Suppose that the story begins some time late in season 1.
Einstein had said that a great physicist ought to be able to explain even difficult concepts to a small child, and Feynman had agreed. It was reputed to be a good mental exercise to reduce matters to their simplest, plainest terms, so that even children, jocks, and floofy-heads could understand them.
Lacking access to any small children, Sheldon elected to make do with Penny. There should be at least one positive result of Leonard bringing her into life. He only awaited his moment.
Sitting on the couch, hoping to scrounge up dinner from the boys, Penny said, "Dark matter?" Her nose wrinkled. "Sounds mysterious. Is that like the darkside?"
Howard droned on about wimps, and hopes for some machine being built in Europe that might detect wimps, and all Penny was sure of was that dark matter was from science, not a movie, and if she listened to Leonard talk about the hunt for wimps any longer, she wouldn't be able to stop herself from saying that there were wimps all around her.
She tuned him out.
Sheldon said, "Be quiet, Leonard. We don't know any of that for sure. Penny, dark matter, is, at bottom, an inconvenience to theoreticians. We were quite happy with just normal matter, I can tell you that, before astronomers told us the universe was mostly made of something else.
"There's too much gravity," said Sheldon. "To put it roughly, matter — everything that's not energy is matter — pulls at itself. We call that gravity." He dropped a drinks coaster. "Boom. There it is. The earth pulls at the coaster, and the coaster pulls at the earth. Absent some interference, such as myself," he replaced the coaster on the coffee table, "they join. They want to be together. The very same gravity keeps the moon in orbit around the earth, the earth in orbit around the sun, and the sun in orbit around the galactic center. Does that make sense?"
"Sort of." It wasn't like gravity was a new idea to her. She'd graduated high school just fine. "But why doesn't the moon crash into the earth?" She'd always wondered that. Not with any urgency though, or enough interest to try and look it up.
"Good question. It would like to, but it can't, because it's going very fast. The orbital velocity is such that-"
"Stay on target," said Penny.
"I am precisely on target, but I will simplify further. You may think of the gravitational connection between two objects as a string. The more quickly a bound object is moving, the stronger the string must be that binds it. Otherwise, the string would stretch or break. By seeing how large everything is, and how quickly it's moving, we can count up all the gravity. When we do that, we find that there isn't nearly enough matter to account for the gravity. We have rechecked our measurement very, very carefully. So something we can't see is causing extra gravity. Or, that's the most obvious explanation. There are others — Modified Newtonian Gravity theories, for instance, which you can think of simply enough as the idea that perhaps gravity works differently at galactic scales — but the existence of matter which doesn't interact with other matter, or with electromagnetism, with light, is thus far what fits the data best."
Sheldon went on, and while some of the terms went over her head, she got the gist of it, and it was mildly interesting; as much as the guys talked about those things, she'd like to have some basic idea of what they were talking about. Usually it was Leonard who tried to explain things to her, but Sheldon, surprisingly, was a lot better at it, and Penny recalled that he was, despite his overwhelming Sheldonness, a lecturer at Cal Tech.
"Wait," said Penny. "The universe is expanding more and more quickly? Like, it's speeding up?" That didn't seem right. "With everything pulling at everything else, shouldn't it be slowing down?"
"Yes," said Sheldon. "It should. But it isn't. We call that one dark energy."
Penny's eyebrows rose as Sheldon explained. Science, it seemed, was more wacked than she'd realized.
Penny said, "You have no clue how it all works, do you?"
Sheldon drew himself up, crossing his arms. "I can well imagine how it seems to you, a community college drop out, but I assure you, we have entirely sound reasons for our conclusions. It all works splendidly at the level of the solar system."
"I guess," said Penny, waving him off, but Sheldon would not be stopped from explaining.
There was no transparent inspiration, no spoon feeding of the idea from fate or coincidence. Penny was simply looking at a script for an audition, reading over the same four lines for the twentieth time, her mind turning over the surprising understandable lecture from Sheldon, wondering what the stuff about orbits had meant, when it occurred that it would make a decent Youtube video, for the people who were into that.
Her eyes left the script as she processed that idea.
It would make a good Youtube video. Not just the explanation, but Sheldon being Sheldon. It was acting 101 that characters should have strong personalities, and Sheldon had maybe the strongest personality of anyone she'd ever met.
She would be in the video too. She would be who he was explaining it to. His foil. Sheldon talking to the viewer would be way condescending. But Sheldon talking to her… It was natural comedy.
She had a camera and a mic, left over from when she'd convinced herself she'd make her own scenes. It wasn't high quality equipment, but it was a hell of a lot better than a webcam.
She wrote out much less than a script. A series of questions to ask, of jokes to make, of ways for her to improv around Sheldon.
Checking the time, she gathered the video recorder and the mic and went across the hall.
Sheldon was pleased with how his lecture had gone. Penny was a better small child than he'd given her credit for. He'd have to explain matters to her again in the future.
He was feeling charitably disposed to her when she burst into his apartment. Leonard had turned in early, but Sheldon supposed he had an hour or two of whiteboard duty in him before he sought his just respite.
She was carrying camera equipment.
Penny said, "Hey. I was thinking. That conversation we had. Don't you think it would be a great Youtube video?"
"A video?" said Sheldon, considering the idea. He had spent a great deal of time watching Youtube himself, and making his own video was intriguing. "As a scientist, it is my duty to educate the heathen masses." Decisively, he said, "We'll start at the very beginning, with the Ancient Greeks, 26 hundred years ago."
"How about we do the same thing we did earlier. Gravity and dark matter."
"But that's not the beginning. We should start at the beginning."
"We should start with something cool, and dark matter sounds a lot cooler than ancient dead Greek guys."
"The ancient Greeks were fascinating. They created a tradition of systematic though that that has continued ever sense. Aristotle is over-rated, but Democritus-"
Giving him her death glare, Penny said, "You wanna do this or not?"
Sheldon folded. "Richard Feynman did say that physicists should be less like Greek mathematicians and more like Babylonian ones. Rather than beginning with the most basic postulates and logically building up, we should be able to start at any territory on the map, as it were, and proceed from there."
"Right, whatever. Gravity and dark matter. Now help me set this up."
The apartment was already very clean, and they set up on the couch, Penny moving Sheldon's math-covered whiteboard behind it.
She told him what to do, as much as he would listen to her, and Penny started recording.
He was awkward as hell. Way more than normal, sitting all scrunched up. She told him to open up, and he somehow got worse.
Penny said, "Ignore the camera. Just explain it to me."
He turned away from the camera entirely.
"No, you can't… Pretend you're explaining it to me, but Howard is watching through the camera, and we have to be turned toward the camera just enough that he can see what we're doing."
"Why would Wolowitz be watching us through the camera? That's disturbing."
"Just do it."
She positioned him at a three-quarters turn, as if the camera were the audience in a stage play and she and he were carrying on dialog.
He shut his eyes, breathed deeply, and said, "Yes, it is Wolowitz watching us. Wolowitz. Wolowitz. Wolowitz.
His eyes popped open, and Sheldon leaned toward the camera, eyes wide, nostrils flaring. "And I'm Doctor Sheldon Cooper, PhD, PhD, and you are honored to learn from me."
Penny smiled brightly and said, "And I'm Penny Queen, a waitress and aspiring actress."
And they were off, Sheldon explaining with his usual sarcasm and quirkiness, and Penny referring to her cue cards to ask questions. Sheldon was still awkward as hell, but just in his usual way. He was acting like himself and explaining things to her, and it went fine, went well, and it wouldn't be any problem to cut the other stuff out.
"Because of the Doppler Effect, we know-
Penny said, "What's the Doppler Effect?"
Sheldon's eyes widened, as if the question shocked and scandalized him. "You don't know what the Doppler Effect is? I knew you'd dropped out of community college, but it seems you dropped out of high school as well."
"I will drive my fist down your throat."
Sheldon retracted. Contritely, he said, "I'll explain the Doppler Effect to you."
"We'll do another video."
"No, it's easy to explain. Eee-Uuuu Eee-uuu Eee-uuu-"
She poked his neck.
"Don't touch me! People can't touch me without permission."
"Sheldon, we'll do another video. Let's just assume for now that you can tell how quickly things are moving away. Get back to dark matter. You said most of it's wrapped around the galaxy, like a halo. But is there any here?"
Sheldon said, "It's mostly at the edges, but there's dark matter all around us, refusing to interact with us. It greatly outmasses 'normal' matter. Baryonic matter. It's not inaccurate to say that the universe we see around us, the stars, the planets, ourselves, are a flimsy raft floating upon an unknown dark ocean. Anything may lurk in its depths; we've no way of seeing what it contains. But someday, we'll find a way into that dark world, and nothing will ever be the same."
Penny stared. "Sheldon, that sounds… spiritual."
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "It's nothing of the sort. It's simple scientific fact."
The next day, before and after her shift, Penny broke the video into halves, edited each until they were both a little under 10 minutes, chuckling at a few parts, hoping other people thought it was funny too, and posted them on Youtube, under the account, 'Nebraska Barbie and the Wackadoodle.'
Penny Queen was her stage name, which she'd adopted after the thought of Serial Apist being seen by her Aunt had given her the cold sweats, but Nebraska Barbie had more character, she thought.
She checked the next morning, finding the first video had a few dozen views, and the second video had a few views. Most likely all from Penny's followers on Facebook and Myspace.
The first video had no comments. The second video had a single comment, reading, 'lol, xd.'
Cheered, Penny decided to make another video. About the Doppler Effect.
As it turned out, Sheldon had several appropriate science toys, and a costume too. Her reaction on seeing it was the best part of the video, in her opinion, and his explanation of the Doppler Effect made sense to her, eventually. As did the subsequent videos, on subsequent days, on atoms and velocity versus speed, and why the difference actually mattered.
That was the kicker to Penny. She was understanding. Not anywhere near to the level the boys did, sure, but she was getting the basic ideas. And she hadn't known she could do that.
It changed things, to know she could do that.
Borrowing sciencey props from Sheldon, Penny set up a shooting space in her apartment. There were more comments on the videos, and she didn't want the guys to know yet. Didn't want them to oh-so-helpfully take the show away from her.
Two or three videos a week were a tough pace, with everything else she had to do, but Penny kept it up. She'd set up the equipment and have him explain it to her, recording the lesson. Then she'd go over it, write a rough improv script for herself, and have him do it again. Then she'd edit, splicing the two videos together as appropriate, searching for the trifecta of funny, comprehensible, and under 10 minutes.
The videos were gathering views. Hundreds, thousands even. Far below what the major channels had, but Penny harbored hope of supplementary income and being able to put it on her portfolio and impress a casting director or two. She added a message at the end of each video asking people to subscribe.
In it, Sheldon leaned too close to the camera, saying, with complete sincerity, "If you don't subscribe, you risk missing my brilliance."
Rolling her eyes, Penny pulled him back from the camera, ignoring his protests about being touched, flashed a megawatt smile, and said, "What he said. Learn more. Pass a class. Have some fun. Subscribe."
It seemed to work, because subscription numbers jolted way up when Penny started adding the message to the end of every video.
Weeks passed, and Penny made categories. Physics. Basic Mathemetics (which Penny needed for the physics.) Comic Book Physics. Movie Physics Reviews. Those last were killer, with the Wackadoodle taking it all way too seriously, and Nebraska Barbie rolling her eyes at him. They started out with his bit on how Louis Lane should've been cut into three pieces when Superman had caught her. Owing to F = MA, and all.
Penny took the basic steps to monetize. If the Channel brought in even a hundred dollars a month, while serving as something to put in her portfolio, that would be awesome.
The five of them were gathered for Halo night. Sheldon had, eventually, resigned himself to uneven teams, so long as he got to be with Penny, since they were the two best players. But Raj was insisting, by way of whispering into Howard's ear, that Penny and Sheldon couldn't be together again.
Leonard was waiting for it to end, messing around on his laptop, when he sucked it in a breath.
Moments later, Penny heard a familiar opening.
He shoved his laptop in front of them all, looking wide-eyed at what it showed — the Wackadoodle enthusiastically explaining the 'science' of the Flash to a dryly sarcastic Nebraska Barbie.
"Penny," said Leonard. "What is this?"
"What does it look like?"
Leonard clicked through. "There's 20 of these!"
"23," corrected Sheldon. "Your inability to perform numerical operations as basic as accurate counting is yet one more reason for me to despair of your career. As an empiricist, counting is one of your core skills."
Raj and Howard leaned over Leonard's shoulder as he started another video, one in which the Wackadoodle explained orbits to a skeptical and disinterested Nebraska Barbie.
On screen, the Nebraska Barbie said, "Explain it with shoes," bringing several shoes out.
"I'm not touching your shoes."
"I've sanitized them."
The Wackadoodle reached forward, but recoiled in the end from touching them.
The Nebraska Barbie wordlessly handed him a pair of rubber gloves, and the Wackadoodle hurriedly put them on.
Raj giggled and Howard smiled.
"Suppose this pink sandal were in proximity to this brown leather boot. And they were both several billion times more massive, and so had been formed by gravity into near perfect spheres, the boot-object being assuredly the largest mass of leather in existence."
"It's suede, honey."
"There would be a strong attraction between them, declining as the inverse of the square of the distance."
"We've talked about this, Penny, and you've forgotten already? Honestly, why do I even try?"
"Explain it again, Sweetie, before I touch you with my foot."
Paling, the Wackadoodle explained it again, and at length the video ended, the next automatically queuing up.
Leonard hit cancel, the three boys staring at Penny and Sheldon.
Raj whispered into a shocked Howard's ear.
"He says it's good," said Howard. "He's right."
"I am hilarious," said Sheldon. "The commenters all say so." Even as he said so, Sheldon looked uncomfortable. Penny knew he had plenty of experience being laughed at.
Visibly frustrated, but not dishonest, Leonard said, "It's fine. From what I see, the videos aren't making fun of you. It's just the dynamic between you two."
Sheldon was relieved, and Penny was too. Leonard could've put the kibosh on it.
Leonard said, "How long have you two been doing these?"
"Several weeks," said Penny, even as Sheldon said, "Nine weeks and two days."
"Oh," said Leonard, hurt.
Penny said, "I wanted to figure out what I was doing before I told you guys about it."
Howard said, "We could do videos too."
Penny smiled, not sincerely.
She'd watched videos by her competitors in the 'science Youtube space.' If she tried doing a video with Raj, he wouldn't speak. If she tried doing one with Howard, he'd be creepy. If she tried doing one with Leonard, it would be just like the videos of her competitors, only viewers would wonder why she was so involved, why she was in front of the camera.
That didn't mean she wouldn't ever do videos with them, but no one else had anything like Nebraska Barbie and the Wackadoodle.
Howard said, "You could make a lot of money with these."
Penny said, "That's what I wanted to talk to Sheldon about today. Sweetie, I've been figuring out how to monetize, and I've got 82 bucks. I thought a 3-1 split made sense."
"Reasonable," agreed Sheldon. "You may give me a check for 61 dollars and 50 cents."
Penny had already done the math on her phone calculator, so it was no mystery what he meant. "I get the 3, and you get the one. I get $61.50, and you get $20.50."
"Preposterous. I'm the one providing the expertise."
"I'm the one planning the videos, making question lists, planning gags, setting up props, recording the videos, editing them, mixing them together, running the monetization, and doing the advertisements."
"All of which can be done by someone without a Doctorate, as you've demonstrated. It's menial intellectual labor, Penny. You may be putting in more time, but my time is vastly more valuable, as our payscales at our respective places of work demonstrates."
Penny's hands curled into fists, but it was her death glare that made him regard her warily.
"Not that I have any need for the money, but it's the principle of the matter."
Pennny spoke sweetly. "Don't you want to be like Bill Nye?"
"Don't you dare compare me to Bill Nye. Penny, I have nothing but respect for his work as a science entertainer for small children — indeed, I still know the words to his theme song," in a clear tenor, he began, "'Bill, Bill, Bill Nye, Bill Nye the Science Guy,'" before stopping and returning to speech "but the man doesn't even have a doctorate. Or consider Neil Degrasse Tyson. He's a respectable scientist, by the standards of astrophysicists, but his chief fame is simply as a science communicator. Sadly, the same must be said even for the great Carl Sagan. Richard Feynman is the last figure to be both one of the greatest scientists of his age, and the greatest science communicator of his age. A status I am well positioned to take for my own."
"And I'm helping you do that."
"I could find someone else."
"Really?" said Penny. "Who?"
Sheldon was flummoxed only briefly. "One of my grad students would surely be amenable."
"Yeah," said Penny. "A grad student. Someone who already understands it. That'll work great. I'm sure they'll be hilarious too."
After a moment's thought, Sheldon said, "Sarcasm?"
"We could be partners," Sheldon offered. "You'd be the junior partner, but I'd split the money with you 50-50, because I'm magnanimous. That's my final offer."
"Sounds good," said Penny. "But unless you split the 'intellectual menial labor with me,' how about you pay me an extra 10 percent for it.'" With her glare, she let him know that was her final offer. "60-40."
Sheldon cleared his throat. "In deference to your poverty, I will consent. But you owe me 10 additional monthly favors. And a check for $32.80."
Apologies for any and all scientific errors. I'm an English teacher.
To me, Big Bang Theory is a wolf in sheep's clothing. At first look, it's a silly, shallow sit-com with ridiculously overdone caricatures and an omnipresent laugh track. Look a little closer, and it's a comfort show about deeply dysfunctional people finding fellowship together. Look closer still, and it's one of the most deeply cynical shows ever aired on American television, the overdone caricatures and the omnipresent laugh track being the surrealism needed to make us smile instead of cry.
The characters are mean to each other. Rather than growing as people, they give up on their dreams and go stale. There is little real closeness. Some characters have their moments together, but it seldom seems to me that those they're closest to or whose company they most enjoy are those they choose to bind themselves to. They are largely dissatisfied with their marriages.
I've come around to the idea that BBT is an intentionally depressing modern masterpiece.
I don't like depressing.
This story is now into season 2. Assume that everything else is thus far proceeding as in canon, with appropriate minor modifications.