Famous Film and TV Geeks Then and Now
History has always portrayed being geeky as an immense, life-crippling negative experience (at least in high school). However, today, the term “nerd” or “geek” appears to have morphed into a new meaning: one of power, intelligence, and, believe it or not, popularity. With powerhouses such as the Nerdist network, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and pretty much every hipster reading a graphic novel through his or her oversized novelty glasses, geeks are on top of their game today.
Alas, it wasn’t always this way. The nerds and geeks of pop culture past were never cool or idolized — they were mocked, ridiculed and usually stuffed into small compartments. And to remember those times, let’s take a look at some of our favorite film and television geeks then and now.
Dustin Diamond — Samuel ‘Screech’ Powers
Then: Screech was the oddball of Bayside High School on ‘Saved by the Bell,’ the one who found school to be a breeze, but everything else to be rather difficult — in particular, his pursuit for Lisa Turtle. Even still, Diamond proved that nerdism can work, having played the character from ‘Good Morning, Miss Bliss’ (the primetime precursor to ‘Bell’) all the way to ‘Saved by the Bell: The New Class.’
Now: While Diamond was likeably creepy in his ‘Saved by the Bell’ days, today he’s just plain creepy (his tell-all book ‘Behind the Bell’ has ostracized him from the Bayside gang and stymied reunion attempts). After numerous cameo appearances on various reality shows like ‘Celeb Boxing,’ he directed and released his own sex tape called ‘The Smell of Screech’ (Google it if you dare). Surprisingly, it was not a major success. Lately Diamond has been defying hecklers as a touring stand-up comedian.
Jaleel White — Steve Urkel
Then: With one of the most popular TV catchphrases ever (“Did I do that??”), Jaleel White stole the spotlight from the rest of the ‘Family Matters’ cast as Steve Urkel. In fact, the character was never intended to be a regular on the ’90s sitcom. But once audiences fell for Steve’s nasally laugh and penchant for building dancing robots, ‘Family Matters’ basically became ‘The Urkel Show.’
Now: Life after ‘Family Matters’ has been much less nerdy for White, who went on to voice several cartoon characters (including the lead in ‘Sonic Underground’) and appear on shows like ‘Psych’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ He’s hosted SyFy’s ‘Total Blackout,’ does guest spots on ‘CSI’ and ‘Drop Dead Diva’ and is active on Twitter.
Charlie Korsmo — William Lichter
Then: Before playing the geek in ‘Can’t Hardly Wait,’ Korsmo starred in hit films like ‘Hook‘ and ‘Dick Tracy.’ But seeing him cuddling up against high school jock Mike Dexter with his pants changed our perception of the former child star.
Now: ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ would be Korsmo’s last film. He went on to earn a degree in physics from MIT and a doctorate from Yale. Following a stint working for the government in missile defense, he is now a professor at Case Western Reserve University.
Chris Owen — Chuck Sherman
Then: Yes, the Sherminator! One of our favorite nerds on the hunt for something to “sherminate,” actor Chris Owen held a small but prominent part in nearly all of the ‘American Pie’ films. Often the butt of a joke, Sherman is one of the few nerds on our list to actually get some girls — including the famous Nadia.
Now: His role in ‘American Reunion’ is his last work of record, although he is slated to appear in the film ‘Off-Time.’ Unfortunately, we doubt the word “shermination” will be involved.
Sarah Hagan — Millie Kentner
Then: With the word ‘geek’ in the title, there’s bound to be a few nerds in the Judd Apatow cult classic ‘Freaks and Geeks.’ Millie Kentner was the nerdy, highly religious, once-upon-a-time best friend of Lindsay Weir. The show was her second credit, one that sadly lasted for only 12 episodes.
Now: Hagan’s television credits after ‘Freaks and Geeks’ include ‘DAG,’ ‘Undeclared,’ ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and the most recent ‘90210’ reboot. Her most prominent film role to date is probably Sarah in the 2002 Jack Black vehicle ‘Orange County.’ She’s also lent her thespian skills to the series ‘Breaking Fat’ and joined a ‘Freaks and Geeks’ reunion thrown by Vanity Fair.
Rachael Leigh Cook — Laney Boggs
Then: Rachael Leigh Cook proved that every teenage girl just needs to take off her glasses to stop being a nerd and start being hot in ‘She’s All That.’ Coupled with her stint on ‘Dawson’s Creek‘ in 1999, it’s no wonder Cook became one of our favorite teen actresses of the late ’90s.
Now: Today, Cook has taken the route of many ’90s stars and snagged a role on a TV series, playing the straight woman to Eric McCormack’s eccentric neuroscientist on ‘Perception.’ She provides numerous voices for Adult Swim’s ‘Robot Chicken’ and in 2013 she and husband Daniel Gillies welcomed a daughter.
Tina Majorino — Deb
Then: We guess you could say that nearly everyone in ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ was a geek, but we’ll just focus on one of our favorites: Tina Majorino’s character, Deb. Deb was the awkwardly shy “interest” of Napoleon Dynamite. Throughout the film, she would hatch little business plans to finance her college career. Ha! Geek! Or she’s ambitious. Either or.
Now: Majorino went on to play Dr. Heather Brooks on ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ You could easily make the argument that the actress has had the steadiest career of all the ‘Napoleon’ alums, giving memorable turns on ‘True Blood,’ ‘Bones,’ ‘Big Love’ and ‘Veronica Mars.’ She also reprised her role of Deb for the animated version of ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ and will star in the big screen version of ‘Veronica Mars.’
Josh Saviano — Paul Pfeiffer
Then: At the time, when ‘The Wonder Years’ was killing it in the American living room, actor Josh Saviano became arguably the most famous nerd in the country. And while his career in show business only consisted of things in or around the ‘Wonder Years’ years, he’s still well-remembered by people who like to make themselves cry by listening to Daniel Stern narrate.
Now: These days, Saviano has stepped away from the limelight to focus on the law. He studied political science at Yale and is currently a lawyer in New York City. And for the record, no, he is not Marilyn Manson.
Martin Starr — Bill Haverchuck
Then: Playing one of the geeks on the cult classic (along with Samm Levine), Starr’s turn in ‘Freaks and Geeks’ would be his first major television role.
Now: Once you get on Judd Apatow’s good side, you’ve got it made in the shade. This is certainly true of Starr who made his comeback as an adult with memorable roles in the Apatow productions ‘Superbad’ and ‘Knocked Up.’ Starr continues to work steadily in both television and film, in particular playing Roman DeBeers on the gone-too-soon ‘Party Down’ and playing one of the single men in the web series ‘Burning Love.’ Like Majorino, he’s schedule to stat in the ‘Veronica Mars’ movie.
Tahj Mowry — T.J. Henderson
Then: Being a child actor isn’t always a bad thing, and Tahj Mowry is a prime example. After playing Teddy on ‘Full House,’ Mowry went on to step into the nerdy shoes of T.J. Henderson for the CW’s ‘Smart Guy.’ In between, he did a few episodes of ‘Sister, Sister,’ which starred his real-life sisters.
Now: After the show wrapped in 1999, Mowry played the voice of Wade Load for 86 episodes of ‘Kim Possible.’ As of late, he’s starred in the ABC Family series ‘Baby Daddy.’
Lee Norris — Stuart Minkus
Then: If young Norris looks familiar, that’s because he played a geeky, precocious kid on ‘The Torkelsons,’ ‘Almost Home’ and ‘Boy Meets World.’ It was that character that really cemented his squeaky geek status, as Minkus was the smart one dueling it out with Topanga Lawrence for the top of the class. Unlike her, he actually looked like a nerd.
Now: Aside from his nerd-fame left behind with ‘Boy Meets World,’ Norris played Marvin ‘Mouth’ McFadden in ‘One Tree Hill,’ from 2003 until the show wrapped in 2012. And while that part might have earned him more success, we’re going to continue calling him Minkus. Let’s only hope he’s in the ‘BMW’ reboot.