Remember the film "Revenge of the Nerds" from 1984?
Some of us do. Back then, the word "nerd" was a pejorative. It described hopeless, pencil-neck guys with glasses, pocket protectors, and no social, sexual or athletic skills. What they might have, though, were big brains and the good school grades that sometimes went with them.
The word "nerd" in 2019 has another connotation entirely. It's either a term of ironic approbation or someone's self-deprecating confession of overweening cerebral investment in one subject or another -- or maybe many or all of them.
What happened in the interim? TV sitcoms, and specifically "The Big Bang Theory" in 2007, that's what. That sitcom about nerd paradise made comic heroes out of maladjusted people who could, at great lengths, explain quarks and black holes to prove it and, for good measure, put attractive women in close proximity.
Before long, the show was smart enough to put one woman cast member on it -- Mayim Bialik -- who was, in life, every bit as smart as its fictional characters. Mayim Bialik, in life, has a Ph.D. in neuroscience and plays the piano, trumpet and harp. She has written two books and co-written two others.
America at large -- helped along by Silicon Valley and hurricanes of money that blew through it routinely -- had a total change of mind on the subject of "nerds." The word came with widespread approval.
There were early inklings before "The Big Bang Theory," of course. "CSI," about the world's brainiest crime fighter in 2000, gave young people a desire to be criminalists thoroughly at home around test tubes. "Third Rock from the Sun" back in the mid-90's cast a kind and wry eye on hopeless dweebs and the rest of the world. "Freaks and Geeks" from 1999 showed the way.
But on "The Big Bang Theory" it worked in a very big way. The word "nerd" had been transformed.
It ends forever tonight (stay tuned for spinoffs) in what just happens to be one of the most dramatic weeks of TV series finales in TV history. "Veep" had its final episode Sunday, thus ending the darkest half-hour political comedy ever.
And, on this coming Sunday, the grandest TV fantasy of all time, HBO's sprawling "Game of Thrones," will end with God only knows what death, blood, destruction and slaughter.
If Sunday's apocalypse following the Battle of Winterfell is any indication, "Game of Thrones" will set records for mayhem.
I have never been a "Game of Thrones" fan, but I must admit I'm keeping up with every pint of blood spilled during its last days, while its nerds' paradise of fans is inflamed constantly in online debate.
On Sunday, one nasty "GOT" character who is known as The Mountain because of his size, had a final brawl with his brother, known as The Hound. It included things I must confess never before seeing in movies or TV. The hound's huge sword skewered The Mountain's body in the middle, but that didn't stop the bigger fellow from continuing to toss his brother around quite painfully. So The Hound simply extracted his mammoth sword from The Mountain's mid-section and stuck it so hard dead center in The Mountain's forehead that it came out the back of his head. "Through and through" as they like to say on the cop shows.
The Mountain, massive sword through his skull, just kept on fighting and throwing The Hound around. I must confess I never saw that before. They both finally plunged hundreds of feet to their deaths amid a collapsing apocalypse of landscapes and cities.
Big TV. Really big. But if nobody minds my saying so, I think tonight's finale of "The Big Bang Theory" is more consequential to American tastes.
Just as TV sitcoms eventually altered American tastes enough to make same sex marriage possible, "The Big Bang Theory" had a huge effect on our national opinion of "nerds" and "geeks" and such.
So what else won't we be seeing in the fall? A brief guide to some cancellations:
"Murphy Brown": Thank heaven. Bringing it back wasn't a great idea to begin with, but nor was it well done, either.
"Life in Pieces," "Fam," and "Happy Together": Disposable sitcoms being disposed of.
"Speechless": An interesting try in a sitcom about a special needs family. Gutsy, but it didn't click.
"Splitting Up Together": Another interesting try but no loss -- a sitcom about benevolent divorce.
"Lethal Weapon": The show was, in effect, over a year ago when co-star Clayne Crawford was fired because, as he put it, he "snapped" one day on the show's set. His ratio of clout-to-tempest wasn't nearly large enough to survive it, so he was fired. In the past year, it has been jammed with spy cliches and occasionally leavened, as always, with good action scenes.
"For the People": Yet another try at one of TV's oldest ideas -- gladiatorial combat by young lawyers facing each other on opposite sides. I.e. prosecutors vs. public defenders. The supporting cast, including Anna Devere Smith, was good, but the main young cast wasn't anything special. It would have been pleasant to have it stick around, but losing it is no big deal.
"The Fix": It wasn't designed for more than one season.
"Elementary" and "Criminal Minds": Previously announced endings. "Elementary" would have been a big loss a few years ago, but it's now going out at the right time. It may last into September, but not after October. The survival of "Criminal Minds" will extend into the 2019-20 season, but not after that. Its survival over all these years is one of the more amazing in TV history. Long-running TV shows don't come any darker. Along with that, cast problems were frequent, beginning with Mandy Patinkin's evident disaffection right from the beginning. It can't be the easiest show to work on.
"Whiskey Cavalier": Another nice try whose survival would have been pleasant, but whose loss is no big deal. "Sophisticated" only as the ABC network defines the term.
"Enemy Within": As of this moment, this outlandish series may survive. I hope it does -- mostly because I am a huge fan of Jennifer Carpenter, who plays a traitorous former CIA agent now being employed as a consultant by the FBI. Pure nonsense, but so far the FBI has been lucky on TV this year. (Dick Wolf's eponymous series will have a second season.)
Miscellaneous cancellations: "I Feel Bad," "The Passage," "The Cool Kids," "The Kids Are Alright" and "Gotham." Two of them have the words "kids" in the title. Does that tell you something? I'm sure they all have fans, but from my point of view their disappearance won't even be noticed, let alone be an occasion for sorrow.