In the world of television, geeks are often portraited in a negative light. They're made fun of, beaten up by bullies, and often treated as less than. But some shows have actually given geeks such prominent roles that they've become legendary.
Here are my picks for the most iconic nerd characters from popular TV shows! You'll notice most of these shows are sitcoms, but don't let that take away from how awesomely geeky these characters are.
20. Kenneth Parcell in 30 Rock (2006)
He can tell you anything you'd ever want to know about television. Why? Because he's an absolute fanatic.
Expertly portrayed by Jack McBrayer, Kenneth Parcell is a goody two-shoes if there ever was one. He doesn't like breaking the rules, he always follows orders, and he's a bit too interested in trivial things.
In short, he's a nerd. But he's also often the voice of reason and compassion, making him a lovable nerd at that.
19. Milhouse Van Houten in The Simpsons (1989)
Milhouse Van Houten is the epitome of how 90s nerds were depicted on TV: cowardly, bespectacled, endlessly whiny. And as Bart's best friend, we get to see a lot of Milhouse in action.
Yet even though Bart frequently encourages him to get into trouble with him, Milhouse is never brave enough to step up. In fact, he's usually quick to confess the moment he's facing an authority figure.
Plus, his attempts to woo Lisa (another textbook nerd) often fail, more than likely due to his inability to change his wimpy personality.
18. Abed Nadir in Community (2009)
Abed Nadir is a hilarious example of a nerd amongst misfits. Portrayed by Danny Pudi with genius nuance, Abed Nadir lacks enough social skills to land him in the category of nerdy.
He doesn't quite understand metaphor, so he takes things very literally. He's also a tad pedantic, often to the ire of his cohorts.
However, the main thing that makes Abed Nadir a world-class nerd is his endless enthusiasm for film and TV, demonstrated by his boundless knowledge on the subject.
17. Gale Boetticher in Breaking Bad (2008)
If there was one character in Breaking Bad that didn't deserve his fate, it was Walter White's assistant, Gale Boetticher.
A massively intelligent chemist—though not quite at the level of the series protagonist—Gale has always been immensely impressed by his tutor's knowledge and inherent brilliance.
He fawns over Walter, becoming somewhat of a teacher's pet—one who happens to cook meth. On top of that, he's a fan of classical music and houseplants. Sadly, he's a sweet nerd in a sea of sharks.
16. Lester Nygaard in Fargo (2014)
Lester Nygaard starts off in season one of Fargo as deeply unlikable. He's cowardly, bumbling, socially awkward, and spineless. He even has one of the nerdiest jobs of all time: insurance salesman.
However, what makes Lester Nygaard particularly interesting is his character arc over the course of the show, in which he goes from insecure amoeba to competent criminal.
15. Lester Freamon in The Wire (2002)
Lester Freamon from The Wire might just be the coolest nerd you'll ever see on television. He's wise, insightful, builds wooden figurines, and has a talent for solving any problem thrown at him.
He's a massive asset to the Baltimore Police Department, cracking cases before anyone even realizes that a case needs cracking.
Plus, he's smooth. He doesn't suffer the same social awkwardness that often plagues nerd characters. In fact, he's able to charm an exotic dancer the moment they meet (and settles down with her).
14. Neil Goldman in Family Guy (1999)
Neil Goldman is the most stereotypical nerd. He's the acne-ridden, retainer-wearing secret admirer of Meg Griffin. She, of course, wants nothing to do with him.
Neil is already a recurring character in Family Guy, but one could argue that he doesn't get enough screen time as it is.
His weird manner and nerdy idiosyncrasies are comedy gold, and there's no doubt that series creator Seth MacFarlane had a lot of fun creating this character.
13. Alex Dunphy in Modern Family (2009)
Alex Dunphy is a textbook nerd. Obsessed with grades and academic performance, she often rubs her successes in her sister's face, which makes her a little unlikable at times.
She does demonstrate a more caring side on occasion, which prevents her from being totally deplorable. But ultimately it's her preoccupation with school that lands her on this list.
12. George Michael Bluth in Arrested Development (2003)
George Michael Bluth is nerdy in the most awkward ways. Sure, he's kind, sensitive, and a little fragile, but he's also the type to stress over getting an A- instead of an A+. (Blame that on his father.)
However, while his nerdy nature can take strange forms—like harboring a crush on his cousin for years—George Michael Bluth is overall a very sweet and likable boy.
Portrayed by Michael Cera, who played him so well that he's been typecasted as a nerd ever since, George Michael Bluth is one of the brighter spots in the Bluth family.
11. Martin Prince Jr. in The Simpsons (1989)
When it comes to The Simpsons, Martin Prince Jr. is even nerdier than Milhouse—and that's saying a lot. Martin is a bookworm, a butterfly enthusiast, and a teacher's pet.
The difference is that Martin makes himself intolerable with his insufferably smug attitude and endlessly self-congratulating remarks.
He's clearly Matt Groening's depiction of the kids in school who got on his nerves, so it makes sense that he's impossibly irritating.
10. Kyle Schwartz in South Park (1997)
Matt Stone and Trey Parker created one of the more over-the-top depictions of nerdiness when they created Kyle Schwartz. If you haven't seen him in action, just know that he's really annoying.
The cousin of Kyle Broflovski, Kyle Schwartz travels in from Connecticut and manages to infuriate him (and his friends) with his long list of physical disadvantages.
He has bad eyesight that requires the use of vast glasses. He has asthma that keeps Kyle Broflovski awake at night with his loud breathing. He has zero athleticism and he's a hypochondriac.
As viewers, we get the feeling that Parker and Stone are making fun of those family members who grated on them over the years.
9. Dwight Schrute in The Office (2005)
Dwight Schrute is what every young geek dreams of growing up to be. He drops references to geeky shows and movies—notably Battlestar Galactica—and he displays all kinds of nerdy personality traits.
Dwight believes himself to be a master of many different things, including karate, which is definitely something a lot of us geeks can probably relate to!
8. Samuel "Screech" Powers in Saved By the Bell (1989)
Samuel Powers (or "Screech" as he's more commonly called by his fellow classmates on Saved By the Bell) is a geek in just about every way.
The writers of the show apply every nerdy stereotype, and yet he's still beloved by fans of the show. Despite his super geeky features, the character has plenty of redeeming qualities and is actually quite likable.
He's even best friends with the coolest kid in school (who just so happens to be the show's main character, Zach Morris).
7. Ross Geller in Friends (1994)
In some ways, Ross Geller is the perfect representation of what a geek might be like when they're grown up. Then again, Ross Geller also isn't your typical geek. (He goes out with Rachel, after all!)
His personality quirks and love of dinosaurs certainly qualifies him for the list, and let's not forget the dance moves displayed by Ross and his almost-as-geeky sister Monica on the show.
6. John "J.D." Dorian in Scrubs (2001)
Dr. John Dorian (or J.D. as he's more commonly known) is a gigantic geek, yet he's also pretty cool in his own way.
He's proof that being a geek doesn't mean you can't have an attractive mate without changing your personality or being rich.
In fact, J.D.'s success with the ladies might even make you question his geekiness! But then you remember that he's a grown man who's constantly daydreaming.
5. Abby Sciuto in NCIS (2003)
Abby Sciuto is a mix between geek and goth, but she's all awesome. Interestingly, she's one of the few geeks on this list who isn't from a sitcom (given that NCIS is a serious crime drama).
The character serves as a forensic scientist on the show, so she isn't exactly a traditional geek like most of the others on the list.
But that's part of what makes the character so special. She shows that geeks don't have to look or dress a certain way to still be a geek!
4. Carlton Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990)
In almost every way, Carlton Banks was the exact opposite of his cousin Will Smith on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Whereas Will got all the girls, had tons of friends, and was the popular kid at school, Carlton most definitely didn't get any girls and wasn't beloved by any of his classmates.
But yet, he was still awesome. From his swaggy dances to the way he carried himself, Carlton will always be one of TV's greatest geeks.
3. Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory (2007)
Sheldon Cooper and the rest of his The Big Bang Theory castmates are geeks, dorks, and nerds in just about everything they do.
While the show has rightfully received its fair share of criticism, it did bring many aspects of geek culture to the mainstream, and it has helped to take away some of the negative stigma in being a nerd.
We're picking Sheldon as the most iconic geek on the show, but Leonard, Raj, and Howard could easily have made the cut, too.
2. Lisa Simpson in The Simpsons (1989)
Lisa Simpson might only be a cartoon character, but she's still one of the most iconic TV nerds of all time, who's been going strong ever since The Simpsons debuted all the way back in 1989.
What makes Lisa stand out is the fact that her geekiness isn't played negatively—it ends up being one of her most favorable qualities.
The show was on long before geekdom was considered cool, so she was actually quite an empowering character for nerdy outcasts.
1. Steve Urkel in Family Matters (1989)
When you think of television characters who are massive geeks, Steve Urkel is probably the first name that comes to mind (at least for anyone who grew up in the 90s and 2000s).
You simply need to drop a nasally "Did I do that?" and just about everyone will know who you're referencing.
Steve Urkel ended up being such a popular character amongst viewers of Family Matters that the show itself shifted its focus from the Winslow family to Steve Urkel over time!