TV’s Greatest High School Nerd Transformations


With the recent Bunheads finale, the fast-approaching end of Awkward’s second season, and a promising Inbetweeners reboot, we confess we’ve gotten caught up in a lot of teen angst these past few weeks. So since we’re in the state of mind, we decided to look at some of the great high school series in television history and their nerd spawn. Like the teenage protagonists of the aforementioned shows, these characters all started out uncool, insecure, and/or sartorially challenged. And then of course, they grew up. You can click through for some before and after shots we dug up, and hope you’ll let us know about any great geek transformations we might have missed. And now, we’ll be making our way back to the couch for more adolescent love triangles, camera phone farce, and woefully instructive tales of sex.

90210: David Silver

It’s hard to believe it, but David Silver was a Beverly Hills outlier (and about a foot shorter) until Donna gave him a chance in Season 2. You can see him in full high school glory, MCing The Electric Slide at the dance in Season 3. The rest, sadly, is history: fledgling music career, drug addiction, several go-arounds with Donna until their wedding in the series finale, which we later learned ended in separation (and is still pending as far as we know).

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow

Willow started out as Buffy’s bookish side-kick, but her growth into a kick-ass, not to mention much darker character, elevated her status from archetypical nerd. Willow would always maintain her braininess, but by the end of the series we saw her face her insecurities and develop confidence, edge, and some very dangerous powers — a transformation accentuated by her variety of choppy do’s and eccentric accessory choices.

Gossip Girl: Dan Humphrey

Dan’s Brooklynite status made him all but invisible amongst his Upper East Side classmates, but eventually he wielded his writer wit and sensitivity to win over Serena van der Woodsen, Nate Archibald, and even Blair Waldorf. Growing out those luscious locks didn’t hurt either. Last season’s finale left our beloved Humphrey teaming up with Georgina to write another roman à clef on his one percenter comrades — this time, with a vengeance. The days of sad “Lonely Boy” are long over.

Gilmore Girls: Rory Gilmore

Rory is another kid who initially had problems fitting in at snooty private school, and while she found her way (even becoming friends with former tormenter Paris Geller), she never dropped her smarts. As you might remember, the series ended with her choosing the Obama bus over a boy. For a list of every book mentioned on the show check out the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge.

Dawson’s Creek: Joey Potter

Even with her slightly poofy hair, mom jeans, and constant scowling, Joey was gorgeous. But for the purposes of TV she was an outsider in Capeside — for she was poor, studious, and sexually unattractive to her bff Dawson. Joey’s hard work earned her a trip to the ninth Ivy, Worthington, but she also managed to loosen up along the way, and become the semblance of a person her age. This meant going to parties, donning funky hair color (we loved her season 6 roots, character driven or not), and even performing Joan Jett with love interest Chad Michael Murray at a local dive.

The O.C.: Seth Cohen

Geeks may be innately cool, but sometimes they still need a little push, from say, the convict adoptive brother who lives in the pool house. While Seth never really transformed physically nor needed to (as is evident from the pilot and finale shots, juxtaposed above), he developed confidence and a social life over the course of the series, not to mention landed the girl of his dreams, Summer Roberts.

Degrassi: Clare Edwards

Claire was initially most recognizable for her junior high uniform, which she chose to continue wearing at Degrassi so that she wouldn’t attract any unwanted attention from boys. This didn’t last too long, and with a haircut and laser-eye surgery, she was prime for the drama of Canada’s landmark teen soap. Some fans have taken the transformation better than others.

Growing Pains: Carol Seaver

Here’s another young lady nerd who ditched the glasses and got a haircut. Only difference in her transformation is that she went on to date Brad Pitt. Ironically, Carol Seaver’s “before” look is more stylish by today’s hipster standards — tell us you can’t see at least one of your friends wearing that sweatshirt seriously.

Friday Night Lights: Landry Clarke

If visions of Landry aren’t already swimming in your head, here’s a few for you. He was always destined for academic greatness, leaving the show for Rice University in Season 5, but along the way the jock tutor and Crucifictorious frontman became a little less nerdy around the edges, joining the football team and defending the honor of the woman he loved.

That ’70s Show: Eric Foreman

Could anyone with a watch tan line this defined (above, left) truly have any hope of becoming cool? No, but over the years Eric did grow-up, fill-out, and even take a teaching job in Africa before returning for the series finale and professing his love to Donna on the last night of the ’70s.