Back in the day, Hollywood was all about pretty girls, pretty boys, and their pretty problems. To an extent, it still is — after all, what are we on, Season 7,500 of Gossip Girl? — but our entertainment has discovered the tremendous value in appealing to audiences’ inner dweebs. Instead of showering misfits in pig’s blood on prom night, we’re celebrating geeks. And that’s great! Really! Who doesn’t love big brains, niche interests, and the blessing that is social awkwardness? (Don’t answer that.)
The thing is, as noble as this cause is, Hollywood isn’t always particularly adept at pulling off these social Cinderella plots, to the point where we’re starting to wish they’d just leave the dweebs alone. So frequently are today’s geeks or their metaphorical rags-to-riches plotlines manufactured in completely unbelievable ways that we’ve charted some of film and TV’s biggest offenders and made a field guide to the worst tropes. Arm yourself with knowledge after the jump.
The Quick Fix
Are you geeky? Weird? Unfortunate looking? All of the above? No problem, because all you need to get your happiness is a makeover! Perhaps the most egregious example came from 1999’s She’s All That, when — get this — all it took was a haircut and contact lenses to turn Rachael Leigh Cook into Rachael Leigh Cook. Who would have thought a beautiful girl wearing glasses could turn into a beautiful girl without glasses?!
Sometimes, the entertainment world can’t let go of the idea that nerds are people, too. Sure, they get a chance to have a soft belly at times — own up to their insecurities, admit to their flaws — but there are many geeks and dweebs who are little more than hastily sketched caricatures intended purely for comic relief. Even today’s Big Bang Theory, a show that’s earned heaps of praise for taking a smart approach to geek humor, has made Sheldon a shadow of a person, with so many neuroses that the Internet’s got a flurry of diagnoses for the lovable but completely outlandish nerd.
The Extremely Closeted Nerd
We love that America’s down with appreciating smarties, but is it so much to ask that we at least get a hint or two that the person we’re supposed to believe is a smartie is, in fact, smart? For instance, every time there’s an on-screen graduation, one of the regular characters is almost always the class valedictorian, which is statistically improbable. We also found it weird when we heard that Twilight’s Bella was accepted to Dartmouth, because it seemed to us that all she did was bite her lip, stare into various mythical creatures’ eyes, and speak breathily. But, hey, if putting down “hanging out with vampires” as an extracurricular activity works, who are we to judge?
See also: The Secret Life of the American Teenager (Ricky)
The Self-Imposed Pariah
One of the newer looks in recent history’s geek chic catalogue is as follows: we get a sensitive, vulnerable hottie (á la Joseph Gordon Levitt in 500 Days of Summer) who’s a little too earnest and we’re supposed to believe his lot in life is entirely unfixable. In JGL’s case, we’re also supposed to believe that being really into music and cutesy, couple-y activities is just such a burden and that things are looking really bleak for him in the long-term dating game. Sorry, friend, but woe is not you. You are barely a dork, despite how alienated you feel from modernity. Besides, take a look at yourself. We’re pretty sure you’ll be fine.
See also: Glee (Artie)
The Accidental Genius
Elle Woods may have been a pariah at Harvard, but she certainly stumbled upon enough luck to make her the hero of Legally Blonde and Legally Blonde 2. Her enemy in the first movie — a sour-pussed Selma Blair — may not have deserved the spotlight anymore than Elle, but it did appear to suck to be her while Elle was trumping her at everything by a special combination of hard work and luck (heavy on the luck).
See also: The Pink Panther (Clouseau)
When you’re hot, you’re hot. That’s especially true for the jackpot of a human being who manages to be simultaneously brilliant and damn fine, which happens more often than you’d think in movies and TV, since Hollywood defines “homely” slightly differently than the rest of the world. These magnificent creatures generally get a free pass back into society, or even access to both worlds. Famously, in the Harry Potter films, Hermione grew up to be way, way more gorgeous than the books dictated. This wasn’t exactly Emma Watson’s fault, but fans had one hell of a time protesting how unbelievable it was anyway.
The Hopeless (But Still, Somehow, Attractive) Case
On the opposite end of the spectrum, geekiness occasionally trumps attractiveness, which may just be the most extreme example of Too-Geeky-to-Function there is. Zooey Deschanel’s character Jess on New Girl will clearly have her share of love interests and crushes down the road — duh, this is primetime network TV we’re talking about — but she acts so far beyond sane in the first episode that it’s hard to find her anything other than in need of help.
See also: Community (Abed)
The Geeks Who Inherit The Earth
As in all movies, the geeks will many times get to have their cake and eat it, too. Pretty much every Michael Cera movie under the sun endswith Michael Cera walking off into the sunset with his female love interest. Despite some pretty sticky situations, he and Jonah Hill walked off with their girls in Superbad, which was especially unbelievable in Hill’s case, especially since he accidentally head-butted his lady love in the face just a few hours prior to their reconnection. It’s a nice, uplifting ending, if not somewhat artificial at times, but, then again, is it really? As far as inheriting the earth goes, we’d probably say Bill Gates types were doing all right.