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The 2010 Emmy for lead actor in a comedy went to Jim Parsons, who plays Dr. Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, the popular CBS sitcom. (It was the only award for the series.) In 2009, Paul Collins took a close look at Sheldon’s hilarious, geeky, gawky character and argued that although the series never describes him as such, Sheldon is the first sitcom star to have Asperger’s syndrome. The article is reprinted below.

Picture a man and a woman in a car. The woman appears hungover and irate, and the man maintains a nonstop patter to engage her, oblivious to her fraying temper: “I’ll say an element, and you say an element whose name starts with the last letter of the one I said.” No response. “I’ll start!” he blurts, ignoring her body language. He heedlessly bores through helium, mercury, ytterbium, molybdenum, and more until he reaches mendelevium—and her last nerve. Get out! she commands. When he does, he’s startled to find that she’s not asking him to look at the car engine.

For some therapists, this is a familiar scene: a guy enthusiastically firing on all conversational cylinders at precisely the wrong moment and then puzzled by a hostile response. But it’s not an autism spectrum disorder case study—it’s a clip from The Big Bang Theory: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmhWwSJDkaw&feature=related

How do you build a sitcom around a neurological condition without uttering its name? That’s the challenge CBS faces in its show about the travails of four Caltech researchers: experimental physicist Dr. Leonard Hofstadter (played by Johnny Galecki), engineer Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg), astrophysicist Dr. Rajesh Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar), and theoretical physicist Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons). The running joke of The Big Bang Theory is that these guys are brilliant at understanding the workings of the universe, yet hopeless at socializing with Penny (Kaley Cuoco), a waitress who lives next door. But a more subtle theme is that Sheldon—flat-toned, gawky, and rigidly living by byzantine rules and routines—appears to have Asperger’s syndrome.

Read in Full:  http://www.slate.com/id/2265530/



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