11 Sitcoms With Delightfully Nerdy Characters | Tor.com

11 Sitcoms With Delightfully Nerdy Characters

While plenty of sitcoms have nerdy premises, there has been something of a renaissance recently in comedies that showcase geeks as characters—and not simply as cruel stereotypes. And they also offer a much broader scope of nerdery, from con-goers to fanfic writers to tabletop game-builders! Here are a bunch of our favorites, in case you need to add a few more giggles to your evening viewing.


Bob’s Burgers

fanfiction gift exchange holidays Yuletide traditions

Every awkward preteen girl who gets a little bit too excited about something she loves while also harboring R-rated daydreams should meet Tina Belcher. Bob and Linda’s oldest child is blissfully unaware of what sets her apart from her peers at school, but that must be what makes it so easy for her to delight in fictional worlds. One minute she’s unabashedly playing in her room with her Equestranauts action figures and begging her dad to bring her to a convention, the next she’s penning erotic friend fiction that recasts her crushes and tormenters as zombies with a penchant not for brains, but for butts. Would that all kids could have the chutzpah to read out loud a story called “Buttloose” in front of the entire school without any self-consciousness. —Natalie Zutter



Frasier was one of the great bastions of nerdery in the ’90s, a place where you could reliably hear riffs about Mahler, jokes about Carl Jung, and where, for the most part, the intellectualism of Frasier Crane was appreciated (rather than mocked, as it was on Cheers.) My favorite example of their deep bench of knowledge is in season 5’s “Halloween.” Niles is throwing a benefit party for the Library Association, so everyone is expected to come dressed as their favorite literary characters. While the background partygoers seem a bit generic (lords, ladies, a Cleopatra, a devil) the main cast works in some delightfully deep-cut references. Martin Crane wants to be Sherlock Holmes, but Niles can’t find him the right costume—and where many shows would have gone with an obvious replacement detective like Hercule Poirot or Sam Spade, Niles tries to convince Martin to dress as Lord Peter Wimsey. Frasier and Daphne come as Geoffrey Chaucer and the Wife of Bath, respectively (and again, you can imagine a lesser show opting for Shakespeare and Lady Macbeth) and Frasier’s colleague Gil dresses as The Last of the Mohicans, but uses the character’s proper name, Chingachgook. Niles is Cyrano de Bergerac—a bit basic, but his choice speaks to his impossible love for Daphne. When Maris’ haircut leaves her bald, Niles suggests she come as the Ionesco play, The Bald Soprano. But maybe my favorite running gag of the night? Sports reporter Bulldog comes as Waldo (Y’know, from Where’s Waldo!) and neither of the Crane boys know who the hell that is. —Leah Schnelbach



Community, Abed and Troy

Troy and Abed. In many ways, they set a new bar for how nerds could be portrayed on screen. Abed Nadir also crossed the important bridge of being a geek on the spectrum, rather than just your typical “nerd who is socially awkward” and therefore the butt of jokes. His friendship with Troy Barnes was full of the kind of references and in-humor that nerds always share, and their joint love of genre played out in their tendency to role play during the day, and create meta reference upon meta reference. They even introduced the world to Inspector Spacetime (the worlds greatest Doctor Who parody)! Troy was another incredibly nuanced portrayal, a jock and prom king in high school who couldn’t handle the pressure of everyone’s expectations. His abiding friendship with Abed forms so much of the the emotional core of Community, it’s heartbreaking to know that they eventually have to move on and live lives where they aren’t constantly in each other’s back pockets. And of course, Troy’s love of LeVar Burton has never been rivaled—seeing as everyone adores LeVar Burton, that’s a lot of love. —Emmet Asher-Perrin


The Good Place

Full disclosure: Chidi Anagonye is my favorite character on TV. He might be my favorite character in any medium, ever. I once described the inner workings of my brain as “a dryer full of sneakers” and THE VERY NEXT DAY Chidi said, and I quote “You know the sound that a fork makes in the garbage disposal? That’s the sound that my brain makes all the time.” Chidi is a Nigerian/Senegalese ethics professor, and he is a wonderful giant punctilious nerd. He is, specifically, a nerd for philosophy, which leads to lines like: “There really is an afterlife. I can’t wait to have breakfast with Kant, and lunch with Michel Foucault, and then have dinner with Kant again so we can talk about what came up at breakfast!” and “My name is Kierkegaard and my writing is impeccable/Check out my teleological suspension of the ethical.”

Why is this so great? Chidi isn’t just dropping names—anyone can go on Wikipedia and spit out a couple philosophy references—but Chidi is deeply invested in his philosophical heroes. He gets excited when he discusses them, even as Eleanor, Jason, and Michael gently mock him. When he thinks he doesn’t have a soulmate, he looks on the bright side, saying: “My soul mate will be … books!” He can talk about John Rawls for two hours (Eleanor timed him), and he’s genuinely ecstatic when, after months of studying, Eleanor can casually reference Kant and John Dancy. In a certain way, The Good Place really is Chidi’s Good Place, because he gets to teach fairly reprehensible people (and demons) about his favorite topic, and watch his classes change the way they think… eventually. —Leah


How I Met Your Mother

How I Met Your Mother nerdy sitcoms

Ted’s third wheel Halloween costume, oof.

HIMYM has a bit of the self-hating nerd complex: the women are the ones to temper the guys’ references, like when Marshall makes a Lord of the Rings joke and Robin snarks, “Can you say that again but not in nerd?” Or when Ted’s relationship with Stella hinges on whether or not she likes Star Wars (though it did lead to her wonderfully infuriating imitation of Chewbacca followed by “That’s a good point, Bear!”) Presenting nerdery across such stark gender lines is one of the more problematic aspects of rewatching the sitcom (which premiered in 2005), especially when it could easily expand its definition: Robin’s love for scotch and cigars, or her excited babbling about Canadian hockey, easily puts her in the ranks of the nerds. Yet the show still has its sweet moments, like in the episode “Trilogy Time,” when Ted reflects on how his tradition of watching the original Star Wars trilogy with the guys every three years sees them at very different points in their lives each time—including, looking ahead three years, with his infant daughter. —Natalie


Parks and Recreation

Parks and Rec, Ben Wyatt, Iron Throne

Everyone on Parks and Rec is some brand of nerd. Leslie is a political nerd, Tom is a swagger nerd, Andy is a music nerd, April is a weirdo goth nerd, Ron is a DIY nerd, Chris is a fitness nerd, Donna is… a perfect tastemaking queen who is a category unto herself. But the most traditional nerd of the bunch is Leslie’s husband, Ben Wyatt. This is the guy who, when he’s having a real spate of depression, is invited to Tom and Donna’s Treat-Yo-Self day; it’s one day each year where the duo go out and spend money on themselves however they’d like to—jewelry, expensive clothes, spa treatments, ridiculous food experiences—without thinking of the cost. And when they ask Ben what he would truly like to spend his money on, the answer turns out to be a film-replica Batman costume… which he sheds tears in. Accountants love Ben’s terrible puns, Leslie buys him the Iron Throne for his birthday, and he has strong opinions about the Kirk vs Picard fight, but his crowning nerd-chievement is designing The Cones of Dunshire, a tabletop game that goes on to become a national hit. In an outrageously complex plotline, he eventually manages to win free wifi for his city in a high stakes match when his opponents forget the essence of the game—it’s about the cones. Ben Wyatt is freaking king of the nerds in every lovable, unfathomable way that counts. —Emily


Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Titus Andromedon is many things, but for the purposes of this list, he’s one of the best musical theater nerds this side of Glee. While he may have to fall back on playing a knock-off Iron Man or doing increasingly weird gigs for Jacqueline Voorhees, his heart belongs to the stage, as evidenced by his auditioning for The Lion King more than 20 times, utterly nailing the lead role in Dionne Warwick’s cruise ship revival of Mahogany, and trying his best as Spider-Man #12 in Spider-Man Too: 2 Many Spider-Men. —Leah


Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Die Hard is not just Peralta’s favorite movie, it’s his life philosophy. He doesn’t know if his greater dream would be to meet John McClane in real life or to be him. (Who are we kidding—Jake can’t stop grinning during a Christmas Eve hostage situation.) Terry loves yogurt, and foreign films, and responsible agricultural practices, and the Skyfire Cycle epic fantasy series—so much so that he jumps at the chance to protect author DC Parlov from death threats, and of course he has to dress up to infiltrate a fantasy convention. Amy’s type-A obsession with a perfectly organized binder not only makes her endearing(ly neurotic), but it has actually helped save the day more than once. Much as the nine-nine pokes fun at each other’s quirks, it’s always with genuine affection rather than judgment. –Natalie


Arrested Development

George Michael, Arrested Development, season 4

Every member of the Bluth family is also their own kind of nerd (theater nerd, magician nerd, business nerd), but George Michael Bluth is the only one of them to pretend to create a tech start-up for the sake of getting his father to move out of his dorm room. As tepid as much of Arrested Development’s season four turned out to be, one the most entertaining pieces of it was George Michael’s turn as the CEO of Fakeblock. Initially conceived as an app that would play woodblock sounds, George Michael’s dad misunderstands his explanation and thinks that he’s building anti-piracy software. This rapidly spirals out of control when George Michael’s cousin, Maeby, starts name-dropping the company to powerful people and makes it sound like he wiped out another tech startup named Schnoodle. George Michael tries again and again to explain the truth to people… but every time he somehow ends up doubling down on his software company that doesn’t exist. —Emily




Not only are JD and Turk one of sitcoms’ sweetest bromances, but their dynamic is built on a series of eclectic shared interests: they wear matching Brady Bunch tiki necklaces, they spontaneously break into the Sanford & Son theme song, they share custody of a stuffed dog named Rowdy, who they talk to as if he’s alive. On top of that, there’s JD’s penchant for elaborate daydreams that reimagine the hospital as Star Wars with JD as Luke and Turk as Han, obviously; West Side Story with he and Turk as star-crossed lovers; Turk as Indiana Jones… we’re sensing a theme here. —Natalie


30 Rock

30 Rock Liz Lemon Princess Leia wedding jury duty nerdy sitcoms

Criss referring to Liz as Khaleesi. Kenneth seeing everyone as Muppets. Jack and Liz’s Batman/Joker rooftop showdown. Liz getting married in her Princess Leia dress—it’s white! But more importantly, it’s a character she always identified with. Almost every 30 Rock character had their geeky moment in the sun—and here’s all of them! —Natalie


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