In a television landscape full of The Bachelor and Snookies, it’s rare to find a character that bucks the trend of the ridiculous and the stupid. In celebration of smart characters and the writers who created them, I give you ten wicked smart characters (in no particular order).
1. Tywin Lannister, Game of Thrones
Tywin is a man decorated with the only titles that matter in Westeros: hand of the King, Lord of Casterly Rock, Warden of the West and patriarch of clan Lannister.
He is unmatched in his ruthlessness and cunning intelligence. And if that wasn’t scary enough, he’s also the richest man in Westeros. Lest you imagine that Tywin was handed a silver spoon, his father Tytos was known as a weak man who squandered the family investments.
When the House of Reyne of Castarmere rebelled against the Lannisters, Tywin personally struck down the rebellion and slaughtered their entire family (leading to the popular song The Rains of Castamere).
Tywin’s cruelty extends even to his own children who he gladly insults and manipulates. While many of you might identify Tyrion as the sharpest cast member on Game of Thrones, I submit that even beloved Tyrion heeds Tywin’s advice and it’s clear the Lannister house would be in ruin without him.
2. Walter White, Breaking Bad
Walter is a gifted scientist, whose research on proton radiography helped a team win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. As a Caltech grad and an entrepreneur, Walter was destined to grace the cover of Forbes as the co-founder of Gray Matter Technologies.
But life had other plans for Walter, who sold his financial interest in the company for $5,000. And what is a brilliant man to do with his talents when he hits financial hardships and a cancer diagnosis?
Why become a meth dealer of course. In an industry flooded with violence and chaos, Walter embraces the darker side without losing sight of the chemistry. Alfred Nobel would be so proud.
3. Dana Scully, X-Files
Before Scully was teaming up with Mulder to solve the X-Files, she received a degree in Physics from University of Maryland and completed a thesis titled “Einstein’s Twin Paradox: A New Interpretation.”
After receiving her medical degree, she was recruited by the FBI for her skills in forensic pathology. Scully exemplifies what I hope our greatest scientists embody: a fervent skepticism when it comes to the supernatural but also a willingness to question what is believed to be true.
4. Sherlock, Sherlock (BBC)
Sherlock is the archetype of the eccentric genius and the fashion ingénue behind the deerstalker cap. He’s anti-social and emotionless but possesses an unrelenting drive to solve problems that baffle the rest of society.
In handling criminal cases, he’s often insensitive to his clients but has an uncanny ability to deduce key information that others cannot see. Using the Method of Loci, Sherlock is able to store information in his mind like a complex operating system. Sherlock lends his gifts to Scotland Yard, where he is the world’s only ‘consulting detective.’
5. Alice Morgan, Luther
Alice is the evil and more destructive version of Doogie Howser. At 13 she enrolled at Oxford University and received a PhD in Astrophysics at 18. Despite her academic achievements, Alice is a sociopath who meticulously calculated the murder of her parents and is proud that she did not get caught.
She maintains a warm relationship with DCI Luther in spite of her crimes and even provides coaching in his complex cases. Alice lives beyond the rules of society and plays regular people at their own game, remaining one of the most frightening characters of all time.
6. Frank Underwood, House of Cards
Frank Underwood was studying under the tutelage of Machiavelli while the rest of us were yearning for the Barlett Administration on The West Wing.
He’s a charming Representative from South Carolina who manipulates every aspect of the political process up to and including the President, law enforcement and the press.
Frank possesses the good ol’ boy demeanor one expects from a graduate of the Military College of South Carolina and the intellect of a Harvard lawyer, but underneath the surface he’s a snake in a suit.
Frank is equally the most corrupt and successful politician to grace Washington DC. The only human quality Frank seems to possess is a love of eating ribs.
7. Lester Freamon, The Wire
Never before has such a brilliant man been relegated to a job that was criminally beneath his skills. When we meet Detective Freamon he’s working the Pawnshop unit as a punishment for acting against orders of the Deputy Commissioner.
He catches a break when asked to participate on the Barksdale case, where he displays his intuitive and creative method of solving crimes.
And while most of the team lacked basic skills when it came to members of the opposite sex, Lester was able to successfully woo Shardene Innes as his girlfriend and put her through nursing school. Lester Freamon taught us to never underestimate a man who makes doll house furniture at his day job.
8. Sam Beckett, Quantum Leap
Sam, as we know him, is almost too brilliant to actually exist. He has a photographic memory, advanced skills in martial arts, has 7 doctorates, speaks 7 languages and earned a Nobel Prize.
As a reward for all of those stunning accomplishments, Sam literally gets lost in time. He’s stuck in a perpetual loop of fixing other people’s problems and the only person he can talk to is a hologram.
In a cruel twist of fate, he’s also handsome but no one can actually see him. And in the style of a Sisyphean tragedy, Sam eventually learns that he was in control of his leaps the entire time at the end of the series thus rendering the years that he spent walking around in other people’s bodies completely useless.
9. Jed Barlett, The West Wing
Josiah Barlett is the direct descendent of a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and he dedicates his life to the benefit of the American people. Jed is a devout Catholic as well as a political pragmatist.
He’s a graduate of Philips Exeter Academy, Notre Dame, London School of Economics and Dartmouth. He speaks four languages and received a Nobel Laureate in Economics.
Barlett becomes President of the United States, and is viewed as a benevolent and paternal leader to both the nation and his staff. In his free time, Jed terrorizes his staff with obscure trivia questions, proving his encyclopedic knowledge of the world.
I, for one, only know that acalculia means difficulty performing math due to a West Wing episode. (For the record, post hoc, ergo propter hoc still confuses me).
10. Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons
Lisa is the best argument for nature in the nature vs. nurture argument. Despite being the progeny of Homer Simpson, she’s thoughtful, intelligent and wise.
After learning that she has an IQ of 159, Lisa is invited to become a member of Springfield’s Mensa chapter. Like all gifted children, Lisa lives the world with an adult intellect trapped in a child’s body.
Lisa leads a lonely life, struggling to identify with her mentally deficient family members. As the series goes on Lisa learns to accept the short comings of her family and embrace them for who they are, proving that she is the most enlightened character of all.
Special mentions go to House (who was modeled after the Sherlock character), Spock (who is disqualified for not being 100% human) and Clarissa (who despite being 14 was able to explain it all).