Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lovable 90s TV Nerds

TV in the 90s was the Golden Age of stereotyped characters. Very few of our favorite shows contained particularly multi-dimensional characters. Instead, most of our televised friends could be neatly labeled and classified. Especially in high school sitcoms, our usual spectrum of characters was always there: the nerds, the jocks, the brains, and all of our other easily identifiable groupings. Sure, it was sort of a cop-out, but it was a lot easier than thinking up complex, multifaceted characters that resemble actual people in real life. I mean, really. Who wants that kind of responsibility on their shoulders?

One of the most popular TV tropes of the 90s was the nerd. Magically, these nerds usually seemed to be best friends with our too-cool everyman hero-type characters. You know, the way it never is in real life. Generally, these characters were ripe for mocking and served as a comic foil to their slicker co-stars. Regardless of their butt-of-the-joke lot in TV, they did get their fair share of funny storylines and dialogue. Sure, we were mocking them, but in an endearing way rather than with disdain. Well, usually.

Carlton Banks of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

If you're wondering who would win in a contest for the whitest black guy in the universe, look no further than preppy Republican Trekkie Carlton Banks. He made for a wonderful comic foil to cousin Will, whose cool character and smooth moves were in high contrast to Carlton's social awkwardness. He's an incredibly easy target: short, studious, old-fashioned fuddy-duddy music taste, and a penchant for tying golf sweaters around his shoulders.

Sure he's a little formal and straightlaced, but he does manage to surprise us once in awhile. Particularly with the Carlton dance. Any of you regular readers probably notice that I reference the Carlton dance frequently, but it's just so incredibly deserving of our attention. He's particularly partial to Tom Jones. If you're not yet convinced of Carlton's nerdiness, look no further than his incredibly well-timed dancing dorkiness. It's spectacular.

Samuel "Screech" Powers of Saved by the Bell

Once in our good graces as the adorably elfish nerdy kid Screech, Dustin Diamond has recently fallen from Saved by the Bell grace. After a string of embarrassing high-profile incidents (foreclosure, release of a sex tape, being a dick on Celebrity Fit club, penning a tell-all SBtB memoir), he was even left out of the People magazine coverage of the upcoming reunion. Ouch. I suppose being a desperately pathetic pseudo-celebrity clinging to your last parcels of fame is not quite enough to win over the skeptical public.

Back in the day, however, Screech was still a lovable geek who we knew from way back in his early Good Morning Miss Bliss years. He is forever getting sucked into Zack's crazy schemes and suffered all sorts of nerdy public humiliation. He plays chess, has a robot pal, and keeps science equipment in his bedroom. He has a huge thing for Lisa Turtle, but settles for dating Tori Spelling disguised with glasses and braids. Because you know, nerds wear glasess. That's how we know who they are.

I know, I know. In this video, they're all pretty enormous nerds, so it may be hard to pick him out.

Steve Urkel of Family Matters

You know a character's got staying power when they're supposed to play a one-time drop in guest and end up hogging all the remaining screen time for the duration of the series. The Winslow family's neighbor, Urkel is gratingly dorky in both voice and mannerisms. He wears oversized glasses, high water pants with suspenders, and walks in a trademark nerdy fashion. He's that annoying kid you just can't seem to shake, but he's well-meaning enough for us to feel a bit of sympathetic endearment toward him.

If you thought Carlton was the only one with trademark geeky dance moves, think again. Urkel's up for the challenge:

Comic Book Guy of The Simpsons

Comic Book Guy is one of the rare adult nerds we found on 90s TV, because presumably there are a plethora of nerds in mainstream society in our younger years who all gradually disappear as we near adulthood. Who knows, maybe they all become well-adjusted and popular somewhere along the way. Comic Book Guy is an exceptional case in that he retains his nerdiness in his tragically comic (yes, comic) adulthood.

He is the prototypical grown-up nerd, owner of Springfield's Android's Dungeon & Baseball Card Shop. He's overweight, overly saracastic, and overconfident for his lot in life. While like most nerds he's certainly intelligent, most of his brainpower goes to feeling smug and superior to his well-liked peers by being ridiculously knowledgable in all things Lord of the Rings and Klingon. Worst. Adulthood. Ever.

Millhouse Van Houten of The Simpsons

If Comic Book Guy is the prototypical adult nerd, Millhouse is his nebbish young counterpart. He has asthma, wets the bed, sleeps with a teddy bear...all of the stuff that's guaranteed to get you beat up by cartoon bullies. He plays a very Screech-like role as Bart's sidekick, getting caught up in his crazy scheming often against his will. His unrequited love for Lisa is another running joke, as while Lisa is a brainy nerd she's not quite down to Millhouse's level of social ineptitude.

Paul Pfieffer of The Wonder Years

Paul also plays the nerdy best friend to Wonder Years hero Kevin. Sure, Kevin's not exactly Mr. Popular Suavacito himself, but he's a far cry from tragic thick-framed glasses Pauldom. He's certainly got some Millhouse in him, as he's allergic to nearly everything in a sad, sort of pity-inducing way. He's also smart and bespectacled and Jewish, which by TV standards is a near-perfect recipe for eternal geekdom. He did become a successful Harvard-educated lawyer in the epilogue, however, so I guess all's well that ends well. All smart, nerdy, bespectacled Jewish kids everywhere (and believe me, there are many) finally had a role model younger than Woody Allen.

In the late 90s, a rumor bgan circulating that Josh Saviano, the actor who played Paul, had grown up to be Marilyn Manson. This makes no sense whatsoever, but the urban legend spread like wildfire. If anything, Josh should feel touched that people believed for even a moment that he had this sort of bad-ass potential. In real life, he went to Yale and became a lawyer. I suppose The Wonder Years' producers had a lot more insight into his future than a bunch of us gullible spectators.

Kimmy Gibbler

This list is seriously lacking in the estrogen department, but female nerds weren't quite as popular TV stereotypes as male. Luckily, Full House was progressive enough to provide us with a quirky enough character to be considered moderately geeky. She wasn't your typical nerd, as she had no glasses or school smarts. She's more of an idiosyncratic airhead who's not quite cute enough to qualify as a bimbo.

Kimmy is irritating, obnoxious, loud, and exhausting, but she's nearly all we've got in the female nerd department, so I'm throwing my support behind her by defining her as such. Thank you, Kimmy, for proving that girls have just as much of a knack for being annoying neighbors. We couldn't have done this without you. Keep fighting the good fight.

Honorable mentions go to Sponge from Salute Your Shorts, Willow of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Minkus of Boy Meets World, and Mark Foster of Step by Step


Nic said...

LOVED this post! Carlton is my fave! The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air wouldn't have been the same without him. Not only does he set up most of Will's jokes, but his sarcastic nature and clever remarks make him funny in his own right. And I love The Carlton Dance!

Shannon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shannon said...

What a great post! The episode with "Barbara Anne" was one of my favorites! :)

Badass Geek said...

I felt such a kinship with these characters as a kid.

Gracie Beth said...

Oh my goodness, I loved the wonder years! My dad and I used to watch it together!

KekeLynn said...

Ok, I always hated Kimmy Gibler!! But the Carlton dance... YAAAYYY~!

Kellie said...

The Carlton dance is the absolute best! And I had forgotten about so many of these! Great nerd choices! :)

Lil' Woman said...

The Carlton Dance is classic! :)

Jaime | Fast Times said...

The 90's really was the best time for teenagers television shows. I've been trying for years... YEARS... to do the Carlton dance.

LiLu said...


This is my favorite post ever. Oh, man, if I could pick a group of ficticious friends to come alive and be my gang? This would TOTALLY be it.

Hanako66 said...

I loved every carlton dance scene!

screech used to live by me in yorba husband used to deliver pizzas to him lol

Molly said...

I found Urkel to be creepy and stalkerish as the show progressed. It kind of killed my sympathy for him.

Hanako, was Screech a good tipper??

lovelila said...

My friends used to make me do the Carlton dance during gym class in middle school...

Okay, they didn't MAKE me. I was a willing participant. I was the only one that could do it justice! Haha!

Kerree said...

I really enjoyed watching the Kimmy Gibbler stuff. I haven't seen that show in so long. Thanks.

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