We ARE out of touch with America: OTI's POPULAR Popular Culture Survey Results

We ARE out of touch with America: OTI’s POPULAR Popular Culture Survey Results

What shows are OverthinkingIt.com readers watching? Why? We didn’t know so we decided to ask them. Here are the results from our popular culture survey.

Back in September, Belinkie sent the OTI writers an email about the fact that 28 million people had watched the season premiere of Two and a Half Men.  That led to the realization that Overthinking It, the site that subjects the popular culture to a level of scrutiny it probably doesn’t deserve, may not actually be paying attention to the genuinely popular popular culture.  Since we aren’t watching any of the most popular shows on TV, we decided to find out whether or not our readers were.

A couple of weeks ago, we asked “Are we out of touch with America?” The answer would seem to be “yes.”  Click through for charts of your responses and some verbatim replies to the open-ended questions.

Thanks to the 445 of you took the time to take the survey.  For those who haven’t, it’s still open – take it here.

Clearly, I am not the only one out there who got a "D" in Spanish.

What do you like about Two and a Half Men?
The producers of these series (THM and BBT) have more than 50 years of experience in the comedy show world. They simply know how to make you laugh. Stupid, silly stuff is shown, and it doesn’t matter. I feel ashamed for their uncreative jokes, but I automatically laugh. And in the end, it feels good, provided I don’t think too much about what I just saw…

Don’t watch it “regularly” – more like “whenever ESPN’s not talking about football and I’m too lazy to turn off the TV”.

According to the comments about it, Modern Family is basically just like Arrested Development. If that's the case, why did AD fail while MF is one of the most popular shows on TV?

What do you like about Modern Family?
Modern Family is not Arrested Development, but it has a similar comic and narrative feel. It’s willing to do a smart joke that only 10% of the viewers will get and then move on.

Modern Family had lazy stereotyping to begin with, but is the closest you can get to the immoral, relentlessly evil/dumb characters and huge continuity of Arrested Development

Modern Family is the closest thing to Arrested Development you can find on TV.

Modern Family’s asides and subtler jokes remind me of Arrested Development. It’s broader jokes are wearing thin, however.

It’s very well-written and acting is outstanding; it’s reminiscent of Arrested Development in many ways.

Dysfunctional family life. Like Arrested Development but popular for some reason.

Modern Family has an honest kind of delivery of some absurd behaviors or lines that I find hilarious.

“Modern Family is funny” seems like a simplistic and not helpful answer, but…it’s funny. It makes me laugh. The humor is more happy and joyful than most other shows. Also Phil Dunphee is delightful.

I like the mockumentary style and its absurdity. I think it’s also nice that all these people genuinely care about each other and show that they care about each other; it’s refreshing.

I watch them with my family.

Theyre funny. I laugh. That is all.

As OTI’s token Brazilian reader, I love Sofia Vergara’s accent and crazy latin-ness

Sofia Vergara has amazing boobies.

If it's not your parents, who's watching this show?

What do you like about NCIS?
NCIS may be a blandish procedural, but it fills the gap where I used to have Law & Order (also, while this season is not as good for it, the characters have entertaining depth – e.g. Tony DiNozzo’s knowledge of cinema would make him a worthy OTI contributor if you could find him off-duty). (Unlike, say,

I enjoy the formula of NCIS. Its comforting to know that every episode will be the same and you can focus on the characters.

I’ve fallen in love with the characters on NCIS, plus you can’t go wrong with a good crime drama.

For NCIS, it’s the way that the group dynamic is scripted; it’s almost “Whedon-esque”

It’s simple ‘shut-your-brain-off’ TV. NCIS has a nice take on character development and a formula that works perfectly well. A mixture of investigations and gun fights, I enjoy it because it does all my thinking for me whilst entertaining me at the same time.

Freaky right-wing military cop family workplace procedural drama. Typical Bellasario fare. Only pop cult reference I share with my 85 yo mother.

Good work, elitist snobs!


What do you like about Criminal Minds?
Criminal minds, I like because it shows you the point of view not only of law enforcement, but also of the perpatrator of the crimes. I think it’s a fresh take on the police procedural genre.

I like how the main characters in Criminal Minds relate to each other (and I love Garcia!), but can’t stand the gore and torture porn aspects of it.

its on basic cable at roughly the time i’m sitting on the couch. so, convenience is really the word. oh, and joe montagna. he’s such a badass, have you seen thinnerer? that acid scene, it was like he was the inspiration for a taliban training video somewhere.

It’s on all the time and I can watch it while I farm for herbs in WoW.

Sometimes CM is so left field that it’s actually original. e.g.- The two episodes with David Carradine. How often does the woman run off with the serial killer?

First of all, amazing long-term character arcs. Second, giving victims agency and spending time with victim’s family. Third, 3/7 of the main ensemble are women (ignoring the nonsense of last season). Fourth, lasting physical consequences to stuff that happens (on at least three occasions – Reid’s leg, his drug addiction, and Hotch’s ear). Um… etc, etc? I could probably go on for ages.

Criminal Minds: More female characters than most crime/police procedurals; both female victims and non-victims have more agency than usual.

I watched Criminal Minds reruns for a few days, but decided the dark “arrive just too lately” was not as enjoyable as the CSI “arrive in the nick of time” formula.

Well. That's just lazy. Thanks to the 60+ commenters from the original article who cared enough to phone home.


What do you like about Mike and Molly:
Because they are fat, though the show seems to have given up on making that mean anything.

They make you laugh without making you think. They are pure escapism.

bc I like rom-coms, and this is novel bc they are plus-size.

What do you like about Fuerza Del Destino:
No hablamos espanol.

Nerds telling nerds to watch nerds. Let the navelgazing commence!

What do you like about The Big Bang Theory?
Big Bang Theory thinks a smart joke is made by taking a normal joke and adding smart-sounding words to it (often ignoring the true meaning of the words). It will then return to the joke to make sure you know that the writers used smart words and are, for that reason alone, much smarter than you are.

I enjoy the nerd culture on Big Bang. It’s like I am in on the joke… and the girl is hotish and ostensibly from Nebraska… oh and Blossom.

I live in hope of Big Bang Theory being a good advocate of geek culture. I am often disappointed..

Big Bang Theory: I’m a recent PhD, and having spent some of my time with Physics PhD, I find the jokes humorous.

I watch Big Bang Theory mainly for the character of Sheldon and also his incredibly absurd views on life and the comical way he expresses them. The other characters exist as foils to him as far as I’m concerned.

I like nerdy boys. My sister sort of got me into the show. The jokes are sometimes clever.

I like because it doesn’t have the same, average joe characters, that most sitcoms have; instead, they have people that are supposedly geniuses and that have the same types of problems of any other sitcom character, however the ways that they solve their problems are usually not average.

Star Trek / comic book / physics references plus the always-relatable story of needing to feel popular.

It manages to have extremely funny nerd characters without them being cheap stereotypes. It also does its research. I can’t remember it ever getting a geeky thing wrong.

Big Bang Theory: Good joke timing, good actors despite nerd stereotypes.

It’s got a wealth of interesting characters (including three strong, smart women who aren’t just decoration) and doesn’t talk down to its audience.

I can’t make it through a full episode of Big Bang Theory. It really is geek “blackface”.


Finally, I want to thank all of you who answered the final “Why do you hate us?” question with: “no, no, I love you guys.”   For those that didn’t get my attempt at survey-based humor there, “Why do you hate us?” was the response to EVERY possible selection for “Which of these shows do you want Overthunk?”   We weren’t bashing these shows—we genuinely haven’t watched them.  If anything, we’re bashing the people who market them.

I’ll post some of the favorite responses to the “Why do you hate us?” question in the comments.   Special shout out to the one respondant who called us “pretentiois assholes” for our perceived dislike of NCIS: Los Angeles.

In the meantime, how should we Overthink the Big Bang Theory?   Overview-style commentary?  Statistical analysis of Star Trek vs. Star Wars references?   What do you think?

32 Comments on “We ARE out of touch with America: OTI’s POPULAR Popular Culture Survey Results”

  1. Genevieve #

    It may be obvious, but perhaps you should Overthink Big Bang Theory by fact-checking its jokes. I may be far enough out of the science end of academia to be sure of the references, but I *had* read that Mayim Bialik, who has a PhD in neuroscience, makes some effort to ensure realism, so I think that people might be pleasantly surprised by the results of such Overthinking.

    Alternately, you could explore the phenomenon of shows that involve Wil Wheaton as a way to improve their geek cred, or perhaps compare Wil Wheaton’s performance as “himself” with Neil Patrick Harris’ turn as “himself” in the Harold & Kumar movies…

    On “Modern Family” – I find it interesting that so many people compare it to “Arrested Development” (which, to be fair, I haven’t seen). My overwhelming sense of it is a 21st c version of The Cosby Show. It’s got that same ability to be funny without being overly condescending, and to address stereotypes without always relying on them, and to portray people as genuinely caring for one another even as they mistreat each other in a familial way. It’s “sweet,” which is something that the Cosby Show also was, perhaps less anachronistically.


    • Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

      Yeah, this “Modern Family is the new Arrested Development” theory doesn’t make much sense to me. They aren’t even in the same genre, I’d say. Modern Family is a family comedy, while Arrested Development is a satire. The characters on both are silly, but MF’s hugs and end of episode voice-overs show that we are supposed to care about these people. We want them, at the end of the day, to get along and accept each other as part of a community. Arrested Development, on the other hand, savagely mocks its characters (even the superficially likeable ones like Michael) and consistently undercuts all sentiment with humor. It’s a parody of the type of show Modern Family is.

      Beyond that, Arrested Development is far more madcap than MF, it features more cutaway gags, it uses a lot more meta-humor, and it often brings in political satire. Based on those criteria, I’d say 30 Rock is a much better fit for the title “the new Arrested Development.”

      Also, people who are watching Modern Family: you should be watching Parks and Rec if you aren’t already (start with the second season). It has a very similar vibe, and, in my opinion, it’s far more consistent.


  2. Kimbo Jones #

    You could discuss the recent upswing in physics enrollment at the secondary and post-secondary school levels and whether it relates to the show making physics seem more accessible as a discipline and/or scientists more humanized as a whole.


    • Charlie Etheridge-Nunn #

      Is it making scientists seem more humanised though? One of my issues with it as the person who mentioned ‘hopes for geek advocacy’ in the survey up there, is that it still points and laughs at the geeks in a derogatory manner. We’re able to take the piss out of ourselves, but when it’s in a detractive sense, which I often feel BBT is, then it makes me worry. We need to build a positive perception of ourselves and hope that it radiates out, not trundle around in our limiting beliefs.
      There have been good moments of BBT showing that the ‘normal’ people are just as messed up as the geeky scientists, but would any of the characters there encourage you to take up science or engineering as a profession?


      • Genevieve #

        I don’t watch the show that regularly, and haven’t seen every season… but the one character I would point to for helping bridge the geek/norm divide is that guy who was Penny’s ex-boyfriend, who maybe got back together with her or something (it’s all too confusing) but who was on for several episodes, and who was openly ridiculed by the guys for, effectively, being such a norm (he was kind of a doofus, and into sports, etc) but they all ended up valuing each other’s company if I remember right, and he opened up to some geek activities too.

        It’s hard to know what norms think when they watch that show, because actually, I don’t think I know any who watch it… but I feel like it makes fun of them as much as it makes fun of geeks. Penny is, after all, the only norm on the show regularly, and she’s not really a sympathetic character in any sense. She’s more of a caricature than anyone else – she embodies much of what’s wrong with norm culture, and at the same time, chooses to spend her time with geeks, because she apparently prefers their company over her fellow norms.

        I’ve exceeded my usage allotment for the term “norm” today, so I’ll have to stop now.


        • Jaecp #

          The really great thing about Penny’s Ex, as an expression of society, is showing how regular people geek out about stuff just like actual geeks.


      • Kimbo Jones #

        I said scientists, not geeks.

        What I mean is, they are scientists but are not shown in the boring, stodgy, unapproachable way they are usually stereotyped to. Also they are not shown being ridiculously superpowered and using science beyond its abilities, such as the investigators on CSI. They are shown as awful geek stereotypes, but as scientists they are shown as being engaged in their work and doing ordinary things like dating and playing video games etc. in today’s climate where some people think scientists are corrupt and complicit in poisoning us with vaccines, fluoride, and EMF I think it’s good that there’s a show on TV that portrays scientists as human beings. I don’t get that the show takes the piss out of their main characters any more than they do the other characters, or even any more than others sitcoms take out of their characters.

        The Guardian report on the recent increase in physics interest may be overestimating the influence of this show, but the effect is discussed here: http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2011/11/interest-in-physics-goes-bazinga/


    • fenzel #

      It does show male scientists sleeping with attractive women, which is probably a big, specific contribution.


  3. Elephants #

    I think you should overthink BBT by analyzing why some people think it’s “geek blackface” but why others love it.

    I’ve only watched the first season, which I liked, but it’s entirely possible that past that point the show began to pander to its mainstream audience at the expense of accurately portraying nerdiness.

    Maybe people just don’t like the possibility that others perceive them as Sheldon.

    Other theories could also be entertaining.

    Alternatively, you could analyze what BBT means about the perception of nerdiness in America.


  4. Jeff Edsell #

    “According to the comments about it, Modern Family is basically just like Arrested Development. If that’s the case, why did AD fail while MF is one of the most popular shows on TV?”

    One word: Fox.

    It’s not just a flip answer. They have a history of cancelling shows with the slightest hint of risk.

    I was going to elaborate, but this says it better


    • Eric #

      It’s not just that FOX canceled the show prematurely. Even when it was on they kept messing around with what day the show aired, and they barely spent any effort promoting it. I was a huge fan of the show the first season and watched every week, but then FOX started moving it around and honestly I didn’t even know it was still on TV by season 3.

      It didn’t get great ratings on FOX, but it was also put in a situation where failure was inevitable.


    • Pod #

      That’s not the only reason. Almost all of AD’s characters are aggressively unlikeable, and as previously mentioned, it takes every opportunity to subvert potentially heartwarming moments. Modern Family does no such thing.

      The better question is, why did AD fail but a show like ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’, with similarly detestable protagonists, is still going strong? It’s also made by Fox, so that isn’t it.


      • Liffer #

        Simple answer: Sunny isn’t on Fox. It’s on the cable channel FX which, although also owned by News Corp., has always given more freedom and leeway to its shows than it’s broadcast cousin has.


    • Kenny #

      I loved AD and was sad to see it go, but FOX gave that show every chance in the world. Two and a half seasons is a lot more than, say, Freaks and Geeks, Firefly, or Undeclared got. Probably it was the Emmys that kept the show on the air as long as it was, but still, FOX deserves some credit. ABC never had to be patient; Modern Family was a hit from the start. Arrested Development NEVER got good ratings and got less and less accessible the longer it stayed on the air. The deep, intricate callbacks that required you to have seen every episode and pay attention every moment made it incredibly difficult for a new viewer to jump on board, and that quality was baked into the show. Even when they tried to make it broader, slower and more accessible, somehow the opposite happened (which may be fortunate; see Running Wilde for what happens when AD style is slowed down and broadened too much). By season 3 the show was defiantly impenetrable to a casual viewer. As others have said, AD bears no resemblance to MF besides using handheld cameras and being about a large family. Modern Family’s tone is the US Office crossed with a bright, sunny, positive, widely relatable family comedy. Arrested Development is absurdist, cartoonish, cynical, and goes anywhere for a laugh. 30 Rock and Community are much more like AD, and have the ratings to prove it.


  5. Kerensky97 #

    My mother loves BBT, I think it’s ok but not enough to watch regularly; I’m the “geek” she is not. (Although she watches 100x more TV than me and I shun anything broadcast with commercials).

    She says that she likes it because of Sheldon, and I have to admit his grating personalty is funny. But neither of us like it related to the characters as geeks, and personally I don’t see it as a geeky show. I think the quote, “Big Bang Theory thinks a smart joke is made by taking a normal joke and adding smart-sounding words to it.” was spot on.

    I think of it like “That 70’s show”. It’s just a regular comedy with some funny characters where “The 70’s” is more part of the set than the plot. Likewise BBT uses “geeks and science” as part of the set and maybe an outside plot device to move forward jokes on what is basically another “Friends” or “Two Guys and a Girl” style sitcom.


    • Genevieve #

      It’s interesting to compare “That ’70s Show” with “Big Bang Theory,” but I’d draw the comparison more between science/geekery and the drug culture than the ’70s setting. Undoubtedly any present or former stoner watching that show could relate in the “Ah, yes, I’ve had that same conversation a dozen times!” just like w/ geeks & BBT… but the persistent repetition that the format necessitates inevitably leads to stereotype & caricature… and of course, at some point it strains realism. I think if I watched BBT weekly instead of occasionally, I would get a bit fed up, just like I did with the Kutcher-isms on “That ’70s Show.” (Further to the interesting comparison are the parallels between, say, Hyde and Sheldon, as the idealistic perfections of the subculture…)


  6. Johann #

    To stir up things even more: Why didn’t you include How I Met Your Mother in the survey? Why not overthink HIMYM?


    • Doug Farah #

      Isn’t this show very popular too? It really should’ve been in the survey. There’es a lot to discuss about HYMYM: Continuity being taken seriously (at least in the first seasons), the appearent cliches, the references…


      • Timothy J Swann #

        I think there’s room for a graph of how hamstrung shows are by the premises, in which The Battle HIMYM of the Republic is pretty high on.


  7. Jennifer #

    I have seen occasional episodes of 2 1/2 Men and BBT. I don’t like either show. My mom liked 2 1/2 (hence why I’ve seen it, she made me)– “it’s funny, I love that Rose character” was usually what she’d say about it– but she can’t stand Ashton now, so I think she’s done. BBT is a show that is supposed to appeal to geeks and nerds, but I swear to god I’ve heard all of those jokes before. Boring, and most of the guys are kind of oogy/creepy. Whatever.

    I watch Modern Family pretty much for most of the reasons stated above. I watch Criminal Minds because I like the main characters, particularly Garcia because it’s lovely to see a non-anorexic smart nerdy character with fashion sense and sass on TV.

    I haven’t seen NCIS and I refuse to watch a show where the entire plot is “fat people!” Never heard of the other one.


  8. An Inside Joke #

    I’ve only seen one episode of BBT, and what I saw didn’t inspire me to watch any more, but I find it interesting that it premiered at the beginning of a trend that seemed to feature geeks and nerds being portrayed as cool, fun, and even sexy. (All I can remember offhand right now is Chuck from Chuck, but I feel like there was a lot of geek TV and movies for a few years now.) In a lot of ways, BBT seemed like a bit of a throwback to me, compared to some of the other “cool geek” characters coming into the fore.


  9. Neil #

    Presuming you guys start your article-writing process with a question, I’d offer something like this:-

    “Does Big Bang Theory act as an advocate of ‘Geek Culture’ or is it actively mocking it?”

    Certainly the show has room to do both of these but really I’d ask you guys to watch a few episode and (as Geeks and clever people) consider whether or not BBT is simply being derogatory towards our culture and it’s recent surge in popularity; i.e. is it just using ‘Geekdom’ as a way of telling jokes. Are we being mocked here?

    Try to balance that for what it does in FAVOUR of geeks. Are we well represented on this show? Do the jokes ring clear with true geekery? Does it make us LOOK good from a certain angle?

    But y’know…you guys do it…

    Because you’re smarter than me.


  10. Edward W. #

    I think it’s genius that you guys are now having the community actively generate your content. Maybe the reason you haven’t already overthunk these shows is because you’re out of ideas.

    That being said, some of my responses to why I like/watch these shows are already represented in the article. I would just like to add that the reason I like BBT is precisely because they engage in a lot of overthinking science/sci-fi/comic books. So basically, it’s the same reason I like this site, and sometimes the podcast of the same name.

    As for Modern Family. Well, the more I think about it, the less it seems to have in common with Arrested Development. But I still feel like the two are similar in some way that I can’t articulate. The biggest difference between the two for me is that MF regularly has these lame “we all learned our lesson” endings — which I think account for its broader appeal. I also like that it is basically a standard sitcom (stupid husband, smart wife) that plays exactly like a standard sitcom but still manages to be a rather biting critique of standard sitcoms.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. Feel free to plagiarize.


  11. Brian #

    Musical Overview, twice a week, because I hate you. Don’t you dare deny me.

    As curious as I am to see an Overview of a tv show, given that the show is only 22 minutes the Overview format might not get information across quickly like the podcast or written article does.


    • Timothy J Swann #

      It could always go on after the show to cover any urgent points that weren’t addressed contemporaneously. Or it could just be a similar format to TFT which cover (in theory) two 22 min shows at a time, over the course of about an hour.


  12. MrB #

    I like Genevieve’s idea of fact checking of BBT’s jokes but that seems like a colossal amount of work to me – watching every single episode, jotting down the joke and then checking. If you guys are up for it then more power to you, but I certainly wouldn’t be.

    What I’d also like to see though is a character analysis for the big five. Can Sheldon as portrayed on the show be diagnosed with any form of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, where does Penny sit on the Overthinkingit strong female characters chart, is Raj’s selective mutism a real thing, stuff like that. A few paragraphs on each character essentially judging how close they are to an actual character.

    Struggling to fully articulate the idea (mostly because I’m struggling to fully form the idea, I suspect) but hope you can get what I mean.


    • Julie #

      Yes, selective mutism is a real thing. I have never known an adult with it, but have known preschoolers.


      • Timothy J Swann #

        Actually, this has just made me think of a thing – which field is most accurately portrayed? – there is an astrophysicist, a theoretical (principally quantum) physicist, some kind of experimental physicist, an engineer, a neurobiologist, a mycologist and a waitress. Plus, in the supporting cast, Leonard’s mother is (supposedly) a psychologist, Raj’s father is a gynaecologist in Mumbai.


  13. El Bludgerino #

    Perhaps a good question to ask re/ BBT would be: Is this show the end of “Geek Chic”. At what point does the ubiquity of the star wars reference for laughs reach critical mass and upset the dominant paradigm of Nerd = Funny outsider.


  14. Liffer #

    I wrote the first quote under “What do you like about The Big Bang Theory?” (“Big Bang Theory thinks a smart joke is made by taking a normal joke and adding smart-sounding words to it…”) so if it seems out of place, it’s because my sentiment is a reason I *dislike* BBT. I wrote that on the survey input under the Modern Family comment box as a means of contrasting the two shows.

    I can’t fault BBT for having standard sitcom tropes (nebbish guy gets the hot girl, zany situations are made hilariously worse through non-malicious actions or circumstance, etc.), but I agree with the description of BBT as “geek blackface”. The characters may be smart, but they are not geeks. A geek is not simply a normal person who can say polysyllabic technical terms while lacking most common social skills.

    It’s also not funny.

    Still, I’d love to see BBT Overthought just so I can get some idea of what the show’s redeeming qualities are.


  15. Jay #

    According to the comments about it, Modern Family is basically just like Arrested Development. If that’s the case, why did AD fail while MF is one of the most popular shows on TV?

    The answer is simple: AD was genuinely smart, niche TV, while Modern Family is broad, stupid, lowest common denominator crap disguised as genuinely smart, niche TV. It basically is a great way to make stupid regular people feel smart, without actually challenging them in any real way, which would keep them from watching. People watch Modern Family, and it appeals to them because it’s as broad and lowest common denominator as Suddenly Susan, but because it’s packaged with all the superficial trappings of highbrow modern comedy (shakycam, no laugh track, big continuity, awkward pauses and seeming ad-libbing, reality show within a show premise conceit, real locations instead of soundstage sets, etc), these people can lie to themselves that they didn’t just watch the equivalent of a typical, canned laugh track sitcom in disguise.

    The superficial trappings of “brilliant” TV that Modern Family uses fools these viewers. They’re like Pavlov dogs, they see a shakycam, selfish characters, no laugh track and awkward dialogue and they start frothing at the mouth. People who watch and judge TV so superficially are the same types of people who can’t tell the difference between a Larry David Seinfeld episode and a post-Larry David Seinfeld episode with Newman. To them Seinfeld was the same throughout because all four characters remained until the end.


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