11 August 2008Celebrities, Features
The formula for a successful sitcom usually includes one key component – the nerd. Whether the nerd is your typical geek with oversized glasses and high-waisted pants or the prim and proper male opera lover, sometimes a good TV show just needs someone to be the brunt of every joke or a character whose naïveté, gullibility or paranoia stands in sharp contrast to the wit and charm of the show’s leading men and women. Here’s a list of 15 lovable nerds who made our favorite TV shows all the better.
Steve Urkel : The quintessential nerd with an annoying nasally voice, Steve Urkel captured the hearts and laughter of the American public with his dimwitted charm and high-water pants. Urkel, who was a magnet character on the sitcom “Family Matters”, was played by actor Jaleel White. On the show, Urkel was desperately in love with the character of Laura Winslow, and pestered her and her family day and night in his attempts to win her over. Urkel even had an alter ego named Stephan Urkel, who ended up being the lucky one to date Laura. Today, Jaleel White works mostly as the voice behind the “Sonic the Hedgehog” cartoon character and he has also had small guest roles in a few movies and prime time TV shows.
Carlton Banks: Everyone knows about the exaggerated dance Carlton Banks, the nerdy, preppy cousin on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” made popular. Arms swinging side to side, face aglow, Carlton, played by actor Alfonso Ribeiro, made audiences, laugh and cry with his innocent portrayal of a proper guy who just wanted to be liked and who was the subject of his cousin’s constant ridicule. But the thing he will be most remembered for, aside from his stellar collection of argyle sweater vests, is The Carlton dance, which lives on today in You Tube clips. Recently, Ribeiro appeared as a contestant on the show “Celebrity Duets” and he also performs on the Disney Magic cruise ship.
Screech : Actor Dustin Diamond is known today for being the most cantankerous contestant on “Celebrity Fit Club.” But in the 1990s, no one, probably not even his closest friends, could look at Diamond without thinking, “Screech.” Samuel “Screech” Powers was the uber-dorky high school student with a forever-cracking voice on “Saved By the Bell,” who like most nerd characters had it bad for Lisa, the beautiful, fashion-forward student who wouldn’t give him the time of day. Despite his nerdiness, though, Screech managed to run with the cool crowd, or at least tag along with them in exchange for doing their homework. Today Diamond performs stand up comedy and has been a recurring contestant on “Celebrity Fit Club”.
Alex P. Keaton : Alex P. Keaton was the stiff, Republican teenager played by Michael J. Fox on the 1980s sitcom “Family Ties.” While Keaton was never the stereotypical “geek” obsessing over computers or chess, he was certainly a nerd in the sense that as a teen he worshipped Ronald Reagan and religiously read “The Wall Street Journal” each morning. Keaton’s character stood in sharp contrast to the other members of the “Family Ties” family – the ex-hippie parents, wild child sister, and smart-ass youngest sister. Keaton excelled at school and attended college on a full scholarship, where he finally started dating. After “Family Ties” was cancelled, Fox moved on to do movies and also starred on the sitcom “Spin City.” Today, Fox continues to act, despite the fact that he has been living with Parkinson’s disease for several years.
Napoleon Dynamite : “Tina! Come get some ham!” This is just one line made quotable by Napoleon Dynamite, the nerd who starred in the breakout 2004 movie “Napoleon Dynamite.” Played by actor Jon Heder, Dynamite is a clueless geek living in rural Idaho with his equally clueless brother Kip, his adventurous grandmother, and their llama Tina. The movie is a chronicle of Dynamite’s unorthodox and awkward relationships with his family members and friends. Heder’s spot-on performance of an awkward teenager makes Napoleon Dynamite an instant classic, and while it wasn’t a TV show, Napoleon certainly deserves a spot on this list. Heder has gone on to star in other movies, like “School for Scoundrels” and “Blades of Glory.” Though none of his other movies have had the same success as “Napoleon Dynamite,” he has proven to be a marketable performer.
Skippy: If Alex P. Keaton was a nerd in a more political sense, Skippy stepped in to fill the stereotypical geek shoes on “Family Ties.” Erwin “Skippy” Handelman was the next door neighbor who, like many nerd characters, had an undying crush on Mallory Keaton, the wild-child daughter of the Keaton family played by Justine Bateman. Of course, Mallory did not share the same affections. Though Skippy was never a fully-developed character, he was a frequent guest at the Keaton house, always creating socially awkward situations with his ill-at-ease demeanor. He would sputter and stutter and withstand rejection from Mallory time and again. Played by actor Marc Price, he has had few other big roles since “Family Ties” went off the air. He did host the Disney game show “Teen Win, Lose, or Draw” from 1989 to 1992 and was also a short-lived contestant on “Last Comic Standing.”
Potsie Webber : Potsie Webber was the “aw-shucks”, eager-to-please best friend of Richie Cunningham on the old sitcom “Happy Days.” Played by Anson Williams, Potsie was a gullible and innocent tag along who was comically terrible at basketball. Good-natured, but square, Potsie was generally accepted by the other characters, but not taken as seriously. After “Happy Days,” Anson went on to become a TV director and has called the shots on many shows, like “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Star Trek Voyager,” and “Charmed,” just to name a few.
Niles Crane: Uppity and snobbish, Niles Crane was the nerdy brother of Frasier Crane on the sitcom “Frasier.” Nerdy because he was intelligent and cultured, Niles Crane was known for his love of classical music, fine wines, and theater. Niles was played by David Hyde Pierce, who nailed the character’s squeamish nature. Though a successful psychoanalyst in Seattle, Niles had a hefty list of his own issues, including a phobia of sitting on public chairs and benches. For fun, when he’s not at the opera, Niles could have probably been found on the squash courts or fencing. Pierce won several Emmy’s for his portrayal of Niles, and when “Frasier” went off the air in 2005, Pierce turned to supporting roles in films like “Hellboy” and also to Broadway. He’s appeared in both “Spamalot” and “Curtains,” for the latter of which he won a Tony Award.
Kenneth : Kenneth the Page is an innocent boy from rural Georgia who takes his role as an NBC page quite seriously. Raised by his pig-farming parents, Kenneth’s story is that he left the backwoods life for Kentucky Mountain Bible College, after which he headed north to New York City. Gullible and optimistic, Kenneth sports a deep southern accent and smiley disposition. He loves his entry-level job and approaches it with all the earnestness and sincerity of a CEO. In some episodes Kenneth wears a T-shirt that says “I LOVE Television” and his character has even knitted his grandmother a swimsuit with the NBC peacock on it. Kenneth is played by Jack McBrayer, who is himself from Georgia. McBrayer rose to fame much like “30 Rock’s” creator Tina Fey – through improv and Chicago’s Second City theater.
Buster : For many fans, the canceling of “Arrested Development” after only three seasons was not only a mystery, but a crime. The show had some of the best developed characters to ever appear on TV, including the sniveling Buster Bluth, the youngest child of the Bluth family who was incapable of living more than 20 feet away from his mother. With his thick, black glasses and litany of sweater vests, Buster is a spoiled and lovable idiot, who is easily tricked by his family and quite unable to do anything for himself. But he was certainly a quotable character. When told there was going to be buckets and buckets of a corn-syrup “blood” mixture at a Halloween party, Buster replied, “We have unlimited juice? This party’s going to be off the hook!” Buster is played by Tony Hale, an actor who has also appeared in movies like “Stranger than Fiction” and “Because I Said So.” He is currently doing voice work for an upcoming children’s movie.
Dwight Schrute: Played by actor Rainn Wilson, Dwight is the grumpy, resident nerd on the American version of “The Office”. Lacking fashion sense or a sense of humor, Dwight is a pessimistic man who has a deep love for both authority and Jack Bauer on the show “24”. In his spare time, Dwight is a volunteer sheriff, paintball enthusiast, and beet farmer. He is the frequent butt of jokes from his co-workers, and he is notorious for getting along with very few of them. Wilson is an accomplished actor who played an assistant mortician on “Six Feet Under” before landing the role of Dwight. He has also appeared in guest roles on several TV programs. In 2008, Wilson will star in the comedy film “The Rocker.”
George Michael Bluth : Like his uncle Buster, George Michael Bluth is a bit shy and wary of the world. But unlike Buster, George Michael is a smart kid who perhaps is one of the only members of the Bluth family with any knowledge of how strange they are. Michael Cera, the actor who portrayed George Michael, nailed the character’s awkward and clumsy personality. George Michael is a star student who can frequently be found doing homework at his desk under the bunk bed he shares with his cousin, Maeby, who he is in love with despite the fact that they’re related. He is dedicated to helping his father save the family business and fix the family’s financial problems. To that end he works frequently as manager of the family Frozen Banana Stand on the beach. Though not a lady’s man, George Michael does eventually start dating a girl named Ann in the second season who is homely and strict. Cera, who made a big name for himself on “Arrested Development”, has gone on to star in hit movies like “Superbad” and “Juno.”
Jerri Blank : Jerri Blank is an unsightly, 46-year-old loser with ruined teeth, an ugly smile, and terrible fashion sense, who after years of being a drug addict, prostitute and thief decides to return to high school to finish her diploma. But despite her hard life, Blank is a somewhat witless and naïve freshman, who is trying her darndest to fit in. Created by comedienne Amy Sedaris and her peers Steven Colbert, Paul Dinello, and Mitch Rouse, “Strangers with Candy” was intended as a play on the cheesy afterschool specials of the 1980s. Amy Sedaris has an impressive list of comedy work under her belt and is also the sister of famed writer David Sedaris, who she frequently collaborates with on his audio books.
Ugly Betty: Ugly Betty, whose character’s real name is Betty Suarez, is a sweet girl with braces and a bad wardrobe who somehow landed a job as a personal assistant at one of the country’s top fashion magazines, “Mode.” Betty is looked down upon by her co-workers for her clear lack of fashion sense and dowdiness, though Betty is determined not to let this spoil her good-nature. She is dedicated to taking care of her family at the expense of her personal life, though in Season 2 she does develop a romantic involvement with a deli owner. Played by American Ferrera, who has been in movies like “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” Ferrera won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her role as Betty in 2007.
Millhouse: Millhouse is the nearsighted best friend of Bart Simpson on “The Simpsons”, whose full name is Mussolini Millhouse Van Houten. He is one of the most quotable characters on the cartoon show and he is frequently abused and manipulated by Bart, who likes to take advantage of his friend’s willing and kind nature. Millhouse is often beaten up and tortured by school bullies and he has even been run over by a train and electrically shocked. He has a huge crush on Bart’s sister Lisa, who is also something of a nerd, and is famed for being the only person in the fictional town of Springfield with eyebrows.