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The Boob Tube

The Top Ten Geek Girls From Television


It’s nice to be a television viewer with lady parts in modern times. The rise in the number of female characters over the past few decades has been precipitous; not only that, the shows have increasingly shown these women outside the home, toiling at careers and, in Liz Lemon’s case, using dresses as ham napkins. And with the escalating boldness of writers in depicting women of all stripes, colors, and flaws as primary characters, the geek girl contingent didn’t suffer for lack of great characters. Over the last twenty years, women have been allowed access to geekery, heretofore the sole province of greasy nerds in basements, giving those of us with non-traditional passions a voice and a venue. Hey, sure, we could always use more – but until the next great lady hacks her way into our hearts, here’s a rundown of the 10 best geek girls from television.

Spoilers ahoy! Read with caution.

10. Leslie Winkle, PhD (Sara Gilbert), The Big Bang Theory

If one definition of a geek is someone who relates academic or other intellectual pursuits to the practical world, Leslie Winkle is your girl. Once, unable to find a knife to cut up her banana, she encased it in liquid nitrogen and broke it to garnish her cereal. Predictably over the top on a predictably over the top show, but you’ll admit it’s got a certain finesse to it. She’s better than the show’s conceit of “geeks meet hot girl”, as well, but her short time as the other main girl character on the show was a nice display of smart meets snark.

9. Dana Scully, The X-Files

I originally was going to leave Ms. Scully off this list with a stern N.B. that simply being loved by geeks doesn’t make one a geek. But then, at the clamoring of several friends, I reconsidered my errant ways on a few points. One friend pointed out Scully’s inside jokes with her father re: Moby Dick. Another pointed out her construction of ships in bottles. Yet another pointed to her love of magic tricks. To this I say, fair enough. But Scully works very hard to hide this geekery, thus the image presented to we the viewers 95% of the time is one of the utmost prepossessed cool. And her love of medicine is decidedly a mainstream bent. True Geek Status on this show belongs to the Lone Gunmen, I’m afraid – but credit where credit’s due.

8. Kaylee Frye (Jewel Staite), Firefly

Kaylee’s on this list because she typifies the definition I always use for a geek: “A person with a devotion to something in a way that places him or her outside the mainstream.” If that isn’t Kaylee Frye, then no one is a geek. Her nigh obsession with the ship Serenity and its mechanical health would border on the crazy side if she weren’t just so damn adorable. And the adorable factor is what places her further down on the list: sometimes, Kaylee has a little of the “girl in a boys’ club” syndrome. 30 Rock came out against the sexy baby act recently, K, and you should fall in line. She sometimes feels like a man’s version of what the best girl possible might be – hot, into sex, and able to fix a car. It’s a testament to the show Whedon didn’t put her in tiny, grease-marred cut-offs.

7. Lisa Simpson (Yeardley Smith), The Simpsons

There’s not much more to be said about Lisa Simpson that hasn’t been said already. Lisa is an emblem of geekitude, though her devotion is often insulted or ignored on the show. But perhaps because of that, Lisa’s emerged as the mascot for the downtrodden geek who rises above the showy philistinism of her family. And she may sort of be a stick in the mud, true – but hey, even she can kick back and enjoy Itchy and Scratchy. A 24/7 intellectual is a sorry geek indeed.

6.  Chloe O’Brien (Mary Lynn Rajskub), 24

Who could forget Chloe’s perfectly dismissive answer and prideful half-scowl when roughly asked by a CTU field agent if she had a gun: “I work with computers.” When 24 sogged beneath the weight of the same-old shoot ‘em up, white-Texans-are-the-bad-guys-in-the-end plotlines, Chloe was always there to add a little spark to the proceedings. She was fierce. She was annoyed. She swore a whole lot. Later, she became a mother – and she didn’t give up being awesome at computers and defeating terrorists. That’s always nice to see.

5. Mac (Tina Majorino), Veronica Mars

Cynthia “Mac” Mackenzie is a geek who, from the outside, you can sort of check off the standard requirements. Into computers? Check. Brash anti-social humor? Check. Helpful to a main character, arguably more appealing than herself? Check. Some marker of physical appearance differing her from “normal” girls? Check, in the form of colored hair streaks. But Mac makes exceptional what could be constraints in another. She’s witty, and hurls her barbs justly and expertly. She’s self-serving, as we saw when she created the purity test that swept Neptune High, in order to pay for a new car and keep her flush in Apple gadgets. She’s got a sexuality, too, that is treated as a normal function of her relationship, and rounds out her character. And the episode where Mac finds out she was switched at birth? Could have easily descended into cliché, but due to Majorino’s talented self (a Deb no more) and a great writing staff, it was one of the best episodes of the show.

4. Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori), Torchwood

Owen: “Can you stop it?”

Tosh: “Of course I can, I’m brilliant.”

If geeks had a bad-ass emissary, Toshiko would be it. Tosh is the Nikita of geeks; when she was young, she stole plans from the British Ministry of Defence like a boss, then began working for the Torchwood police force to get out of the resultant prison sentence. In addition, Tosh has a ton of steamy affairs that indicate a fairly fluid sexuality, not presented for titillation, but rather for individual pleasure. Over her time on the show, she was briefly telepathetic, shut down an alien experimentation facility, and died saving London from a nuclear explosion. Rest in peace, Tosh, you died a hero’s death.

3.  Codex (Felicia Day), The Guild

Sort of hard to leave Codex out of this roundup, despite The Guild not having ever technically been on television. Felicia Day’s web series brainchild, the World-of-Warcraft-playing recluse, is an odd duck to be sure. Day, a recovered addict herself, has quite a bit of personal experience invested in this character, and it shows. She’s frustrating in her multiple surrenders to a strange and intrusive houseguest, she’s aggravatingly self-pitying, but, all told, she’s kind. Hard to find a truly kind geek these days. Even so, Codex herself isn’t that remarkable – but Day is, and she deserves accolades for getting this character out there in the web medium when the networks panned the idea.

2. Carly Shay (Miranda Cosgrove), iCarly

If you’re not watching iCarly, well… you’re probably over ten years old. Which is fine for you, I guess. But some of us are having an awesome time with Carly Shay, whose web show regularly draws over thousands of viewers per episode. (And iCarly itself isn’t doing so badly – drawing on average 5.6 million viewers an episode, even beating Hannah Montana.) Carly is exactly the role model that tween girls aren’t getting in the spoiled Hannah and others – she does her homework, she loves her big brother (so do I, if you’re adding up my creep factor points at this point), and she runs a burgeoning business in her spare time. Carly is like a real life Lisa Simpson, if Lisa Simpson were also super fun and prone to Random Dancing sessions.

1. Willow (Alyson Hannigan), Buffy the Vampire Slayer

There’s something so downright charming about the self-professed “Computer Whisperer.” Even when the show is not very good (and believe me, Buffy fanatics, that’s often), Willow is always a peppy, optimistic light. Well, there was that one rough season – but we’ve all got our bad days. Willow makes no apologies for her love of books and computers, despite her adorable soft-spokenness. And though she’s often under Giles’s mildly bemused feet in the first few seasons, she’s an unceasing help to the Scoobies as time goes on, operating firmly in her Hermione role and getting the lot of them out of trouble. Willow wasn’t just a pioneer in the depiction of lesbian relationships on TV– she was one of the first real geek girls on the small screen, too. Brava!

With an honorable mention to Bennett (Summer Glau) on Dollhouse. Hell, Joss Whedon should probably just be awarded a medal at the end of this article.

And with a dishonorable mention to Freaks and Geeks‘ Lindsay Weir, for so blithely giving up her Mathletes geek status for repeated failed attempts at popularity. Come on, Linds. All the cool chicks are geeks now.

Natasha Simons is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, if you can imagine such a thing. She blogs here.

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  • http://wideaperture.net/blog/ Josh Braun

    First off, the obligatory “long time listener, first time caller” thing, although “long” is relative for something that’s been going on since February. But I digress, I’ve been enjoying The Mary Sue immensely.

    One great thing about this article is it helped me make up my mind to give some shows I haven’t watched in a while a second look—but I humbly request a spoiler alert at the top. The cat’s out of the bag for the five of us who haven’t watched Veronica Mars. ;)

  • Titania1224

    What about Abigail “Abby” Sciuto, portrayed by Pauley Perrette, a forensic specialist with NCIS?

  • JP

    Daria, anyone? Ultimate geek girl!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=813165390 Annika Raaen

    Love the list! But where in the heck is Bones?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=813165390 Annika Raaen

    Love the list! But where in the heck is Bones?

  • http://wideaperture.net/blog/ Josh Braun

    I’m personally torn on Bones. I appreciate the really strong female characters, and the evolved male characters as well, but I feel like the program is constantly exaggerating the social ineptitude of scientists to the point of being almost trite. I keep watching, mind you, so it’s not as though I’m panning it, but despite being drawn to the show, I’ve never been able to fully enjoy it either.

  • http://twitter.com/yaboiksar Nicole Hazen

    Named my daughter after Dana Scully. I think that explains my feelings on her character. =)

    But I guess I’m about the only geek alive that does not like Big Bang Theory, The Guild or Felicia Day.

  • http://twitter.com/yaboiksar Nicole Hazen

    Named my daughter after Dana Scully. I think that explains my feelings on her character. =)

    But I guess I’m about the only geek alive that does not like Big Bang Theory, The Guild or Felicia Day.

  • http://twitter.com/yaboiksar Nicole Hazen

    I love BONES and I get what you are talking about. But I was going into forensic pathology/anthropology at one point in my life (thank you Dana Scully) and people in those fields really are that socially inept (myself included). I won’t go into it since it’s personal but yeah, connecting with humans has never been my strong point. That’s putting it lightly.

    That show just hits it right on so many levels, socially and scientifically.

    And just as a cool trivia thing, Kathy Reichs teaches at the college in the town I live.

  • http://wideaperture.net/blog/ Josh Braun

    Good to hear from the voice of experience, though you’re not at all inept in your response. :)

  • http://twitter.com/yaboiksar Nicole Hazen

    Well ya know, it’s all about eye contact, LOL. Long as I don’t have to make it, I’m a-ok!

  • HL

    Nope. You’re not alone.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    Natasha here. That’s a great name for a kid! I’m partial to Zoe (from Firefly) for any potential tot of my own.

  • http://twitter.com/yaboiksar Nicole Hazen

    Oh yes, that’s definitely a good one.

    Now if I can just get the hubs to agree on Fox if we have a boy next, my life will be complete.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marina.rossi Marina Rossi

    What about Penelope Garcia from Criminal Minds? :)

  • Dnader

    What about Sam Carter from Stargate SG1?

  • http://www.facebook.com/katefalanga Kate Falanga

    Really she is a standout for me. An intelligent women who held her own in most any circumstance. Also she was truly a geek. More fond of fiddling with tech in a concrete bunker then going out.

  • http://twitter.com/yaboiksar Nicole Hazen

    Gotta agree 100% with these guys.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    I’m sure you’re right! I, however shamefully, have not seen Stargate (yet). So I didn’t feel I could put her in.

  • http://twitter.com/yaboiksar Nicole Hazen

    It’s not a shame. I haven’t seen SG-1 either. I’m an Atlantis fan and she was on there. That’s where I know her from.

    So yeah, we both got to catch up on that, heh.

  • http://twitter.com/yaboiksar Nicole Hazen

    It’s not a shame. I haven’t seen SG-1 either. I’m an Atlantis fan and she was on there. That’s where I know her from.

    So yeah, we both got to catch up on that, heh.

  • FK

    Kari Byron, Mythbusters? How incredibly disappointed I was not to see a REAL geek girl miss out not only from #1, but the whole list?!?

  • http://www.facebook.com/katefalanga Kate Falanga

    Considering the amount of times SG is on in a day (between 3 and 4 where I live) I admire your dedication. :) Give it a try though. I resisted until the writers strike where I was desperate for interesting TV. I was pleasantly interested.

    Great article btw!

  • Kex

    Nice list! But I must say I don´t agree with your portrayal of Kaylee. I think she is a marvelous character. I feel that there is this idea that any girl skilled at “male” profession have to have what is considered to be typical “male” characteristics. Though, unenthusiastic, etc. I like that Kayle can be competent and still have a different personality than say Zoe (who of course is absolutely marvelous in her own way). And I find it extremely pleasing that she is a female character that is allowed to have and like sex without being slut shamed and still without her whole character centering around it.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    That’s a great point. She’s awesome.

  • http://twitter.com/LDG22381 Melissa E.

    I love Claudia Donovan (Allison Scagliatti) from “Warehouse 13″. My boyfriend got me hooked on that show. Also, definitely Daria and Abby Sciuto from “NCIS”.

  • Really_rather_not_nice

    Velma Dinkley? She is only THE geek girl most geek boys grew up loving that paved the way for all our many, many other geek girl loves. She is the original crime procedural geek girl (You’re welcome Dana Scully, Bones, Abby Sciuto, Penelope Garcia, and others)

  • http://wisecrackzodiac.wordpress.com Beth Bartlett

    Leslie Winkle? I’m more of an Amy Farrah Fowler fan myself, especially after she prodded her bff to cry so she could study her brain!

  • Anonymous

    Willow? Really? You went the canonical mind-wiping, rapist girlfriend?

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    SG1 is up there with Trek, Farscape and BtVS on my list of best live action shows ever… right up until half way through season 3. Then I started getting really bored. Guess when SG1 went mainstream.

    *sigh*

    I’m trying very hard, and succeeding albeit slowly, to work my way through the rest of the seasons.

    Carter though; yes! She’s always massively overlooked on these lists, probably because she’s Captain/Major/I-didn’t-get-any-further-than-that Carter, as opposed to Doctor Carter. People forget that she’s a genius with technology, quantum physics, astro physics etc, the fact she was always turning down holidays in the sun to play with new gadgets in her windowless lab, the social awkwardness when not in Air Force mode (though honestly, I’ve never considered social awkwardness a geek thing… that’s nerd… and a WHOLE other discussion).

    Go, hunt thee down season 1 (and ignore the full frontal female nudity in the first episode… the network insisted on it, that was NOT what the creators wanted in their show).

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Have you read the article in Finding Serenity (I think it was Finding Serenity) about how sexist Firefly is. None of the women are actual women and are either men in women’s bodies (Zoe), sexless (River), sex objects (Inara) or the bigoted perception of the perfect woman (Kaylee).

    Someone missed the point, me thinks.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    *slams head against wall*

    Frellin’ Dana Scully. Oh she drove me up the wall with her completely blind scepticism. I usually wanted to throttle her at least once per episode.

    I suppose she IS a geek woman though… hmph.

    I’ve not seen a lot of those shows… so I can’t comment very much. Meh.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, sometimes Joss isn’t so hot with the women. Buffy also came across to me as the man-in-woman’s body type.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t forget, she turned to women after going through a bad breakup! I like her character otherwise, but during that story arc I was all “REALLY, Whedon?”

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Really? She generally came across to me as very ‘girl’… the type of girl I can’t stand to be around, but still a girl (of all the title credits characters in BtVS, I disliked Buffy the most after Riley). Faith has far more of the traditional ‘man’ about her, especially when she first showed up. She was very much the anti-feminine. Kendra, in fact, was more like a stereotypical teenage boy than girl; her shyness around the opposite sex, for example.

    He doesn’t always get ‘woman’ right, true enough. While he helped lead the way for more fully formed female characters on television he doesn’t seem to have evolved with the rest of the world, especially when it comes to teenage girls… I guess that’s his ‘thing’; the feisty teen girl.

  • Anonymous

    Ha, upon further reflection, I see I can’t really defend my off-the-cuff impression earlier without getting into a whole whack of gender stereotyping. Perhaps my only defense is that I got the feeling of masculinity from her, which I felt that the whole flip-blonde-bubblegummy thing was overcompensating for. Also, I knew that Joss had created her as the answer to “What if the cheerleader kicked undead butt?” so I felt that she was speaking with his voice, rather than her own. But that’s in my own narrow experience as a female (albeit a widely-read one).

    When I think of Buffy now, I think of the episode where she’s in the school basement: she wanders around underneath those who owe their existence to her and who have gone on to bigger things.

    Faith drove me nuts. And not in the way that good acting does. She was way OTT stereotypical male. Even her ‘vulnerable’ side was cake-mix boring.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    She didn’t turn. She was always bi. They hinted at both Xander and Willow being bi quite early on (quick e.g. Xander in Phases, Willow in Dopplegangland), but hadn’t decided which one to go with until S4. The fact they set her up with another woman after Tara, rather than a guy is because they feared fan reactions as people would assume she was ‘cured’ or had just been experimenting… when she’s bisexual. Apparently the concept of being attracted to both sexes isn’t nearly as accepted as being attracted to your own.

    As for the mind-wiping and raping (not to mention the attempt at genocide); Anya, Giles, Angel, Spike, Faith, Wesley, Andrew, The Operative, Jayne, DeWitt and Topher (and where does Dr Horrible sit in this?) all have less than pure pasts. It’s their struggle to be ‘good’, to do ‘good’ and fight for their redemption that’s the focus of many of their over all character arcs and what stops them being the outright villains… and with Spike it’s the fancrazy (you know people, fans of the show, have actually argued with me that Buffy ‘wanted it’ in Seeing Red, that Spike did nothing wrong… I was astounded, I actually felt sick). Willow, unfortunately, wasn’t given very much of a struggle past the dark side of her character as the focus was more on the drug addiction metaphor (which was so heavy handed I kept waiting for Mr. Mackey to show up in a cameo… drugs are bad, m’kay). It does leave a bit of a hole where some interesting plot and character development should have gone.

    Sorry, still working on getting my Defend Joss Reflex under control… that and I love talking about BtVS almost as much as I love tea.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Which episode was that? The finale of S1? I think I might have blanked that one.

    She was totally speaking with his voice (aren’t most of them though?), and as much as he empathises with girls (“I’m a teenage girl in a grown man’s body”) he isn’t, has never been and can never be one. I respect his attempts though, and his fighting alongside women for the equality of all.

    Part of the problem with trying to create non-stereotypical characters is that you’re going to be giving them traits that are often stereotypical of another group. People will then say “you’re just making someone from group A and putting them in the skin of group B to look like you’ve made a rounded character.” And that’s probably true a lot of the time.

  • iconny

    I think honorable mention deserves to be added for Chloe Sullivan on Smallville, with her incomparable dedication to all things computer/hacker-oriented, an obsession with which often leads close to her undoing. In a show that is inherently geeky, she somehow makes it even more so with hidden geek references/snide comments. Not to mention… she gets to bang a super hero, he sees himself as her equal, in her spare time.

  • Serenitystowaway

    Naaaaaah. Abby’s fun, but I can’t believe in her at all. She’s overly quirky to me.

  • Anonymous

    Er, it won’t let me nest replies below this level, but this is in response to Shard.

    First or second ep of S7 (I stopped watching shortly after, really the series should have ended with her death.) It’s when she first becomes a guidance counselor. I’ve only watched the series once and a bit, but fairly recently and all at once so I’m somewhat opinionated but by no means expert. (the SO is prostar, he’s watched the first five seasons 10x or more…the last two, not so much.)

  • Nashira

    For me it was great until the arrival of the Ori. God, I hated them and not because they were bad, but because they were badly designed for the show. It should’ve ended in season 8…
    Anyways, you should give it a chance. It’s a great show.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Yeah, S7 started off quite poorly. I can’t even make a decent distinction between the episodes. While you’re right that a lot of what came after her second death was not on a par with previous seasons, I really enjoyed Spike’s story, and there were a few classic eps. It certainly was dragged out a little too far.

  • Kex

    I have not read it and could not find it, so I cannot say anything about the article as such. But honestly it pisses me of that if a character is a woman there is obviously only one way to be a correct character. Every character in Firefly is shallow kind of shallow. But as soon as we talk about woman, they must be “correct women”. If they are soldiers, they are like MEN. If they like having sex, the like it because of the MEN. If they have a different way of thinking, then their primary trait is that they are sexless. I personally liked Firefly much because the portrayal of the women. And sure, I do do not speak for all women just because I happen to be one. But I don’t agree that the only way to look at the character is too see sexism. And yes I get the trope of the warrior woman and so on. But it also pisses me of that men can kick ass and no one questions that, but if women do, then they are not women ENOUGH. Fuck that, seriously.

  • Gammafied

    I am with you on Penelope! This list needs to be longer!

  • Gammafied

    I was going to say Velma is missing, but looked in the comments to see if anyone else mentioned it. Velma rules!

  • http://www.youtube.com/Alma2Awesome Alma

    Yeeees! I was hoping Willow made the list! And look, she’s number one! Thank you! I love Willow! Buffy The Vampire Slayer rules! And thank you for adding Bennett! Joss Whedon is the Man!

  • http://twitter.com/marcpolite Marc W. Polite

    Wait.. how do you leave off Daria Morgendorffer?

  • http://twitter.com/littlemaribr Mariana M

    I was just thinking that Any Farrah Fawler is nicer than Leslie Winkle

  • http://twitter.com/FAsh10npr1nc3ss fashionprinc3ss

    Geek Girls are the best, and I agree my favorite is Abby from NCIS because she is as smart as the character she plays. I watch NCIS everywhere. I downloaded an app from my employee DISH Network account that puts LIVE STREAM TV on my iPhone. You need a SLING adapter which you get from DISH, it’s totally worth it. I am the geekiest girl with my iPhone and you can be too! Technology from DISH Network rocks!

  • Alyson

    Yeah, something about her bugs me for some reason.

  • Grace

    Yes! I was hoping someone would mention her – I was going to if nobody else had. I think Chloe is my favorite character on Smallville, even more than Clark, haha. She gets the best lines, and she’s just so intelligent and snarky, and confident. She doesn’t take any crap from anyone. I <3 Chloe, she is definitely my favorite geek girl.

    Also, whoever mentioned Velma! Definitely another favorite. I remember watching Scooby Doo with my brother and my best friend when I was little, and my best friend always said that she was Daphne, my brother was Fred, and I could be Velma. I think it was meant to be sort of an insult, she wanted to be Daphne because Daphne was pretty. But seriously? I'd rather be Velma any day! Heck yes!

  • http://www.facebook.com/divyadivine Divya Kohli

    I have to say I love Claudia from Warehouse 13. Resident techie, hacker, and tinkerer. Has scene in which she asks her then boyfriend to talk about computer stuff to her because it turns her on. And actually understands the weird tripped out science the warehouse runs on.

    My all time favourite geek girl though is Amita Ramanujan from Numb3rs. A professor at CalSci with a doctorate in computational mathematics. A computer programmer who plays MMOROPGs and ARGs. And just an awesome character.

  • AnnaBananna

    Pauley Perrette actually IS a forensic Scientist in real life….

  • Roselia

    How is being shy around the opposite sex a gendered trait? Plenty of teenage boys have no qualms about talking to girls, and plenty of teen girls (including myself at that age) are shy around boys.

  • Roselia

    No, you’re not. I avoid CBS comedies like the plague, and The Guild just doesn’t interest me. And I’ve never seen anything with Felicia Day. Dr Horrible sounded interesting, but after reading reviews, I decided against it. I’m not here for more women in refrigerators.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Purely as an incorrect stereotype, you understand.

  • ailsa.clarke

    Daria should definitely be here.

  • Anonymous

    If you’re talking about Bones (and not Angela), Bones isn’t emotionally inept. She’s emotionally stunted. She was abandoned by her parents at a young age, and then by her brother not long afterwards. She was also emotionally bullied by the other children at school. This history has left her emotionally scarred and socially maladjusted.

  • http://twitter.com/RetroGamer71 RetroGamer1971
  • Rebecca Pahle

    She wasn’t introduced yet when this piece was written.