of our characters that make them technically unconventional socially.”
But, she continues: “I think what’s interesting and kind of sweet and what should not be lost on people is we don’t pathologise our characters. We don’t talk about medicating them or even really changing them.
“And I think that’s what’s interesting for those of us who are unconventional people or who know and love people who are on any sort of spectrum, we often find ways to work around that. It doesn’t always need to be solved and medicated and labelled.
“And what we’re trying to show with our show is that this is a group of people who likely were teased, mocked, told that they will never be appreciated or loved, and we have a group of people who have successful careers, active social lives (that involve things like Dungeons and Dragons and video games), but they also have relationships, and that’s a fulfilling and satisfying life.”
It’s a neat distinction, especially for a sitcom that seems to have inspired more than its fair share of pseudo-psychiatry and behavioural labelling online. Bialy later reveals that she is sometimes used as an advisor on these issues by The Big Bang Theory writers, alongside full-time science consultant David Saltzberg.
Watch the full discussion below
And while you’re at it, here’s the time Neil deGrasse Tyson had a Big Bang Theory cameo…