While it’s often the pretty characters with long hair and aspirations to join the cheerleading team that get the best clothes and the most handsome boyfriends, it’s usually the nerdy ones that get the best lines and the most exciting roles. From witches to whizz kids, scientists to super-sleuths, this article takes a look at some of the most popular geeks on television and what the actresses who created look like when they step out from behind their horn-rimmed spectacles.
There are few characters on television who are quite as straight-laced as Community’s Annie Edison. With her desire to achieve and her rather prissy attitude, actress Alison Brie couldn’t be more, unlike her character. According to Brie, she isn’t the goody-two-shoes she often plays on television and, in fact, the actress says, “I had a very wild 20s. If I was going out with you, it was going to be a crazy night”. We very much doubt Edison had a crazy night at any point in her life.
Modern Family Life
The middle child of the Modern Family, Alex Dunphy is far superior to her siblings, and even her parents, in terms of intellect and academic achievements. As an overachiever, Alex has a habit of being both sarcastic and condescending and enjoys making fun of her family for their inferior intelligence. Actress Ariel Winter played the part of Alex and admitted she had things in common with her, including the fact that, “We’re both snarky, and we both value education. She makes it OK for girls to want to be smart”.
The Bones of Healthy Living
Forensic anthropologist, Temperance Bones Brennan is half of the FBI crime-solving partnership. Teamed with agent Seeley Booth, ‘Bones’, as her colleagues refer to her, is known for her quick brain and her complete lack of social skills. Played by Emily Deschanel, the actress said she learnt a lot on the series, “I’m definitely more aware of the fact that there are a lot of things which are not good for your bones”. At school, Deschanel wasn’t so much interested in science as she was putting an end to animal cruelty.
Betty’s Designer Disasters
Despite the clashing colors and clunky shoes, the majority of items in Betty Suarez’s wardrobe were actually designer clothes. The star of Ugly Betty, America Ferrera, admits that her own experiences of trying to establish herself as an actress weren’t that different from some of the challenges Suarez is faced with in the series. According to Ferrera, many people told her, “You’re Latino. That’s not really what they want in Hollywood. You’re short. You’re not the image… of what a beautiful Hollywood star is”. Like her character, Ferrera succeeded anyway.
Rory Gilmore’s Graceful Grind
This hard-working high school pupil is one of the world’s best when it comes to studying for an exam. Although she can be thoughtless and selfish, Rory Gilmore of The Gilmore Girls, played by Alexis Bledel, has the rare ability to be both intelligent and attractive which is why her inclusion in this article is a little unconvincing. While she displays some nerdiness in terms of her approach to school work, Rory fails to embrace the bespectacled style disasters of some of the other characters celebrated here.
Winnie’s Wonder Years
In the 1980s, Winnie Cooper was known to the world as the apple of Kevin Arnold’s eye. The Wonder Years was set in Fifties America and Winnie was, according to Mike Spies in The New Yorker, “the paragon of innocent boyish yearning”. Intelligent but not a smarty-pants, pretty but not knock-out beautiful, Winnie was just above average and just within reach. Actress Danica McKellar brought the wonderful Winnie to our screens and, like Winnie, is both beautiful and intelligent, having written five books encouraging youngsters to flourish in mathematics.
Cosima the Complex Clone
The nerdy scientist clone of the Canadian science fiction drama series, Orphan Black, is both brilliant and complex. Early on in the series, Cosima falls for her mentor, Delphine, a relationship that actress Tatiana Maslany describes as being “… between two people who loved each other for who they were – their connection was intellectual”. Maslany proved her versatility as an actress, taking on all the 11 clone characters which vary wildly from the troubled Sarah Manning to the psychotic Helena and strangely likeable soccer mum, Alison Hendrix.
Life on Mars
The high school detective, Veronica Mars, is more than a little geeky but has an uncanny knack of solving the most intricate crimes, using her superior intelligence and excellent problem-solving abilities. According to Kristen Bell, who took on the leading role for the TV series and subsequent movie, playing the part came naturally to her. In an interview, Bell confessed, “When I played Veronica initially, it was effortless. I was fully present and, more so than any role I’ve ever played, did not feel like I was acting”.
Cheeseburger and Frye
The talented mechanic who keeps Serenity going, Kaylee Frye is also the heart of the ship in both the TV series, Firefly and the movie, Serenity. Despite having no formal training, she has a natural insight when it comes to machines and a lot of compassion when it comes to dealing with the other weird and wonderful characters onboard the ship. Played by actress Jewel Staite, Kaylee was supposed to be “voluptuous and rounded and womanly” but Staite couldn’t stick with a cheeseburger-only diet so she ended up rather thinner.
Pam’s Secret Urges
The receptionist from the series, The Office, Pam Halpert (nee Beesly) is amiable but shy with mostly hidden artistic talents. Although she can be a bit of a dork from time to time, once she embarks on a relationship with Jim, she starts to change. According to Jenna Fischer, who played Pam, “… she has found her voice, she has started taking art classes”. When Fischer first auditioned for the role, the casting director told her, “Don’t make yourself all pretty, and dare to bore me…”. Clearly, she didn’t.
Squeezing the Lemon
The 30 Rock character, Liz Lemon, is independent, proud, clever and rather clumsy and, in fact, not unlike The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s star, Mary Richards. Tina Fey, the very talented actress and writer of the series, is very similar to her character, with the main difference being Lemon’s relentlessly unsuccessful love life. With a reboot of 30 Rock on the cards, fans can expect more of Fey’s wordy style of humor but not necessarily the same format because, according to Fey, “a straight reboot … would be too easy”.
The Science of Scully
You won’t find many people as clever as FBI agent Dana Scully. With her background as a doctor and her skills as an investigator, X-Files’ Scully is one of the brightest female characters to grace our television screens. Played by Gillian Andersen, the two women have certain similarities and, before deciding she wanted to become an actress, Andersen’s primary interests were worms and microbiology. At some point during her high school years, Andersen made the transition from “wanting to be … a marine biologist, to wanting to be an actress”.
The brains behind the Scooby-Doo gang, Velma Dinkley has been portrayed and voiced by numerous actresses over the years. The original Scooby-Doo cartoon, The Scooby-Doo Show, aired on ABC during the mid to late Seventies, during which Velma was voiced by actress Pat Stevens. Known for her various nursing roles on the popular series, M*A*S*H, Stevens enjoyed playing Velma, saying, “I always valued brains”. Sadly, Stevens passed away in 2010 but the bespectacled Velma lives on having been most recently voiced by Kate Micucci in Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!
Inside Garcia’s Criminal Mind
The computer geek from Criminal Minds, Penelope Garcia is mostly self-taught, having dropped out of the California Institute of Technology. Prior to working as a technical analyst, Garcia was a hacker known as The Black Queen. Portrayed by Kirsten Vangsness, Garcia goes through some frightening experiences that the actress is grateful not to have to undergo in real life, saying, “I’ve never been trapped in a car with a gun to my head. If I had to pick, I would say I want to have it only happen imaginarily”.
Lisa Simpson’s Scientific Reason
The charismatic sister of Bart, Lisa Simpson is known for her geekiness, intelligence and desire to overachieve. Unsurprisingly, this leaves her with few friends and a lot of time to devote to playing the saxophone and riding horses. Voiced by Yeardley Smith, the actress is a big fan of the character, saying that, not only is Lisa the voice of morality and good judgement in the series, The Simpsons, she is also “an ardent feminist … an environmentalist, a Buddhist, a champion of scientific reason”.
Knope and Poehler Share Political Views
As a medium-level bureaucrat in Pawnee’s Parks and Recreation Department, Knope is something of a go-getter. Inspired by the ‘Yes We Can’ feeling of Obama’s election campaign, Knope believes she can, single-handedly if necessary, improve her town and create a better environment, while honing her dreams of becoming the first female president. While actress Amy Poehler, who portrays Knope, has no political aspirations herself, she does share some attributes with the character, saying, “Yeah, I think that there’s a lot of crossover.… There’s certainly some similarities in what we believe”.
Willow’s Weird Wardrobe
According to Alyson Hannigan, who portrayed the super-intelligent Willow Rosenberg in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, her school days weren’t so different from Willow’s – except the powerful witch element, of course. Hannigan admits that her own high school experience was fraught with teasing and some terrible fashion choices, including wearing “Dr. Seuss boxer shorts over leggings”. Willow’s plaid dresses and fluffy sweaters suddenly seem quite acceptable. These days, Hannigan has upped her game a bit and usually looks pretty sexy, even if she does have a thing for oversized jerseys.
The Science of Sciuto
As far as geeky forensic scientists go, NCIS’s Abigail “Abby” Sciuto is pretty cool with her pigtails, tattoos, and chunky boots. Despite her appearances, Sciuto is a good Christian girl who goes bowling with nuns when she’s not busy solving crimes. Fans were devastated when the inspirational character left the series last month and, according to actress Pauley Perrette, who played the part, “There [are] young women out there who’ve gotten their degrees and are in the field of science and math and forensics because of this TV character”.
Depressed Daria’s Derision
Originally little more than a supporting character for the two boneheads, Beavis and Butthead, Daria evolved into a protagonist in her own right. Long after Beavis and Butthead had lost their appeal, Daria still had American audiences eating out of the palm of her cartoon hand. Despite being unusually clever, Daria is far from an academic overachiever and is extremely apathetic and cynical. Voiced by actress and writer Tracy Grandstaff, Daria “…is, was, and always will be the Misery Chick who loathes attention more than she loathes herself”.
The talkative waitress from Cheers, Diane Chambers is a fan of the fine arts and having intellectual discussions – something she doesn’t get much opportunity to do at the bar. Friendly and endlessly chatty, Chambers is strangely unaware of how her intelligence sets her apart from her colleagues and patrons. Played by actress Shelley Long, Chambers was an outsider, desperate to become part of the Cheers family but without the social skills to do so. The character of Diane Chambers reappeared in the highly successful spin-off series, Frasier.
Talented and Tenacious Testaburger
As one of the most prominent female characters in the animated series, South Park, Wendy is one of the most intelligent students in her class. Wendy never hesitates about standing up for her principals but she’s also not above using a little physical violence if the situation calls for it. Wendy’s voice was provided by four different actresses, the original one being Mary Kay Bergman, although she was originally credited as Shannen Cassidy in order to protect her identity as the official voice of Disney’s Snow White.
A Monsoon of Mental Capacity
Virtuous, intelligent, hard-working and just a little bit annoying, Saffron Monsoon is the voice of reason in the madness of her mother, Edina’s life. Detested by Edina’s best friend, Patsy, who calls her “you little bitch troll from hell,” Saffron is unapologetically sensible in the face of her mother’s madcap immaturity. Portrayed by actress Julia Sawalha, Saffron prefers books to booze and studying to sex. According to Sawalha, the most important thing about Absolutely Fabulous was “giving someone some escapism,” but Saffron probably wouldn’t approve.
A Good Day to Be Geeky
A talented computer hacker, Charlie find her niche as an IT expert. A Star Wars fan with a penchant for pop tarts and yoghurt, Charlie is the queen of Nerd Empire. Played by Felicia Day, an actress who admits she’s as geeky as her character, Charlie got killed off in a fairly idiotic manner which infuriated fans. Day recently returned to the series Supernatural as an alternate reality version of the character. Day is outspoken about encouraging people to shirk the stereotypes and “be as weird as they wanna be…”.
Hooper’s Unrequited Love
Although hopelessly in love with the eccentric Sherlock Holmes, in the lab, Molly Hooper proves herself to be much more than just a lovestruck pushover. As the morgue’s specialist registrar, Hooper comes into regular contact with the detective who often manipulates her to get what he wants. Despite being rather shy and retiring, Hooper is a strong woman and eventually stands up to Holmes, forcing him to be more considerate. Actress Louise Brealey recently defended her character, saying “Loving someone after years is not reductive, retrograde, antifeminist or weak”.
A Heck of a Role
The dorky middle daughter of Heck family in the series, The Middle, Sue is both over-emotional and social awkward, but her endless enthusiasm enables her to breeze through situations that leave her siblings flailing. Sue surprisingly ends up in the cheerleading team at high school, but only because of a mix up, and is frequently forgotten and over-looked. Eden Sher has played the role of Sue since 2009 and the actress admits, “We’ve sort of blended into one person”. Keep reading for more geeky girl stories.
Sternin’s Social Sciences
Another Cheers character that comes up as a bit of a nerd is Lilith, Frasier’s one-time romantic interest and ex-wife. Bebe Neuwirth portrayed the “intellectual ice queen” to perfection but felt the role did little for either her development as an actress or her career. According to Neuwirth, who reprised the role on the spin-off series, Frasier, “I find Lilith very innocent, very sweet, very naïve. She’s socially inept. She has no idea how to react with other people. She’s a scientist, she’s very analytical, she’s very honest”.
The Lawrence Law of Weirdness
Sadly, it would seem the creators of Boy Meets World, don’t adore geeky characters quite as much as we do. Although Topanga Lawrence started out at school as something of an outcast, with her vegetarian diet and hippy clothes, at high school she starts to become more like everyone else. Danielle Fisher who played the role, says she learnt a lot from the experience and one of the most important lessons was that, “It is absolutely okay — actually preferable in some cases — to be weird”.
Raven’s Sense of Style
Unlike some of the fashion disasters we’ve since from our other geeky girls, Raven’s might be unconventional but it’s certainly not lumpy jerseys and chunky court shoes. The star of the sitcom, That’s So Raven, and the spin-off series, Raven’s Home, Raven’s recognized for her clairvoyant abilities and dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Played by Raven-Symoné of The Cosby Show fame, even as an adult, Raven has changed little and, according to the actress, “… is still that fun, kooky, crazy, down for whatever, here for friends’ girl.
Schmidt’s Secret to Happiness
The ever-cheerful 29-year-old, Kimmy Schmidt had little to smile about while with the doomsday cult that held her captive for 15 years. Determined to make up for it, Schmidt dedicates herself to creating a new life that enables her to be something other than a victim. Played by The Office star, Ellie Kemper, the character is as optimistic as the actress. According to Kemper, “I feel like when I am playing Kimmy Schmidt, it’s very easy to feel optimistic because her clothes are so bright”.
How Bialik Blossomed
It seems Mayim Bialik was born to play geeks, securing the role of Blossom when she was 15 years old. As the only girl in the fictional family of the sitcom, Blossom, the opinionated teenager became famous for her catchphrase, “Whoa!”, while her unique fashion sense was quite a hit back in the early Nineties, with several stores stocking an entire collection inspired by her hippy style. Like her The Big Bang Theory character, Bialik left acting for a while to earn herself a degree in neuroscience.
Lizzie Feels the Love
A typical accident-prone teenager, Lizzie is argumentative but extremely loyal. Achieving consistently high grades, she also has an animated alter ego who voices many of her private feelings. Despite her clumsiness, Lizzie had a talent for gymnastics and was portrayed by the actress and singer Hillary Duff. Although the series didn’t end well for Duff, she remembers her time on Lizzie McGuire with fond recollection, saying “I totally related to her, loved her, felt like I was her completely… But I’m kind of glad to move on from that”.
Sidle’s Hopeless Social Skills
Crime scene investigator, Sara Sidle, has both beauty and brains but her lack of social skills keeps her firmly in the nerd department and, like Temperance Brennan in Bones, Sidle prefers to work with dead bodies than real people. The actress behind the forensic specialist was Jorja Fox who, like her character, battled with the intensity of the cases, saying, “It’s a really intense place to work. A lot of the stories do end sadly and badly. That’s been one of the things I’ve struggled with — the violence”.
Kentner’s Comedic Relief
The ever-loyal friend of Lindsay in Freaks and Geeks is so absurdly nerdy, it’s hard to believe she can even survive in high school. A tea-totaling Christian, Millie worries constantly about Lindsay and her changing behavior but is always on-hand to help her out. Actress Sarah Hagan has specialized in playing geeky, shy characters with a tendency to repeatedly divulge all the reasons she’ll never be cool. According to Hagan, she gets to play, “interesting characters… almost comedic relief characters, which I like”.
Savvy Spano Speaks Out
Intelligent, ambitious and more than a little neurotic, Jessie Spano was the cleverest member of the Saved By The Bell gang. Played by Elizabeth Berkley, Jessie is a liberally minded feminist who never hesitates to speak out against perceived injustice. Sadly, Berkley’s career flopped monumentally after she appeared, rather scantily clad, in the movie, Showgirls. According to Berkley, although the experience was difficult, it taught her a lot and, “At 21 years old, I had to find my self-esteem again. It was a very hard time”.
The OC’s Obnoxious Overachiever
The annoying Miss Goody Two Shoes of The OC, Taylor Townsend is an obnoxious overachiever who appears in the third season as a young girl desperate for affection. Power-hungry and manipulative, she’s not the most likeable character to appear on television, but actress Autumn Reeser, who played the part, has something of a soft spot for her despite her flaws. According to Reeser, “I loved that she made no apologies for who she was even though she wasn’t what all the magazines said was OK”.
Tina’s Autistic Tendencies
With little, if any, social skills and a strange desire to write erotic fiction, Tina Belcher of Bob’s Burgers is one of the most unusual character to pop up on television. Hovering somewhere on the autistic scale, Tina speaks in a monotone and takes everything at face value. Surprisingly, it’s an actor who provided Tina’s voice and, according to comedian Dan Mintz, it’s been great for his stand-up career. According to Mintz, “If the host announces me as Tina, I get a free laugh off the first thing I say”.
Pond’s Pubescent Predicament
Having not had the advantages of a normal childhood, Dr. Who’s companion, Amy Pond, is something of an enigma. Initially she appears more of a child stuck in an adult’s body but, as the series progresses, she becomes more confident. According to Karen Gillan, who played the part in the science fiction series, Dr. Who from 2010 to 2012, said she aspires to be like the character, saying, “I just don’t have her sassy attitude. But I like that about her, and I like that about other people”.
Sabrina’s Spell-Binding Strength
As Willow Rosenberg would probably agree, it’s not easy being a witch, even a very clever witch. Although Sabrina had none of Willow’s dark powers, she does cause a great deal of chaos as she battles to master her magical capabilities. Melissa Joan Hart played the character for seven years, from 1996 and describes them as “… the best years of my life”. Living with her magical and eccentric aunt, Sabrina struggles with all the usual teenage issues, but comes across as a strong, independent young woman despite the odds.
Bernadette’s Squeaky Voice
While Melissa Rauch is easily identifiable as her character Dr. Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz from The Big Bang Theory, when she opens her mouth, many fans think they’ve got the wrong person. Without her character’s high-pitched voice, Rauch often gets mistaken for someone else. According to Rauch, “Sometimes I’ll get recognized and then they’ll hear my voice and be like ‘Oh, that’s not you'”. she revealed. Despite her ditzy blonde appearance, Bernadette has a Ph.D. in microbiology and is one of the few characters who actually earns a decent wage.
Amy’s Real-Life Inspiration
Having studied at the prestigious Harvard University, The Big Bang Theory’s Amy Farrah Fowler has a doctorate in neurobiology and is more than brainy enough to take on the super-intelligent Sheldon Cooper. Despite having few friends, Fowler is usually cheerful and rather likeable despite her inherent nerdiness. Actress Mayim Bialik brings the character to life, giving her a surprising amount of depth for a mere sitcom character but that’s probably because of the real-life inspiration she gained from the female scientists she met at grad school.