It’s a new day for nerds. Once condemned as outcasts, nerds now command respect in social circles and pop culture. Today nerds not only rule the stock market but are also dominating prime-time television. So what are TV’s top nerd shows? Our resident TV nerd has this report:
NBC’s flagship comedy, set at a doomed Pennsylvania paper company, employs one marvelous super-nerd: Assistant to the Regional Manager, Dwight K. Schrute. Played to simmering perfection by Rain Wilson, everything Dwight touches turns to geek-insanity – like when Dwight celebrated Earth Day by dressing up as the angry conservationist robot “Recyclops.” Or when, after taking over management of the Dunder-Mifflin office building, he built a contraption out of bicycle parts that would separate two-ply toilet paper, thus saving a full ply during each bathroom visit and increasing his bottom line.
Dwight also loves “Battlestar Galactica” and maintains a hidden collection of workplace weapons (such as Chinese throwing stars, nunchucks and pepper foam spray) that he’s not afraid to lunge for, should his acute paranoia kick in. Dwight Schrute is the closest thing TV’s had to a Barney Fife character in ages. (And if you’ve never seen Barney Fife – played by multiple Emmy winner Don Knotts – do yourself a favor right now. Start streaming “The Andy Griffith Show” over NetFlix. You’ll thank us later.)
There’s no getting around it; nerds love zombies. And we love everything about this show. No recent program or film has done more to explore the zombie genre than AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” It’s an endless chess game, where the smart and resourceful have to gather whatever supplies they can, while staying a step ahead of some of the scariest walking dead you’ve ever seen shamble across the small screen. And when it comes time to off these undead creatures, it helps to have an almost nerd-like creative problem-solving approach. In a classic new-age zombie moment from the past season, the show’s hero (an Atlanta lawman with a family) outwits ravenous packs of zombies by improvising – smearing blood and zombie goo on living folks’ bodies, so they can walk among the undead without arousing attention by smell. The plan works perfectly…until it starts to rain.
Geeks and nerds are historically known for their willingness to endure endless and more-than-a-bit complex story lines and sci-fi situations (cough, “Heroes,” “Firefly”) – and sometimes the more tangled and overgrown, the better. Nobody knows more about presenting that type of twisted and evolving plotline than J.J. Abrams, the writer and producer behind ABC’s mega-hit head-scratcher, “Lost,” which its loyal viewers are still trying to unravel, more than a year after it ended. The latest entry from Abrams and company does this complex-is-more formula proud. The show feels like “X-Files,” another nerd favorite. “Fringe” mixes “CSI”-style investigative work with heavy sci-fi themes. If you’ve been pacing around since the end of “Lost,” relax, sit down and get hooked on this show before it’s cancelled.
The continued existence of this “action-comedy” underdog is a tribute to the power of nerds. Fans of the series have taken to the Internet and kept “Chuck” from the chopping block on numerous occasions. It’s no wonder the audience has a soft spot for the program, given that its premise is a hidden fantasy of geeks and nerds everywhere. Chuck Bartowski appears to work at an electronics retailer, but that’s just his cover. He’s really a spy. And the show cleverly mines humor from the contrast of his humdrum day job and his spicy double-life as an intelligence operative. It also probably helps nerd identification with the show that lead actor Zachary Levi isn’t much on star power. He’s just your average Joe. And his cover job: Part of the retailer’s “Nerd Herd” computer fix-it department. Perfect.
3) MythBusters (Discovery, 2003-present)
Is it true? Just partially true? Or not true at all? “MythBusters” wants to know. For this episode, co-host Jamie Hyneman crawled inside this personal tornado protector, and tested it against 200-mph winds. We want one!
Now in its tenth season, “MythBusters” co-hosts Adam Savage and Jaime Hyneman use a simple formula that has cultivated a rabid MythBuster fan base. In each episode, two different popular myths are explored and/or tested, in hopes to either prove them true or show them up as hoaxes. Then the hosts designate the myth in question in one of three categories: “Busted” (or disproven), “Plausible” (or maybe) or “Confirmed” (or proven). Sometimes elaborate experiments are showcased in the episodes. Often something explodes or is destroyed, while the show calmly strives to maintain sound scientific methods when conducting experiments. Its driving quest for truth and (relative) technical accuracy is what endears “MythBusters” to geeks.
Topping any list of geek shows, “The Big Bang Theory” doesn’t just accept nerd culture; it revels in it. In fact, the comedy series worships geeks and their traits. The major characters here are scientific geniuses who bond through their association at Caltech. Between them, the four principals have more degrees than a thermometer. The lead character, television’s reigning nerd, Sheldon Cooper (played by Emmy winning Jim Parsons), holds two Ph.Ds. His quirky mannerisms and command of geek essentials – like the ability to build a mobile telepresence called “Shel-Bot” out of a monitor, web cam and robot – make him a poster child for nerds everywhere.
Sheldon’s roommate, Leonard, is also a card-carrying nerd, as are their friends, Raj and Howard. They openly acknowledge their geek cred while at the same time realize that just being brilliant is no guarantee that everything in life works out smoothly. “The Big Bang Theory” integrates technological concepts into many of its scripts, and it does this without dumbing down the material for the widest possible audience. As Sheldon might say, “I approve.”
1) MacGyver (ABC, 1985-1992)
Yeah, yeah — we know. The show left the air before you were even born, and it’s true that with his mullet haircut and flannel shirts, Richard Dean Anderson didn’t look exactly like a nerd hero. But don’t be fooled. If the key quality of a geek hero is resourcefulness, then “MacGyver” has to be given a second look. Because, as any of its 139 episodes will easily confirm, this was far and away the most resourceful character ever to appear on American television.
Locked in a third-world jail? No problem; MacGyver has a shoelace, a battery and a plastic fork. He’ll have you out in about thirty seconds. About to be devoured by sharks? Relax, MacGyver’s swimming toward you and he’s found a seashell, a battery and an old Band-Aid. You’ll be fine. Armed nuclear device set to detonate? Quit whining; MacGyver’s on the job. He’s got a paperclip and a gum wrapper. Once he finds that battery, he’ll be ready once again to save the day. Of course, that’s the ultimate nerd/geek fantasy. That and lording over a super-race of mutant robots.
MacGyver – the only TV action hero so resourceful that he was honored with a collector-edition paperclip. As a testimonial from Mac reads on the package, “A paperclip can be a wonderous thing. More times than I can remember one of these has gotten me out of a tight spot…”
You’ll find members of the “geek set” behind many of today’s biggest entertainment television and film properties (including industry shakers like George Lucas, J.J. Abrams and Steve Jobs). Digital Media Academy, the world’s #1 computer and digital arts tech summer camp, can help you turn your love for television and broadcast media into a life-changing experience. Make a pilot for your own television show, or experience what it’s like to make your own film in DMA’s Film Production Summer Camps. Who knows? Maybe you could be the creator behind tomorrow’s next hit television show!
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