Not all TV shows need the Homer Simpson effect.
Idiots have been a staple of comedy since the beginning of time. We love to laugh at bumbling fools as they fall down or fail to show any sign of intelligence. But it can be weird when a movie or TV character becomes one of these jesters after being introduced as a person of regular intelligence. The latest, and one of the most frustrating in some time, is the minor character of Nelson ‘Big Head’ Bighetti (Josh Brener) on Silicon Valley.
If you’re unaware that so many series dumb down characters over time, that’s because a lot of them pull off a progression (or devolution) that’s unnoticeable. Or because the transition happens early on, before a show is popular enough for a large audience to have witnessed it. The most famous example is Homer Simpson, originally just a blue-collar father with a short temper on The Simpsons, not the hilarious moron he’s known as today.
Other noteworthy examples include Kelly Bundy on Married… with Children, Eric on Boy Meets World, Buddy Lembeck on Charles in Charge, Rose on The Golden Girls, and Mallory on Family Ties. Sometimes characters start out as dumb but get even dumber, as in the cases of Joey on Friends, Kevin on The Office, Kelso on That ’70s Show, and Chrissy on Three’s Company. Other times whole casts or groups of characters decrease in intelligence, a la Cheers. We see it in movies, too, as with Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther series.
Occasionally the change works, usually when done slower and spread out and just a sign of a character being more and more exaggerated in scripts because the idiocy keeps getting big laughs. Kelly Bundy is one of the better examples of when the development is tolerable in spite of being radical because Christina Applegate played her so perfectly. Homer was effective because his stupidity is fantastically extreme, a benefit of the surreal capabilities of animation. But when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work.
Here are three reasons why Silicon Valley’s Big Head is a bad example for this commonly practiced idea: he’s not a big enough character; his stupidity is not a necessity for either the plot or humor of the show; and it hasn’t been that funny regardless of need. He was actually a much more interesting character before the dumbing down. He was noted as being useless and he certainly could be oblivious, but he was really just an average, humble kind of guy who kept on getting lucky in his job and continued to coast on that.
Now, as of the recent episode “Bachmanity Insanity,” Big Head is portrayed as a total dimwit, someone who doesn’t know what’s going on, someone who didn’t relocate his pool and then return it to its original position just because he could, by luxury of a $20m severance, but because it was a moronic thing to do and he is an utter moron. His blank stare is no longer the result of incredulity but emptiness. It doesn’t make sense, though. How did he get a programming job to begin with? Sure, he’s had bad ideas – the “NipAlert” app, for instance – but he had the talent to create them at least.
If you don’t have the time to go back and watch the difference in Big Head over the few seasons, just check out this description from a Wired profile on the character published last year: “Hendrix describes Bighetti’s role at the fledgling Pied Piper as a ‘floating utility player, a jack-of-all-trades.’” He wasn’t a dummy, he was just “a lightweight at everything,” as the character Gilfoyle explained. He was good at coding, algorithms, system architecture, and more, just not good enough to stand out as an essential part of a team.
If we’re to accept Big Head was dim all this time, all the turns of events for the character up till now are less funny in retrospect. He’s been ruined with a retcon of his intelligence. It could have been fun to see how the character might have run out of the luck he’d been having at Hooli now that he’s no longer at Hooli – where the company’s CEO, Gavin Belson had been in contrast the actual fool in those situations. Instead his downfall is due to his lack of common sense, good judgment, and, really, apparently brain cells.
The sad thing is that Silicon Valley continues to be one of the smartest, funniest, most relevant comedies going right now, and most of the characters (save for maybe Jian Yang) continue to be developed in favorable ways or at least are kept going with stuff that works. But apparently for Bachman and Gavin in particular to grow without still being the kinds of (relatively realistic) dummies they were originally, they’re being contrasted positively through the devolution of Big Head.
I hope that I’m not the only fan who has noticed this little but significant fault with the show and it can become enough of an issue for creator Mike Judge and company to find a way out of it. They can even just kill Big Head if they want. He’s no longer essential to the series like he was for the dichotomy of the Pied Piper/Hooli rivalry. And he’s no longer interesting, so no longer worth caring about. Apologies to Josh Brener, who has been good in the role, but this is Silicon Valley where sometimes you’re up and sometimes you just fall off completely.
Related Topics: HBO