I agree with Cracked’s Jon Cheese when he says the original definition of the word “nerd” — socially awkward, often sweaty, dateless misfit — doesn’t really jive with how people are using the word today. In 2013, “nerd” is a pop culture movement, a fashion choice, and a marketing niche. And you know what? That’s totally fine. Chris Brown wants to put on a pair of clunky $1,000 glasses and call himself a nerd? That’s cool. Your parents think they’re nerdy because they DVR The Big Bang Theory? Fine. Who am I to tell people what they can and can’t call themselves?
But for me, the word nerd will always call to mind the odd man out. The person who’d rather spend time alone obsessing over something most people would call “work” or “weird” or “boring.” The eccentric who feels what makes him special is also what makes it hard for him to connect to other people. The dude who’s been the butt of a joke more times than he can remember.
Nerdiness has its rewards, but sometimes being a nerd ain’t pretty. It can feel downright dispiriting when your interests and passions and your general demeanor make you the odd duck in the room. Luckily, nerds can find some solace by turning on the tube and appreciating the all-too-relatable struggles and journeys of the five following nerdy TV characters. These guys don’t make being a nerd seem cool, and that’s part of why they’re so much fun to watch. Here they are in no particular order:
Rudy, ‘Almost Human’
Only a handful of episodes of Almost Human have aired, so we haven’t gotten to know Rudy (Mackenzie Crook) all that well. But I’ve enjoyed the small amount of time we’ve spent with him so far. He’s the resident tech geek in the police precinct of the future, a procedural role that’s usually given to a subpar actor who turns in a grating performance and spouts hacky dialogue loaded with egghead clichés. Thankfully, Rudy isn’t that kind of one-note caricature, and he’s turning out to be one of the most interesting personalities on the show. He’s proven he can be as clever and brave as the show’s two alpha male leads, and his enthusiasm for his cool job is infectious. He’s weird and socially awkward, that’s for sure, but he’s also brilliant, artistic and caring, which are all great traits that come with being a big, tenderhearted nerd.
Travis, ‘Cougar Town’
I sometimes cringe while watching Travis (Dan Byrd) struggling to find himself and navigate the unsure waters of early adulthood. He reminds me so much of myself at that age that it’s hard not to. Travis is smarter than everyone else around him — especially the crazies in the cul-de-sac — but he’s usually clueless when it comes to social situations. He gets teased at school, rejected by girls, and tends to run and hide whenever life hands him a big bowl of crap, which happens often. Yes, watching Travis awkwardly stumble into manhood can be painful, but it’s also rewarding. He’s a sensitive nerd with a huge heart, and his endearing nature always inspires me to root for the little guy.
Ben, ‘Parks and Recreation’
I know you’re probably thinking, “Come on, man. Adam Scott is handsome as fuck. How’s he a nerd?” Well no one said nerds couldn’t be handsome, but they are awkward, extremely smart, and a little too obsessed with things like math and Fringe plot holes. And that description perfectly suits Ben Wyatt, Pawnee’s biggest stop-motion animation enthusiast. The great thing about Ben is that he can act like a completely normal human being most of the time, but start talking about Lord of the Rings or superheroes in front of him, and he becomes an obsessive and defensive dork. It’s always funny and endearing whenever Ben’s nerdiness takes over and threatens to overshadow everything straight Ben has going for him. Need more proof of Ben’s awesome nerdiness? Allow me to present the following…
Hank is the person I probably would’ve become had I never gotten married. Played by Ray Romano in full-on crank form, he’s one of the biggest misanthropes on TV. He’s a socially awkward loner who’d rather deal with people from behind a camera lens or a computer screen than through face-to-face contact. Hank isn’t a sci-fi geek or a pop culture junkie, but his passion for old cameras and photo-taking techniques plus his extreme commitment to his artistic endeavors definitely qualify him for nerd status. One of the special things about Hank is that when there’s something he wants, he eventually gets around to reaching for it, even if it’s a woman who’s out of his league, like the lovely Sarah Braverman. Watching Hank struggle to overcome his defeatist attitude has its rewards, and his recent relationship with preteen Max, who has Aspergers syndrome, is one of the most interesting pairings on the show.
Leonard, ‘The Big Bang Theory’
Sure, TBBT is one of those shows people like to criticize for its tendency to depict nerds and geeks as sexually confused buffoons. But I’ve always found Johnny Galecki’s Leonard to be the most appealing and realistic portrayal of a nerd on the show. TBBT got a lot of things right with Leonard, including the dichotomy that often comes with being a nerd: he’s intelligent but under confident, witty but shy, soulful but scared. He’s often the sober voice of reason on a show full of geek caricatures, and the character’s maturity makes him feel like a real person … well, sometimes, anyway.
Which TV nerds have you had a kinship with over the years? Let us know in the comments.