The seven coolest geeks on television
The fact that I'm about to become the father of my own little geek-spawn has led me to start looking around the current TV landscape, looking for appropriate geek role models. I was surprised to find so many...
At first, the idea of a "cool geek" seems like a contradiction in terms (like "jumbo shrimp" or "happily married"), but it's not as crazy as it sounds. Being cool is more a function of being comfortable in your own skin than it is having great looks or a really nice wardrobe (at least that's what my mother told me when I came home crying from the 6th grade dance). So, if a geek can retain the essential elements of his geekiness while simultaneously presenting to the world a confident air, they can achieve the title "cool geek".
Here are my picks for the seven coolest geeks currently on TV (in no particular order):
1) Adam and Jamie (MythBusters). Every time Adam cracks a stupid joke after blowing something up, my wife groans "that guy is such a dork!" But, she keeps watching because the intelligence and exuberance of this show is captivating. In a lot of ways, these two guys represent the best of geek culture: they're fun, friendly, and focused (and I mean monomaniacally focused on finding the best way to blow up scrap-metal). I don't know of a single one of my geeky friends that wouldn't trade places with them in a millisecond (and I'm pretty sure that every single IT guy in the country secretly believes that he could do the job as well, if not better). My only hope is that the final episode of MythBusters has Adam and Kari getting together. I realize this show isn't the Office, but I want my child to know that you don't need to be good looking or have all your hair to get a smoking hot red-headed chick to marry you.
2) Conan O'Brien (Late Night). Though he loses a few points for constantly fawning over his female guests in a manner that mirrors the worst of TV geekery, O'Brien still ranks as one of the elder statesmen of geek culture. Whereas the majority of the late night landscape is filled with aging hipsters, ridiculous Scotsmen, big-chinned people pleasers, and snarky populists, O'Brien's existence provides proof to geeks everywhere that overwhelming talent outweighs TV looks (or charisma, or experience, etc. etc.). It's every geek's fantasy to be so much better at their chosen field than everyone else that the suits in charge have no choice but to keep them employed at a high salary. Conan doesn't look or act like a TV host should, but he's just out and out funnier than any other human on the planet. Don't believe me? Listen to some of the early season DVD commentary on The Simpsons. They talk about him as if he were Zeus made human. And these are Simpsons writers.
3) Seth Green (Family Guy, Robot Chicken). He's popular enough that he might actually qualify for "legitimately cool person" status, but he's made enough contributions to geek television that he deserves a mention in this category. Buffy alone gets him on the list, but his recent Robot Chicken Star Wars Special was proves that it's entirely possible to sit at the cool table in high school, have all the girls call you cute, and know enough about Star Wars to create a stop-motion parody of the movies that is as reverential as it is hilarious. He even impressed top geek George Lucas (and his neck) enough for him to agree to be in Seth's show!
4) Matt Stone and Trey Parker (South Park). When I was in high school, my buddy Neil and I made a video called Sheep Boy that was weird, overly produced, and, I thought, hilarious. When we played it on the school's closed circuit TV system, however, I learned that the video was less funny than it was weirdly disturbing. I later learned to recalibrate my sense of humor to "normal", but it always irked me that no one at my school "got" what we were trying to do in that video. I don't know for sure, but I just have this feeling that Matt and Trey went through a lot of similar experiences before finally striking paydirt with South Park. They seem to follow their own muse wherever it decides to take them (anime, World of Warcraft, videogames, gerbils in anuses, etc.) without regard to what normal people will be able to relate to. Making regular people exist in our world for just a little bit is wonderful geek fun, and Matt and Trey do it better than anybody. On top of that, they wear dresses really well.
5) Comic Book Guy (The Simpsons). I know what you're thinking: Jay, Comic Book Guy represents the worst of geekdom. And you're right: he's sarcastic, he's overweight, he's lonely, he's bearded, but he's also a pretty perfect representation of us. If you're a geek and you're reading this, don't even pretend that the first time you saw Comic Book Guy that you didn't scream, "I know him!" So, while he's not necessarily "cool", I put him on the list because it's certainly cool that a mainstream network (even one owned by an Aussie twit) would put on a geek who's so accurately detailed.
6) Bill Hader (SNL). I'm going out on a limb with this one because there's been so little evidence of his geekiness. Just judging from the oddness of the sketches that he headlines (Vincent Prince, Laser Cats, Italian interviewer), he gives off a vibe that my geekdar picks up. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that if I pressed him he could name three Thundercats off the top of his head (and no Snarf doesn't count).
7) Patton Oswalt (The King of Queens). If there was an election for geek Mayor, Patton would win in a landslide. He reads comic books, he plays Dungeons and Dragons, and he has an amazing facility to store pop culture ephemera in his brain. Despite the fact he's "Hobbit height", he's got a razor wit and a sonic-boom voice. I'd love to attend a frat party with Patton. I get the feeling that he would demolish all of them at beer-pong, then spend the rest of the night calling them douchebags and daring them to do anything about it. If the rest of the world is Ivan Drago, Patton is an articulate Rocky Balboa. I'd love for my son to know that even a geek has a puncher's chance.
Did I miss anyone? Let me know in the comments!