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October 4, 2015

The Five: Nerdiest TV Characters

by Joel Keller, posted Nov 10th 2005 8:08AM
Arvid from Head of the ClassLet's face facts: all of the people looking at this blog entry were probably some form of dork when he or she was younger. It's a matter of time; hours and hours spent in front of the TV didn't leave us much time to develop our social skills. It didn't matter whether we were the shy reserved type of nerd or the full-blown, tape-on-the-glasses geek, we all watched the pretty people on the screen and wished we had it as easy as they did.

That's why we love TV nerds. They were only characters on our favorite shows who were the most like us. They weren't smooth talkers or good dressers, they were clumsy, and they almost never got the girl (although most TV nerds were luckier in love than we were, giving all of us false hope that the head cheerleader would change her opinion if she was just able to see how funny we were....).

But, as in real life, there were some TV nerds that were dorkier than others. These are the ones that even I would have shunned from my lunch table, at least until I felt guilty enough to ask them back:
  1. Steve Urkel - He went from bit player to breakout star within the first season of Family Matters, and for good reason. Urkel was irritating as hell, with his high-waisted pants, big glasses, and a penchant for destroying the Winslow's property and generally making their lives miserable. He even had a catchphrase: "Did I do that?" But, like most TV nerds, he would soon cross over from nuisance to "endearingly quirky", mainly because of his loyalty to both "Big guy" Carl and his son Eddie. Oh, and he constantly tried to get together with Laura, despite nine years of eye rolls. There's something to be admired in his persistence.
  2. Samuel "Screech" Powers - Didn't think Screech had a first or last name, huh? Well, he did, and he was the one everyone rooted for on Saved By The Bell. Screech was a different kind of nerd; no glasses or black shoes with white socks, just a funny voice, colorful clothes, and a wicked Jewfro. The fact that he hung out with cool guys Zach and Slater never seemed to help him with the ladies, especially Lisa Turtle, whom he pursued with an Urkel-like zeal for many many years. At least Urkel got a little off Laura at the end of their show; all poor Screech got from Lisa was insults.
  3. Arvid Engen - In 1988, I was in an AP history class that pretty much was a real-life clone of Head of the Class. Guess who everyone called Arvid? So, as you might imagine, I had a particular affection for the guy. He was a TV nerd that wasn't completely over the top; he wore big glasses and a pocket protector, but he was a nice guy who was just a bit clumsy. I always rooted for the guy each and every week, especially when he gently went after, and eventually won over, popular beauty Lori Applebaum. I mean, why not? If Arvid could get Lori, I could get Tracy, the smartest girl in my class. It was possible, I tell you!
  4. Cliff Clavin - Cliffie is the best example of those nerdy teenagers who never grew out of their discomfort. The Cheers mailman is middle-aged, lives with his mom, and insecurely spews his misinformed knowledge whenever he gets a chance. Heck, he still wears the high pants with the white socks! Fittingly, the only time Cliff was speechless was when he was in front of a woman, which even the dorkiest of us get over.... eventually.
  5. Carlton Banks - He was the perfect counterpoint to Will Smith's friendly hip-hop persona on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Carlton was short. He tied sweaters around his neck. He liked showtunes and Tom Jones. He danced like he was having a seizure (IMDB noted that the "Carlton Dance" was modeled after Courtney Cox' dance in Bruce Springsteen's video for "Dancing in the Dark"). Will tried to set him straight, but Carlton always stayed entrenched in his preppy ways. At least he was rich, right?
What's your five nerdiest? Dwayne Wayne? Lisa Simpson? The entire cast of Freaks and Geeks? TV Squad wants to know!

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Paul from The Wonder Years is actually Marilyn Manson, the singer.

November 12 2005 at 8:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Put in a vote for George Michael on Arrested Development! He has actually been shown studying during an episode (which I may have never seen any character in any school-based sitcom EVER do)! He completely stressed out when he got an A- in a class. Other nerdy characteristics: He has trouble developing relationships: his girlfriend was a frumpy religious fanatic and he harbors a crush on his first cousin; He is very tightly enmeshed with his father and family; He is completely unathletic and cowers whenever any item is tossed in his direction. Whaddya think, folks?

November 11 2005 at 7:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jason Simmons

I firmly disagree about the shy guy comment and being nerdy. I don't see how being shy and reserved makes someone nerdy. However, being ugly and a bad dresser definitely does! Please enlighten me. Thanks, JS

November 11 2005 at 7:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sam, Bill and Neal from Freaks and Geeks are the holy trinity of geekdom. Urkel and Screech were caricatures that were overdrawn for laughs. The Geeks were the real deal.

November 10 2005 at 8:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh, Bill from "Freaks And Geeks" most certainly deserves a place high on the list. Not only one of the nerdiest nerdy characters ever on TV, but to my mind one of the most magnetic, likeable nerd characters. Not over-the-top, but not particularly witholding or ashamed of his nerdiness. And frankly, it didn't seem like there was a whole lot of "acting" going on... Oh, and if we're going to put Carlton up there, you have to put his spot-on equivalent from Head Of The Class, Alan Pinkard (OK, so he's the white Carlton... other than that, they're identical!)

November 10 2005 at 7:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I liked Screech better when the show first started. He has just a cute little geek then. Didn't use that fake voice yet either. They took him a little far..

November 10 2005 at 3:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The geek triad of Sam, Neal, and Bill from Freaks and Geeks are worth mentioning as well. The only problem is not as many people know about them, a shame for one of the best high school series ever.

November 10 2005 at 3:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Eric J.

Boz from Riptide. How about Barclay from ST:TNG?

November 10 2005 at 1:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A took a look at Head Of Class and Arvid on IMDB, and it seems that the guy was at least 26 when the series began.

November 10 2005 at 1:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Jen definitely deserves a star for that. When Bill dressed up as the Bionic Woman for Halloween... greatest nerd moment ever.

November 10 2005 at 1:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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