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Nerd Affinity – Rise of the TV Geek

To many of us over the age of 25, the term was probably used in a derogatory sense while we were at school. But the times have changed, and now “geek” is something of a trendy subculture, thanks to movies such as Scott Pilgrim, the rising masses of girl gamers and, yes, television shows.

Now, it seems that almost every series has a likeable geek or nerd character, who are usually used to inject humor into situations. It's hard to pick five as the best examples of lovable nerds in currently airing TV shows, as there are so many. But, in order to examine what makes geek characters such a popular facet of modern TV, that's exactly what we're going to do.

Gary Bell
Gary Bell from Alphas

He has been described as a savant-like, and is a high-functioning autistic individual. He has difficulty relating or empathizing with people and displays many compulsive tendencies. Gary's “alpha power” is the ability to intercept wireless signals from cell phones, computers, and the like, and he often gets completely lost in these transmissions.

Gary is cute and has a very cool power, making him popular amongst both audience genders. He often provides comic relief, but is much more than just a comedy character. Ryan Cartwright portrays him pretty realistically, to the point where we really feel for the character. In a recent discussion of favorite characters from the new show, Gary came out on top with roughly 50% of people picking him over all the others.

Quote: “No I do lie … like, the other day, when I said I was going to have a pudding pop, I was lying, because I don't like pudding pops. That was a lie, I do like pudding pops.”

Walter White

Walter White from Breaking Bad

The main draw of Breaking Bad, when it first began, was the chance to witness a dorky, hapless chemistry teacher do something truly 'gangsta' and run his own mobile meth lab. Walt's character has shifted dramatically over the years to the point where he now has something of a duel personality, and has multiple murders on his seemingly obliterated conscience. But he's still a nerd ... just a really scary one.

Walt is fascinating to watch. He is both the genius alchemist and the dangerous, mentally unstable gangster. Walt's popularity as a character has suffered in the past two years due to his rise to power (and evil!), but this makes him no less the star of the show. This is due—in no small part—to Bryan Cranston's highly-praised character acting.

“I am not in danger ... I am the danger! A guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think that of me? No, I am the one who knocks!”

Sheldon Cooper

Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory

Sheldon first graced our airwaves back in 2008, and within 1 season had become a bit of a sensation. His total lack of social skills, his hilarious arrogance, and his penchant for some truly dorky hobbies made him something unique as a character. His list of foibles and quirks are as long as his rants about the insufferably inferior intellect of 'lesser beings'.

To describe what makes him popular would be like describing what makes the sun hot. Although the show has suffered slightly in the past season or two, Sheldon remains probably the funniest character on the The Big Bang Theory, and it's doubtful many would attempt to argue that (despite him being over-used recently). On the official website's poll, Sheldon has over 65% of the votes (50% higher than any of the others), making him by far the most popular character in the show.

“I need you to take me to Pottery Barn. I need to return these Star Wars sheets. I find them too stimulating and incompatible with a good night's sleep. I don't like the way Darth Vader is staring at me.“ 

Walter Bishop

Walter Bishop from Fringe

Walt is an interesting personality, whose apparent senility was caused when (*spoilers*) he instructed people to remove parts of his brain for the protection of the universe (or, I should say, his universe). He is prone to being distracted by foodstuffs, while simultaneously delving into the insides of a parasitic monster's corpse. His memory lapses often cause moments that can be either heartbreaking or downright hilarious (sometimes both in the same scene).

It's impossible not to want to adopt Walter Bishop as your 3rd grandfather. In this way, Walt is much like Gary in that the audience finds him both humorous and adorably pathetic. His popularity on online polls ranges from absolute fan-favorite, to tied with Peter and Olivia. To say that Walt is integral to the show would be an understatement.

“To understand what happened at the diner, we use Mr. Papaya. This is upsetting because he is the friendliest of fruits.”

Abed from Community

Abed, like many of the previously mentioned nerds, has some serious social-skill deficiencies. Unlike Gary and Walt, however, his lack of social skills stems from his constant immersion in film and television, to the point where he now has difficulty separating himself from his escapism. His love of Star Wars, Cougar Town and Tarantino movies often bleeds into his daily perspective of reality, giving him a method of dealing with social situations through the eyes of one of his favorite characters, or viewing a tricky social predicament in a similar light to something he saw on TV.

But it's not just that which makes Abed such a popular character. Like Walter Bishop and Gary, we sympathize with Abed, and view him as the helpless character; socially stunted and strange, but also very funny. In Community, where there are so many bizarre and humorous individuals, the fact that Abed is still able to shine is a testament to the rising popularity of nerds. An online poll found Abed to be the most popular character in Community with 37%, of votes—a full 10 percent ahead of the nearest competition.

“That’s why I was willing to change for you guys—because when you really know who you are and what you like about yourself, changing for other people isn’t such a big deal.”

Why so Popular?

The list could go on. Dwight Schrute (The Office), Charles Bartowski (Chuck), JD (Scrubs), Topher Brink (Dollhouse), Vince Masuka (Dexter), Moss (The IT Crowd) … all of them have been tremendously well received by fans of the shows in question. But what do all of the characters have in common? What makes the nerd such a popular and seemingly vital component of modern television? Is it the humor that links them? The draw of seeing a socially awkward outcast in compromising situations? Their arrogance in knowing they are intellectually superior to their peers? Or is it the fact that we can all identify with a loser, at one level or another? Do we find them dually pitiable and adorable? Do we want to see them rise above their weakness, or do we love them because they are imperfect?

Whatever the reason, it would seem that the rising popularity of the geek is in no small part due to television shows, where the nerd is Mr. Popular in the eyes of the fans, and the good looking jock is just a supporting act.


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