Americans watch about 40 hours of television every single week. Even in the Internet Age, television remains a cultural force, a unifying voice and quite possibly our chief storyteller. Do not view this as bad. A number of television programs over the decades have not only been great, but inspirational for viewers to become that which was once mocked: geeks. Several, in fact, have inspired our nation’s children to liberate their inner geekiness and dare to change the world.
Here are the 10 television shows that I think have most inspired generations of geeks. Not all are about computers or rockets, nor space travel or science. But all possess a common theme. Being smart, passionate, dedicated, hands-on and driven are qualities to be celebrated.
From the opening notes of the show’s theme song, it was clear: danger and adventure was at hand. Lost in Space was campy, no doubt, and laughably wrong about so much. All its faults can be forgiven, however. It’s best qualities were the stuff of dreams: traveling the galaxy was the norm, interacting with aliens to be expected, working alongside robots a part of everyday life. Even better: mom and dad and all the children were super-smart and highly capable. It went off the air before most of you were even alive.
Exceedingly British, preternaturally opposed to even great America cars, and their are many, Top Gear celebrates automobiles, engines, and learning by doing – in the most audacious, outrageous and ballsy challenges imaginable.
The truth is out there. Now go find it. This smart mystery-science fiction-thriller series never pandered, even while hunting down alien life forms in middle America. The X-Files spawned intense, volumnious online discussions, a decade-plus before Twitter arrived.
The show that refuses to die – like Star Trek, which inspired it. Futurama taught America, once again, that animated shows can be smart, clever, provocative and fun. Space, time travel, genetic mutations, immortality, parallel universes – not to mention ridiculously amusing future inventions – are all topics for dissection. Your children love this.
Is there anything more ‘geek’ than proving common wisdom wrong? Mythbusters gleefully takes on sacred cows and forces them up against the unwavering, un-feeling hegemony that is science. Plus, they blow stuff up.
I’m American. I don’t get Dr. Who. And, honestly, Daleks seem ridiculous. Nonetheless, scientists, computer geeks and all the smartest kids have found awe and inspiration from this long-running British science fiction and fantasy series. It’s about time travel, space travel, aliens – and that rather deep reservoir of cleverness and mechanical aptitude that Brits seem to possess.
This ultra-low-budget Canadian television show may be the most geeky of all. Frustrated with the world, a man builds his own rocket, takes refuge on a orbiting satellite and spends all his time interviewing the most extraordinarily talented men and women of science… fiction and comics. “Dr. Rick” celebrates the creators, the visionaries, the builders of worlds – those who light a path to our future.
Building on the vision of the original Star Trek, ST:TNG otherwise boldly went where no one had gone before, its super-smart, exceedingly brave crew of men, women and children traversing solar systems, visiting alien worlds, fighting Borg, sacrificing their lives for their ideals and always always always putting their computer and engineering skills to the ultimate test. Space may not be the final frontier, but it absolutely inspires the best in all of us.
The most popular show on the list – and the most un-geek, truth be told. If not for the great geek shows of the past, however, the very shows which challenged us every week to think big and dream bigger, this comedy about misfit scientists trapped on present-day Earth likely never would have seen the light of day.
Could it possibly be any other show? Kirk. Spock. Scotty. Bones. Uhura. Chekov. Sulu. You know them and they matter deeply to you. More than any other television program, possibly more than any other work of fiction, Star Trek inspired you to believe in yourself, believe in a greater good, a better future, and work toward making it so.
Would there be iPhones without tricorders? SETI without Starfleet? Space shuttles without Gene Roddenberry? Star Trek has not simply inspired a generation of geeks, but several generations.
There were many great programs that did not make it into my list of ten. The Office, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight Zone, Lost and many more. Add your suggestions in the comments section below.