Scientists are all-purpose miracle workers on television. Whether it's a rogue virus or a genocidal computer, there's nothing that a television scientist can't handle. Because they understand Science. But how would they handle the ultimate challenge: tech support?

Tech support, as many of us know first-hand, poses challenges that go beyond the bounds of human knowledge. It confronts you with no-win situations and baffling anomalies on a daily basis. To succeed in tech support requires almost unimaginable grasp of the arcane sciences, and an ability to plumb the depths of human madness.

So perhaps the greatest avatars of Television Science could offer some hints about how to navigate Tech Support Hell? It can't hurt, right?


Top image by John Pedigo for

Bunsen Honeydew
Customer interaction style: Incredibly polite. Relentlessly upbeat — even if he sometimes sounds a bit too much like a brochure. It's not an unexpected growth that looks sort of like a baby's head coming out of your arm — it's a "refreshing" growth. Your computer isn't catching fire — it's "generating a pleasing warmth." Just remember: the future is being created today!
Does he solve the problem? Well, he solves many problems. You might call him up wanting to know how to get rid of the exponentially growing eggplants that came with your hair tonic, and he might solve the problem of Gorilla Invasions instead. Or he might come up with a brilliant solution for how to electrocute yourself.
Takeaway lesson: Solutions are easy — it's matching the solution to the problem that's hard.


Dr. Sam Beckett
Customer interaction style: Says "Oh boy" a lot. Seems kind of out of his depth, and refers to your computer as having gone "a little kaka." Which sounds sort of scatological. Keeps trying to consult his imaginary friend "Al" for guidance. Seems unnecessarily philosophical about the fact that there are some things you can change, and some that you can't, and the main thing is to change a heart. Which sounds like a painful operation.
Does he solve the problem? Well... on the plus side, Sam Beckett will always test out his ideas on himself first. And he does have an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time.
Takeaway lesson: Just because someone's a quantum physicist with a holographic best friend doesn't mean they have all the answers.

Gaius Baltar
Customer interaction style: Withering sarcasm, mixed with the occasional clumsy attempts at ingratiating himself. Clearly thinks he's too awesome to solve your pathetic little problems, but also seems wracked with guilt. Like Sam Beckett, he has an imaginary friend whom he keeps consulting at random moments. Gets a bit of a messiah complex when faced with a particularly tough problem.
Does he solve the problem? Umm... No, not really. He's very good at stalling, until the problem at hand is replaced with a problem he actually knows how to solve. Or see above about his tendency to announce himself as the messiah, rather than fixing your printer.
Takeaway lesson: The tech support guy may well be smarter — and holier — than everyone else, but it's best not to show it.

Mr. Spock
Customer interaction style: Well, he's polite. At least on the surface. But right under the surface, he's kind of a dick. For one thing, if you complain about anything being broken, he'll start lecturing you about all the atrocities your ancestors committed in various world wars. And he doesn't sugarcoat the bad news: If he thinks the odds of your computer ever working properly are 1,444,000 to one against, he'll tell you.
Does he solve the problem? Yes, but he usually goes for the most extreme solution, because he doesn't care much about collateral damage. So for example, say a nice grandma in Iowa downloaded appoximately 128.44 browser plug ins, and now her entire screen is nothing but toolbars. Spock will go straight for the most extreme solution, which is just a theory that's never been tested. If one were to generate a high enough alternating current and run it through both the woman and her Compaq 5000 computer, it might stimulate her latent telepathy and enable her to interface with her machine mentally. More likely, it would cause an electrical fire that would burn down half the neighborhood. But the needs of the many, and all that.
Takeaway lesson: Sometimes you need to channel your human half a little bit more.

Professor Farnsworth
Customer interaction style: Good news, everyone! Professor Farnsworth has an unending supply of childlike enthusiasm, tempered only by a streak of extreme sadism. He plays up the "absent-minded professor" thing for all it's worth, and will probably nod off a few times in the course of listening to exactly what noise your machine is making. There's also a good chance he will get fed up with your problem and depart for the Angry Dome.
Does he solve the problem? No. He's likely to invent some kind of Doomsday Device instead, which only tangentially relates to whatever your issue was. But by the time you've escaped from his unstoppable death machine, you'll be grateful that you're just stuck with whatever the original problem was. And in the process of escaping with your life, you may just stumble on the solution to your original dilemma.
Takeaway lesson: Good news isn't always good news.

Daniel Faraday
Customer interaction style: Extreme vagueness, with a hefty streak of doom and gloom. Attempts to distract you from your huge nightmarish problems with his cute scruffy beard and new wave tie. Constantly consults a technical manual that appears to be handwritten in biro. Relates better to mice than to people. On the plus side, he's good on the phone.
Does he solve the problem? Sometimes, yes. If it's just a matter of locating the one special person who will save you from time-unglued madness, then Faraday's your man. But if he starts suggesting plans to reboot the universe by setting off a hydrogen bomb, you should probably just hang up on him.
Takeaway lesson: There's a reason why the manual isn't hand-written.

The Doctor
Customer interaction style: Well, actually we've gotten to see a bit of the Doctor doing tech support, in last year's "The Lodger." And he was typically brilliant, knowing all the answers. The only problem is, after most customer service calls with the Doctor, people would probably be walking away from their computers and going out to Fight Evil. He tends to have that effect on people.
Does he solve the problem? Yes. But he'll make you realize that the problem you can see is really only a tiny fragment of the huge, impossible problem that lurks just beyond the edge of your vision. And you may never sleep well again. Plus he may inadvertently convert your office scanner into a hyperdrive modulator, meaning that instead of scanning documents, it redirects photons into another dimension. Plus don't let him anywhere near the polarity of your neutron flow.
Takeaway lesson: There is such a thing as having too many answers.

Walter Bishop
Customer interaction style: He'll put you on hold for half an hour while he goes and smokes a bowl. If the caller is still on the line after that, then Walter will explain prog rock and mushrooms at great length, along with a lengthy exegesis of his bowel movements. After that, Walter sinks into a deep depression about the state of the multiverse, and the fact that Massive Dynamic shipped a product that is eating people. He will wallow in guilt and rage for approximately 17 minutes.
Does he solve the problem? If you put a gun to his son Peter's head, then yes. Or if he gets interested enough in the scientific challenge. The solution will probably involve flooding your entire office with nitrous oxide, in the hope that it'll stimulate some chemical reaction that fixes the lethal Massive Dynamic system. Or if it fails, at least everyone will die laughing.
Takeaway lesson: Some calls are worth hanging on for.

Thanks to Alasdair for the help with Hubert Farnsworth!

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