In TV land, it seems, intelligence isn't just a matter of being able to learn quicker, reason better, and understand more easily. The TV Genius
is what you get when intelligent characters conform to an unintelligent person's idea of how an intelligent person acts. A TV Genius
bears an impossibly or immeasurably high IQ
, never uses a short word when a sententious alternative might elicit advantageous conversation
, and has the full package of exaggerated traits and strange behaviors Hollywoodland associates with "big brains". This is especially obvious when the lead character
is a "normal" person
, inasmuch as being clever but not actually very smart
While intellectuals often do have interest in obscure topics, the TV Genius is inexplicably baffled that other people have different interests than themselves
. Their only pastimes will be reading thick tomes
and playing chess
. They will frequently rattle off statistics and calculations to implausible degrees of precision
. These may be relevant to the plot at hand but not their assumed field of study; statistics and math articles are like Playboy magazines to these folks.
In social situations, a TV Genius
will come across like a human robot: their brain is so filled with jargon and minutiae that it leaves no room for interpersonal skills and social graces
: either they have no idea how to communicate their thoughts without seeming blunt and insensitive, or they carry themselves with a sort of overbearing arrogance that comes from remaining emotionally detached and logical-minded in contrast to their sentimental colleagues (a la The Spock
) and can expect to be the token Vulcan
of a Five-Man Band
If a character becomes smarter, for instance through a Transformation Ray
, they'll instantly acquire all sorts of knowledge that they never actually learned at any point.
Someone who becomes suddenly smarter may also suddenly acquire a lab coat and Nerd Glasses
and start speaking like Mr. Spock
, though this is usually limited to the more comedic examples. They may learn to appreciate their 'normalness' from the inner unhappiness that comes from being too smart for one's own good.
There's also a chance that the TV Genius
will be used in An Aesop
about respecting non-intellectuals and appreciating the hard work they put into being the best and the brightest via an encounter with someone with a learning disorder that locks them out of the genius strata.
Often overlaps with Ambiguous Disorder
. Compare The Rainman
, a.k.a. the TV Genius
taken Up to Eleven
. The Teen Genius
, Mad Scientist
, and Extraverted Nerd
all contain aspects of this.
See also: Science Is Bad
, Dumb Is Good
, Straw Vulcan
. When done intentionally (and everyone in the story realizes too that the person is not a real genius) it is Know-Nothing Know-It-All
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Anime and Manga
- Sort of used by L in Death Note, and also by Near, but averted rather heavily with Light and possibly also with Mello.
- Near's probably a good example, but in L's case at least it's stated that he's doing this to put on a show. In How to Read, the author's admitted that L makes up percentages on the spot to sound smart, and to manipulate the people around him (claiming that the percent-chance of Light being Kira has gone down, to placate Light's father, for example).
- Haruhi Suzumiya gives us Haruhi, Yuki and Koizumi, all of whom are highly intelligent individuals with highly noticeable eccentricities. The trope is averted, however, with Kyon, who despite peppering his narrative with obscure references to literature, mythology and history, is a generally well-adjusted individual with somewhat poor grades.
- Kotomi Ichinose from Clannad lacks all but the most basic of social skills while being a Teen Genius. Of course, she has a Freudian Excuse because the last thing she told her parents before they died in a plane crash was that she hated them and Tomoya didn't show up for her birthday party. As a result, she shunned society and studied, and studied, and studied, and studied, and, well, you get the idea.
- Code Geass: Nina Einstein. Oh God, Nina Einstein. Genius-level intellect and machine building skills, crippling insecurity, ginormous fear of Japanese and so on. And after her crush Euphemia died...
- There's also Lloyd, who isn't nicknamed "Lloyd Aspie" for nothing.
- Rebecca Miyamoto, 11-year-old teacher who just graduated from MIT with a triple major!
- Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four sometimes is portrayed this way.
- Played true at first by Grunge of the Gen13 reboot, then subverted.
- Caitlin Fairchild sometimes acts like this.
- Henry McCoy, a.k.a. The Beast of the X-Men. He's actually one of the better socialized members of the team, but constantly spouts volumes of jargon and technobabble and frequently expresses amazement at others' lack of intellectual curiosity.
- Subverted in Beerfest, where Fink, who definitely looks like a nerd, ends up being the movie's biggest drinker.
- Terrence from Sydney White, who is seen doing strange and seemingly pointless experiments throughout the movie. Partially a parody.
- Lampshaded and parodied in There's Nothing Out There.
- Meg Ryan's character in the movie IQ.
- In The Wizard of Oz, after the wizard "makes" the Scarecrow a genius by giving him a diploma, the Scarecrow is suddenly able to rattle off very complex-sounding mathematical formulas. Justified in that the Scarecrow was already shown to be plenty clever. The diploma was a Magic Feather, and he was acting how he thought a genius should act.
- Subverted, actually. He rattles off an incorrect version of Pythagoras' Theorem, applying it to an isosceles triangle rather than a right triangle. He gets it wrong, but with conviction.
- One of Magnus's powers includes "supernatural cunning", which he never demonstrates. In fact he walks into an ambush obliviously.
- Ian Irvine's Well of Echoes books have Gilhaelith, the world's most powerful Geomancer and the inventor of Mathemancy, around whom some whapping great hints are dropped that he actually has Aspergers' Syndrome.
- In the Red Dwarf novel Last Human, Lister has a conversation with an imaginary Kryten (sort of, it's complicated) who is "smarter" than Lister because he's able to flawlessly remember every fact that Lister has ever been exposed to, however fleetingly.
- Happens in Flowers for Algernon; interesting essay about that here.
- The Geographer in The Little Prince, who gets all his very circumscribed knowledge from books and never leaves his desk.
- Doctor Enrique Borgos in "A Civil Campaign" is a brilliant biochemist who created a microbial suite that, when encased inside genetically engineered hive minded insects, could turn any cheap biomass into an almost perfect food source (and he's already planning strains of bugs that will churn out plastics and such in the future). He also had to be sprung from debtor's prison after financing his projects by selling shares in the original enterprise to about, oh... 800%, his original Butter Bug models were so hideous that a professional designer had to create something truly glorious to offset the prejudiced revulsion people had to eating ANYTHING that came out of the hybrid cockroach/pimple things, and he thinks that the way to appeal to a woman is to write her poetry... i.e. to rewrite his doctoral thesis in sonnet form. (And he STILL gets the girl in the end. Just not that particular one...)
- One Goosebumps Series 2000 book subverts this, when a kid of average intelligence manages to get into an advanced school thanks to his father pulling strings. At first he's surprised how all the other students seem to look and act normal, then sarcastically asks himself what he was expecting them to be like—they're just other kids, after all.
- The Laputan intellectuals in Gulliver's Travels, depicted as so wrapped up in their thoughts that they had servants to alert them when someone was talking to them, when someone was expecting a reply from them, when they were in danger of bumping into something, etc. Arguably rises to the level of The Rainman, except for being cultural trait rather than an individual disability.
- In the Xanth novel "Ogre, Ogre", the protagonist Smash Ogre gets tangled with an "Eye Queue Vine", which raises his extremely low intellect into above-average for a human; he stops talking in rhyme, and finds that he can analyse and think rationally and inquisitively about things. (Which upsets him, as it is inappropriate for ogres, who pride themselves on their strength and stupidity.) However, near the end it is revealed that the vine is actually only capable of making people ''think'' they are smart, causing them to adopt TV Genius mannerisms and deluding themselves; however, thanks to Smash's half-human heritage, he was smart all along and deluded himself into downplaying it all his life.
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so much. 'Word of God' said she had Asperger's. Social dysfunction? Oh yes. But don't cross her, or those esoteric items she's memorized will be used to kill you, and erase your identity from the net completely.
Live Action TV
- Subverted by Seamus Zelazny Harper in Andromeda. He is always hyping his own status as a genius and it is borne out by his ability to keep the eponymous ship running with barely a skeleton crew; however, otherwise he is likely to be surfing, drinking rotgut, or planning horrific vengeance upon his enemies.
- He even points this out in the series, at one point calling himself (paraphasing) "the rarest of breeds; a nerd with social skills."
- This is apparently the entire premise of CBS's sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
- The fans have so many theories on the state of Sheldon's mind. You can pick any combination out of Asperger's Syndrome (or several other autism spectrum disorders,) Nonverbal Learning Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, Narcisstic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder (in an unusual but not unheard of form,) Histrionic Personality Disorder, acquired brain injury to the frontal lobe...
- The other three are also extremely intelligent, but no where near as TV Genius as Sheldon.
- To reiterate, in a show where three of the five main characters have at least one doctorate (Penny has a high school diploma, while Howard only has a masters) and most of the recurring characters are university professors or otherwise in highly technical fields, Sheldon is universally regarded as bizarre. Not incomprehensively so, however, as he literally came with a manual. That he himself wrote in PDF format and hands out to new friends.
- The main protagonist of the Fox TV series Bones started as a textbook example of this trope, but in later scenes showed a more realistic backstory, a love of Foreigner and Cindy Lauper, and slowly growing appreciation for her Book Dumb partner Booth's intuitive people skills. Her status is mostly justified by her childhood trauma, reliance on anthropological explanations over psychology and normal social skills, and aversion to any kind of imprecision.
- Her primary assistant for the first 3 season, Zack Addy, is an even better example, to the point where Word Of God is that he does have Asperger's, but is undiagnosed.
- The show subverts this somewhat with the other Smart Guy of the show, Jack Hodgins. He's likable enough to hang out and have a beer with ex-military guys, and dates a number of women, including co-worker and The Chick Angela.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Willow is something of a subversion. Despite having a formidable IQ and computer hacking skills, her vocabulary never seemed to go above that of a twelve year old. Her boyfriend Oz was just as brilliant but deliberately flunked a year and was in all other things a typical indie guitarist. "Well, I sorta test well. Y'know, which is cool. Except that it leads to jobs."
- Almost everyone on Frasier.
- At first blush, perhaps. As his character had to move closer to normality when he became the lead in his own series, Frasier himself is only intermittently this when his social aspirations get the better of him - as he himself says, "I'm a teamster compared to [Niles]" and, in a direct reference to Cheers, "I used to have a regular bar and a regular bar stool, I even had a tab". He does seem to be largely aware of his social shortcomings compared to "normal" people like his father and Roz, while at the same time occasionally happily going to barbecues with his work colleagues or joining his father down at his local bar for a beer. Even Niles's self-awareness increases throughout the series.
- Largely averted by The IT Crowd especially from series 2 onwards. Moss, despite his strange appearance and apparent genius-level intelligence, is reasonably socially capable and most of the embarrassing situations he finds himself in/causes are down to misunderstandings rather than ineptitude, while Roy seems perfectly normal most of the time.
- Moss does have a lot of social ineptitude, but this is addressed directly, meaning that the show averts this by very rarely having people consider him to be capable of knowing anything except book smarts.
- Subverted in Malcolm in the Middle. The title character has a genius IQ, but deliberately the only way the writers ever actually showed this was in spending days coming up with complex solutions to the problems of an episode, then portraying Malcolm as coming up with the same ideas in seconds.
- Also, Malcolm is really irritated by his classmates who exhibit stereotypical nerdish behaviour.
- Billy of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. He is very upset from getting a "B", yet he received the grade because he didn't have even an elementary school level knowledge of insects. There's also Dr. K of Power Rangers RPM, but she's justified as essentially being Raised For Science! and being very screwed up as a result.
- In the 4th-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called "The Nth Degree", Lieutenant Barclay is struck by a Cytherian probe and becomes a TV Genius.
- Though at least they give an explanation for how he suddenly had knowledge he couldn't possibly have acquired normally.
- He also gained social skills, whereas he had none before, and became much more confident. He successfully hit on Troi.
- Subverted in The West Wing, particularly with the character of President Jed Bartlet; a Nobel Prize-winning economist, veritable mental warehouse of obscure trivia and unashamed intellectual, Bartlet was also a genuinely caring, personable and likable man with a great deal of charm. He was, after all, able to get himself elected twice to the office of President of the United States, which requires some people skills.
- Also subverted generally throughout the series, a key theme of which was that intelligence and intellectualism were nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of, and that treating the American people as thinking adults would reward everyone.
- For a show where science might as well be magic, EUReKA is amazing in that it flat out ignores this trope with its scientists. Most of the cast have better than genius IQs and run the gamut from Fargo, who's just like this, all the way to Stark, a charismatic family man.
- Largely deconstructed and averted in Fringe with the Bishops. Walter Bishop can come off this way, but he's actually a severely damaged man from being wrongly committed to a mental institution for 17 years, not (entirely) from his genius. Peter Bishop, Walter's son (sort of), is about as intelligent and inventive as his father, but is much more socially-adept.
- The Red Dwarf episode Holoship involves a whole shipload of these, plus Rimmer becoming the most alarmingly extreme example.
- The Mad Scientist, electronics designing genius who escaped from the CIA in the first season of Chuck. We don't get to see him when he's on his meds, but when he's off them, he's quite dangerous. Also, kinda twitchy. Good at manipulating people. Or at least Chuck.
- An episode of Burn Notice gives us a delusional genius. He's really good at seeing patterns, deduces that the hero is a spy, has discovered that a traitor is selling secrets (and getting American soldiers/spies killed). Also, he warns the good guys to be careful, because "That bitch is an alien". (She's probably not an alien.)
- Subverted with a vengeance in Warehouse 13. Claudia (as well as her brother) is an off-the-charts genius, but talks like a fairly typical girl of her age, if a tad on the nerdy/techy side. After Claudia, Artie is probably the most intelligent of the central cast of characters, but aside from a penchant for chess, he doesn't display any TV Genius tendencies at all. One wouldn't go so far as to say he has good social skills, but that has nothing to do with his intelligence.
- Reid from Criminal Minds takes this to a whole new level, being a culmination of literally everything, without exception, in the description for this trope - right down to the vague Star Trek reference (not surprisingly, the only pop culture phenomenon he knows is Star Trek). It's even implied in the show that he might have a form of high-functioning autism.
- Not true; he once showed up at a convention dressed as The 4th Doctor, and is seen trying to talk to Morgan about the logistics of the Death Star, though both shows are examples of "nerdy" interests.
- To a large degree, Reid's former father figure Jason Gideon counts, since he's incredibly gifted (and not just in profiling techniques) but he's also very quirky, neurotic and antisocial.
- Jason from FoxTrot. He's extremely skilled when it comes to mathematics, science, and computers, but utterly lacking in common sense and scruples. Hence, we see him building inadvisable Bamboo Technology (such as a catapult to launch himself to frighten his sister), using his Playful Hacker talents to spread devastating computer viruses (at least one of which seemed to have no purpose other than to protest that he didn't have a crush on a girl in his class), and doing his Book Dumb siblings' homework in exchange for money (but often giving them the wrong answers).
- His lack of common sense makes some sense as he is only 10 years old and raised in a house with a father and brother who also lack common sense. Also, it is notable that the author probably had far more experience with book-smart science nerds than your average (non-scifi) writer, as he did complete his bachelors degree in physics at Amherst College.
- Most if not all of the Nerds clique in Bully.
- In The Dig, Brink becomes something of a TV Genius after his resurrection. You can blame the Green Rocks for that, though.
- Aversion by Professor Solus in Mass Effect 2, as his high level of intelligence instead makes him an incredibly practical man in terms of doing what has to be done. Yet, his speech is a bit unusual, leaving out most filler words for expediency. Example: "Lots of ways to help people. Sometimes heal patients; sometimes execute dangerous people. Either way helps."
- Many of his odd behaviours may have more to do with his culture and species. (All of his species think, speak, and act exhaustingly quickly; he just expediates his actions even moreso.)
- Though it is true Salarians act and think at a faster rate than other species, Solus is unusual even compared to other Salarians you meet. It is quite clear after even a single conversation that he thinks and processes information far faster than most sentients.
- Mordin is also old by Salarian standards (their lifespan is about 40).
- In Star Craft II's cinematics, the scientists seem incapable of using normal-sized words, jump to conclusions in a very unscientific way, and wear lab coats and nerd glasses or goggles all the time.
- Jasper Zinc fits the trope, although it's not that he is a TV Genius so much as he's obsessed with making sure everyone around him knows he's a genius, period. So he deliberately avoids using contractions and adopts a high-falutin', faux-educated manner of speech so that it's absolutely clear even to the lowest common denominator that this is an intellect you don't mess with. He doesn't appear to have thought it through, though, as people too far above said lowest common denominator tend not to be impressed.
- Largely averted in the Whateley Universe, where the teen inventors tend to come across as realistic teenaged nerds. The trope best fits rich kid Ayla Goodkind (Phase) who has spent his whole life (up to his current age of fifteen) preparing to be a tycoon in the fmaily business. He knows tons of useless facts, and knows more about finance than any adult ought to. He speaks in a pompous manner with lots of long words. He took a special literature course on epics just for fun even though the class had to read about fifteen or twenty epics in a single term... and he did so well that he ended up writing several journal articles with the class lecturer.
- In an episode of the Aladdin cartoon series, Aladdin's head was separated from his body. The head, containing the brain, suddenly became a TV Genius and was able to spout scientific knowledge that no one in this period (barring perhaps genies) should have access to, such as how nerves work. Aladdin's headless body, containing his good heart, became an embodiment of Dumb Is Good, whereas the head turned into an Anvilicious Straw Vulcan.
- Ben 10 has a morph, Grey Matter, that greatly increases his intelligence. As Grey Matter, Ben knows a lot of information that he couldn't possibly know, speaks in unnecessarily long words (unlike his usual, typical ten-year-old method of speech), and appears to lose common sense and the ability to talk to normal people (when asked "where are you?" he begins to give information that could find his geographical position, such where he is in reference to a mountain, until prompted for the name of a street).
- Ben 10 Alien Force has an arguably more straight example in Brainstrom. While Grey Matter knows more and speaks longer, the Ben personality doesn't change, as shown when Ben says "How do I know that?/I have no idea what I'm talking about". Brainstrom adapts a British accent, uses words simply because they are longer and not because they have any scientific value at hand, and becomes much more arragont in how smart he is.
- The eponymous character of Dexters Laboratory: he's a world renowned genius capable of building time machines, giant robots and create all sort of genetically modified creatures, yet thinks "girl" is some kind of tribe, doesn't know what dirt is, and one time thought he was going to die due to having gas.
- Justified Trope. Dexter is less than ten years old (one episode dealt with him getting promoted to the fifth grade). Spending so much time and effort maintaining a secret lab, he just wouldn't have much opportunity to associate with other people. Combined with his non-physical nature, he would have been viewed as a weird outsider. When he does have to work with others, he tends to be arrogant, but has fairly normal friendships. He just doesn't have many, and spends most of his time alone.
- Averted in an episode of Doug. Skeeter, who'd always been the goofy sidekick type, takes an IQ test and scores incredibly high. Over the course of the episode, he is studied by scientists and gets into college (from the elementary-school setting of the series). This revelation goes largely ignored in most later Nickelodeon episodes, the Disney series has Skeeter's genius IQ play a role in a few other plots. However, at no point in either series does his personality change from The Ditz.
- Could also be considered a subversion considering Skeeter's intelligence is demonstrated realistically—he likes reading juvenile fiction, but he is capable of reading difficult, Kant-level material if he finds it interesting. Traits such as this challenges Doug's view of geniuses when he describes the typical TV Genius:"suspenders, thick glasses", the works, which further explains Doug's frustration at the fact that Skeeter does not fit the trope.
- Family Guy does this with Lauren Conrad.
- The 1960-era Felix the Cat show often paired him with the Professor's nephew Poindexter (hey, the name alone), who speaks in a stiff, formal cadence, and wears a lab coat, big glasses (no eyes visible), even a mortarboard hat.
- The title character of Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius is an elementary school student who is not only excessively prone to Technobabble and Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, but has invented time travel, faster-than-light warp engines, and the best candy in the history of all existence and everything. Also, he has a giant head.
- An episode of Kim Possible featured a beam capable of drastically increasing one's intelligence, which in this case was used on Rufus, a naked mole rat, propelling his intelligence to superhuman levels. Rufus suddenly gained enormous amounts of incredibly complicated knowledge and inventing skills, even putting the show's resident Teen Genius Wade to shame. There was something about copying the brainwaves of the world's most brilliant minds as well, which just further confuses the matter.
- The concept was that a scientist had decided one night when all his other scientist friends were over to make copies of their minds which could be imprinted on someone by a machine. It wasn't that his intelligence was augmented, but that he had the combined knowledge of all those scientists. It was more that Wade was competing against several people in one body, rather than one supersmart individual.
- Brainiac 5 from the canceled Legion Of Super Heroes animated series seems to use this persona to hide his true emotions. Which seem to involve a lot of Superman and wanting To Become Human.
- The Simpsons:
- Martin Prince.
- Another episode had Homer gaining a genius-level IQ eventually revealed to be 105 (which is completely average in reality but apparently very smart for a character in The Simpsons, an increase of 50 points after the removal of a crayon lodged in his brain. It also affected his already poor social skills, at least the ones that were actually endearing.
- Mostly averted with Lisa — while she sometimes has problems with Intelligence Equals Isolation, she's actually one of the most well-adjusted characters on the show. Her level of knowledge is totally implausible for an eight-year-old, but it depends entirely on Rule of Funny.
- Lisa does at very least have Insufferable Genius qualities and on occasion is rather blindly obnoxious and self serving in her ethics, to the point of being a Soapbox Sadie. She also has some obvious childlike follies on occasion. These flaws obviously became less significant as the rest of the cast was Flanderized excessively but her shortcomings still show on occasion.
- Brainy Smurf from The Smurfs, with his Nerd Glasses and library full of self-written books, is arrogant and condescending, always ready to boast about his vast intellect while being a top-notch Know-Nothing Know-It-All and generally useless.
- Patrick of Sponge Bob Square Pants was once made smart for an episode, but he voluntarily returned to stupidity after he realized he was turning into an Insufferable Genius and growing apart from SpongeBob.
- Similarly subverted with Richie of Static Shock. After he gains Super Intelligence, he doesn't really act any differently from how he did before. He becomes much more invested in building various gadgets, but even that behavior was present since the beginning of the series.
- The Superhero Squad Show episode "Hulk Talk Smack" featured the Hulk being smartinized by the show's MacGuffin. In addition to his skin turning grey (a Continuity Nod to the comics) he starts dressing well and speaking eloquently. He also becomes an insufferable jerk and can't seem to hold his own in a fight anymore.
- Rebecca Cunningham of Tale Spin has an MBA and is refined in terms of social inequity, however her temperament and stubbornness often lead to unpleasant situations and she often shows an extreme naivete in terms of the outside world (providing good contrast to the extremely Book Dumb but streetwise Baloo). While managing to bring Baloo's cargoo service out of death's door in terms of business arrangements, her attempts to actually fly a plane were somewhat disasterous to say the least.
- In Transformers Generation 1, Grimlock gets an IQ boost after chewing into a supercomputer. Not only does it boost his intellect, it makes his speech far more intelligible to the point of snooty. He becomes the go-to guy for the Autobots' problems, but the rest of the Dinobots don't think he's fun anymore.
- One episode of Cat Dog has Dog becoming a genius while Cat grows exponentially stupid.
- Gretchen on Recess fits this trope to a T: ten years old, yet an improbably brilliant polymath with extraordinary science and engineering skills, knowledge of history, literature and mathematics. And yes, susceptible to overwrought verbiage. Surprisingly though, she's not that socially awkward though her friends express wariness at her nerdier activities.
- While not necessarily to the extent of his on-screen character, Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory. Rumor has it that when he auditioned for Sheldon's part, he was called back—Not to have a second go at it in comparison to other "finalists" but because he was so perfectly in line with the character that they wanted to make sure that his audition wasn't a fluke. Sound unlikely? Go watch his interview with David Letterman. Mannerisms that are common on Sheldon are noticeable on Jim.