Monday, October 01, 2007

International brotherhood of nerds

Today's column looks at the CW's "Aliens in America":
In this, the TV Year of the Nerd, I can't help but wonder how giddy Toby Radloff's feeling.

If you're among the select handful who saw the great movie "American Splendor" - or the even more select group who read the Harvey Pekar comic books that inspired it - you know Toby as Pekar's geeky co-worker. And you know that Toby (both the real guy and the version played in the movie by Judah Friedlander) drove 260 miles round- trip - not once, but multiple times - to see "Revenge of the Nerds" because, as he memorably explained, "I consider myself a nerd. And this movie has uplifted me."

There's a lot of nerd uplift going on this season. We've got nerds working as spies ("Chuck"), nerds tracking down escapees from Hell ("Reaper"), nerds befriending the hot girl across the hall ("The Big Bang Theory") and, with tonight's premiere of the comedy "Aliens in America," nerds from two different continents and cultures discovering that nerd-hood transcends all races and creeds.
To read the full thing, click here, and feel free to use this post tonight to comment if you happen to watch the premiere.

9 comments:

Siddhartha said...

Thanks for the review as always, Alan.

It was especially interesting when you were trying to trace the roots of the "geek boom". I really think it precedes the examples you mentioned namely with three people: Quentin Tarantino, Seth Cohen (essentially Josh Schwartz' alter ego), and to a lesser extent, George Bush. If you remember back in the early 90s, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were the height of cool keeping the violence of the 80s movies but replacing the Stallones & Ah-nolds with folks like Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth, and Fat Travolta - who were all, at that point in their careers, way more geek than jock. All those copiers of QT essentially missed the point and tried to copy the violence but forgot that what made those QT movies memorable were the attention to arcane detail and the need to talk about them ad nauseam - the two hallmarks of geekdom. Seth Cohen, on the other hand, showed that geeks are the arbiters of taste - they listen to the bands that everyone ends up liking before they get big, they read the books that inform the zeitgeist, and they have to be funny because that's the only way they're going to get the hot girl. As for my George Bush example, if you remember back to both presidential elections, one of the strategies used by the Bush campaigns (though he himself is an alum of Harvard and Yale) was to demonize the intellectuals as fey, wimps, and not in touch with the 'real world'. I believe that as it happens with any essentially peaceful nation, the way to revolt against an unpopular leader is to change the culture in opposition to the viewpoints of that leader - it happened with Nixon, it happened with Bush the First and it's happening with GWB. People embraced geek culture because it was the "unpopular" thing to do and only now, after its gestation, has it made itself apparent to the attention of TV and network execs and is finally manifesting itself on the boob tube and the silver screen.

Siddhartha said...

Whoa - sorry for the long post. I didn't realize it was so long when I was typing.

BigTed said...

I think the premise of this show is inherently flawed: In real life, the school staff and most of the students would go out of their way to be nice to a kid Pakistan -- and any students who weren't would be disciplined.

For whatever dramatic/comedic reasons, most TV shows about high school vastly overestimate how mean teenagers are to anyone who's nerdy, poor, gay, or in any way an "outsider." I'm not saying it doesn't happen at all, but the "mean girls"/"bullying jocks" stereotype is just that, a stereotype. It makes me think that a lot of writers are drawing more from John Hughes movies than from their own experiences.

BigTed said...

...a kid from Pakistan, that is.

Todd said...

bigted, you didn't go to my small, Midwestern high school. And those WERE the sorts of beautiful Europeans the family hopes to get in this pilot. Then, we stopped getting foreign exchange students after a while. (I should note that this was BEFORE I hit high school. Had I been there, it would have been a picture of peace and brotherhood.)

Anthony Foglia said...

Alan, how's Scott Patterson as the father? From what I've read from you and others, Patrick Breen was the original father, and the character was a nerd himself, and sympathized with his son; and the father was not rewritten when Patterson was brought in, for purely business reasons. It's a shame because Breen is a good actor, who I think could have done well. So assuming you've seen future episodes (the Onion's seen at least the first two), does Patterson work in the role? Do they change the father to be less a nerd? (If they began writing him more as "Freaks and Geeks" Coach Fredricks to his son's Bill Haverchuck, I think it could work.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

Anthony, Patterson's terrible in the first episode, where he's just doing some kind of weird Patrick Breen impression because the character wasn't rewritten at all. He's not quite that bad in episode two, but he still has no real comic presence to speak of without the Gilmore people to make him look good.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Breen v Patterson in the pilot was Breen, hands down. Patterson's physical size alone made the nebbishly written character seem unrealistic, and the nasal squeak he attempted was annoying throughout. That said, I like Patterson and have plenty of goodwill leftover from Gilmore Girls for him, and he's proven he can be a good straight man if nothing else. Hopefully the writers will figure that out and play to his strengths, or Patterson will find a way to play the character that's a bit more organic.
-Lance

Rand said...

I think when it comes to how international students are treated in often comes down to whether or not they were nerds to begin with. There was a kid from Gabon in my class who everyone thought was cool. But that was largely because he acted like other cool kids did. There was also a Swiss kid who was treated as a nerd, but to be honest he was a bit of a nerd. Of course, accents matter, but mostly it's just that if your a foreign kid and a nerd that just gives people more ammunition. Whereas if you're a cool kid and foreign you can share all your cool foreign adventures. A nerdy Pakistani kid, well, as a nerd you're picked on by whatever distinguishing characteristics you have, and as Pakistani nationality is often distinguish (although not in some areas), it makes sense that he's picked on for that.