From Saved by the Bell to The Big Bang Theory, nerds have tended to be low-hanging fruit for cheap laughs on scripted TV. But not all TV nerds are alike—some bring depth and humanity to what has often been a two-dimensional trope. Today we’re taking a look at those who have a bit more to offer than stereotypes. Here are io9's picks for the five most-relatable nerds on television.
These are the nerds who make us laugh and think while challenging us to embrace our own dorkier sides. Be sure to let us know some of your favorite relatable nerds in the comments—especially the ones who helped you embrace your own nerdiness!
Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) is a newcomer, having just debuted in Netflix’s 2020 original series Never Have I Ever (bonus: it was just renewed for a second season). This highly competitive, harp-playing, straight-A student has all the marks of a typical nerd, but with some anger issues stemming from the trauma of having recently lost her father. Devi represents the universal struggle of someone processing heavy emotional weight while trying to figure out just who she is in the complicated world of high school. She speaks for awkward teens who are going through emotional turmoil but don’t have the skillsets to manage it.
There would be no Fresh Prince without Carlton Banks (Alfonso Ribeiro). Our favorite square from Bel-Air is the perfect counterpoint to Will Smith’s street smart prankster, and at least as funny. He’s out of touch enough to make you laugh, while still someone you could imagine hanging out with at a party. Carlton is so comfortable being himself that he seems to make everyone around him feel at ease. This moved his character beyond the social pariah trope, as he brought joy to everyone around him (well, almost everyone). And, of course, he gave us the greatest gift of all: The Carlton Dance.
Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) started out as Buffy’s meek, quasi-hacker sidekick on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She was a computer nerd in the early days of computer nerds, even summoning a demon through the internet. But throughout the series, she grew into a stronger, more confident character through her interest in both computers and magic. She not only discovered a gift for the supernatural arts but also her identity as a queer woman. Willow evolved from someone who constantly needed saving to an all-powerful, magic-wielding academic. And although she may have almost destroyed the world by embracing her darker powers, deep down she’s still the Scooby Gang’s computer nerd.
Pawnee, Indiana was never the same after Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) came into the picture. For the first few episodes he seemed like your typical straight-laced numbers guy—spouting sports stats instead of Game of Thrones quotes—but slowly his nerdy side was revealed. His unabashed love of Battlestar Galactica and creating the “punishingly complex” Cones of Dunshire tabletop roleplaying game gave him typical nerd status, but he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve—except when he’s wearing the Batsuit to “treat” himself. The more you got to know Ben, the more you got to see how passionate of a nerd he really was.
For a generation of fans, Lisa Simpson is the relatable nerd. The fact that her family makes her stick out like a sore thumb makes it only more apparent. She was an activist, a feminist, and an environmentalist before any of those things were part of the cultural zeitgeist, and ultimately she never waivers from her ideals. She showed that it’s ok to be yourself, even when the people around you don’t understand you. Despite how different she is from her family, they love and respect her all the same, because that’s how she feels about herself. And that is what makes a true nerd.
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