?I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that most nerds have a soft spot for “The Loser.” Whether he (or she) comes to us in the form of the Charlie Brown-esque well-meaning underdog who can’t seem to catch a break… or the oblivious, delusional failure who is blissfully unaware of how much their life sucks… or even the pathetic doormat who seems to exist solely to amuse others with their suffering, losers are often much more engaging and interesting characters than their more fortunate cast-mates.
However much nerdity may become accepted and integrated into popular culture, most of us can remember being on the outside looking in, and many of us still find ourselves out of the mainstream. Thus, we identify with the loser, and cheer for him on the rare occasions when things actually go his way.
Today, I bring you eight of nerd-dom’s most amiable losers — some we love to hate, others we hate to love, a few we laugh with, a couple we laugh at, and one or two we root for with all our nerdy little hearts.
8) Neville Longbottom, Harry Potter
Neville’s journey through the seven Harry Potter novels is a shining example of J.K. Rowling’s character devlopment skills, and a wonderful illustration of what.a good writer can do with a “Likeable Loser.” In Sorcerer’s Stone, he was introduced as a meek, pudgy little nobody with the added handicap of being named after Hobbit chronic, and a British PM best known for pissing himself when Hitler showed up at England’s doorstep. Over the years, he slowly increased in confidence and skill. In Order of the Phoenix, we learn that he too lost his parents to the Death Eaters, but they weren’t simply murdered; they were tortured to the point of insanity, and are now permanently committed to St. Mungo’s Hospital (I still refuse to forgive the filmmakers for cutting out the scene of Neville visiting them for Christmas in the film adaptation). His defensive prowess is sharpened when he joins “Dumbledore’s Army,” and in the last book, he emerges as the BAMF leader of an underground guerilla resistance movement after the Death Eaters take over Hogwarts. Not bad for the goofy, plant-loving kid with the pet toad we all took to be little more than comic relief at the start of the series! And yes, the reason Neville is #8 is because while he starts the series as a loser, he ends up a total asskicker at the end of the HP series.
7) Dib, Invader Zim
Poor bastard! All his life, all Dib ever wanted was to prove to everyone that aliens exist — then one moves into his town, starts going to his school, and begins plans for world conquest… and no one believes him! You can’t help but feel for Dib; his classmates hate him, his father ignores him, his sister considers him an embarrassment, and even his fellow paranormal investigators ridicule him. Not to mention the fact that the same alien that only he seems to notice has made a point out of pissing in Dib’s Cheerios every chance he gets, whether it’s sending rubber piggies back through time in an ill-advised attempt to retroactively kill him, to crafting him an elaborate VR life of success and fame just to get Dib to admit he threw a muffin at him, to sending Dib’s entire class to an alternate dimension populated solely by a horrible walnut-eating moose. As the show progressed, Dib slowly began to give less and less of a crap about Zim’s machinations, but he always stayed a loser. I know I’d understand if Dib’s developed a bit of resentment towards his species.
6) Milhouse, The Simpsons
Millhouse started out as just another 10-year-old boy, a blank slate of a character who’s only distinguishing quality was his friendship with Bart; over time, the Simpsons writers developed him into the loser we know and love. He’s utterly fixated on Bart, and their relationship is closer to co-dependency than friendship. For his part, Bart enjoys Millhouse’s loyal adoration, and isn’t afraid to occasionally take advantage of it. On his own, Milhouse’s a wimp, a coward, and a mama’s boy — he has some qualities that could peg him as a nerd, except he’s not nearly smart enough. Things just got worse for Millhouse as the series went on, what with the divorce of his parents and his “on again, off again” unrequited love for Lisa, which is probably due to the fact that she’s the one girl in his age group he’s spent the most time around. The clip included is short, but tells you everything you need to know about why Millhouse deserves to be” honored” in today’s list.
5) Lister, Red Dwarf
In the “Slacker” quadrant of the Loser Galaxy we find the inimitable Dave Lister (Craig Charles) — sole human survivor and lowest ranking crew member of the mining ship Red Dwarf. Lister is stupid, lazy, irresponsible, undisciplined, and unmotivated–and perfectly comfortable with himself. His only ambitions in life were to move to Fiji with his cat, Frankenstein, and marry Christine Kochanski. Plans that were… well, “delayed” after three million years adrift in space frozen in a stasis chamber. Holly, the ship’s computer, activated a hologram of Lister’s bunkmate (and marginal superior), Arnold Rimmer: A miserable bastard equally as inept and useless as Lister, but also arrogant, condescending, petty, and thoroughly unlikable. Holly calculated that Rimmer was the one crew member most likely to keep Lister sane. Indeed, without Rimmer to annoy him, Lister likely would have spent the rest of his days lying in his cot, drinking beer milkshakes, and pining for his past life and friends. We love Lister for his unfailingly cheerful (if occasionally na?ve) personality and his ability to adapt to a situation that likely would have broken a lesser (or in this case, perhaps a “greater”) individual.
4) TV’S Frank, Mystery Science Theater 3000
When season 2 of MST3K opened, we learned that Dr. Forrester’s original assistant, Dr. Erhardt, had gone “missing.” He was replaced by a stocky, white-haired, bumbling, hair-helmeted trainee we would all come to adore: TV’s Frank! From day one it was made clear that Frank’s primary duties involved serving as a guinea pig for Dr. Forrester’s various experiments and inventions. He’s been tortured, maimed, abused, eviscerated, vivisected, and yes, killed, time and time again. And that’s just at work! In his off-hours he apparently served as Forrester’s manservant and personal doormat. Still, he never let the pain and death inflicted on him daily get his spirits down, and Joel (later Mike) and the ‘Bots appreciated the touch of humanity he brought to their weekly experiments. At the end of season 6, Frank finally received his due for the misery he’d endured while in Forrester’s employ, when he ascended into sidekick heaven with Torgo the White. He’d show up one final time in Season 10, having started a new career as a Soultaker. He wasn’t particularly good at that, either.
3) Dr. Zoidberg, Futurama
Planet Express’ hapless, hopeless, penniless, perpetually hungry company doctor is a lobster-like alien from the planet Decapod 10 who knows nothing about human anatomy, lives in a dumpster, eats garbage (not just when he’s in the dumpster), and once traded all his shares in the company for a sandwich. He’s massively incompetent (in one episode he admits that his Doctorate is actually in Art History), annoying, secretes a variety of noxious fluids, and no one remotely likes him except Fry, mainly because he’s too stupid to find him irritating. Still, he manages to maintain a moronically positive attitude (most of the time) despite having no real reason to live, much less be happy — and one can’t help but find that endearing.
2) Dr. Venture, The Venture Bros.
How can a super-scientist that’s head of a massive company, owns his own jet, and who travels the world having adventures and fighting bad guys be considered a loser? It helps when his company is broke, he survives most of his fights by knowing the rules of the Guild of Calamitous Intent rulebook, and he’s an incredibly terrible super-scientist, forced into the profession by his domineering, emasculating, almost-actually-evil non-loser father. He’s equally talentless with the ladies, although the bright side there is that at least his erectile dysfunction seldom becomes a problem (actually, his one sexual we know was of the underage president of his fan club –although Doc didn’t know that at the time, at least). His name has become a euphemism for an incredibly awful (and sad) sex act. In fact, there’s only one thing that Dr. Venture does well, and that’s boy-adventuring… which would be fine if he weren’t 40. Here’s how much of a loser Dr. Venture is — even his archvillain the Monarch pities him sometimes, and he’s not exactly a winner himself.
1) Lt. Reginald Barclay, Star Trek: The Next Generation
“I am the guy who writes down things to say before he goes to a party, and then, when he gets there, he stands alone, in the corner, trying to look comfortable examining a potted plant.”
–Barclay to Geordi, ST: TNG “Hollow Pursuits”
The moment I heard Dwight Schultz (best known as “Howlin’ Mad” Murdoch of A-Team fame) utter those lines in Barclay’s first episode, I knew I’d found my absolute favorite Star Trek character. In the future of all the Star trek series, everyone always seemed so happy, well-adjusted, popular, and sociable (everyone from Earth, anyway). Not Barclay, though. He was nervous, anti-social, neurotic, shy, and too imaginative for his own good. He exemplifies the “Likable” loser: The individual who’s talented and creative, but insecure. You feel sorry for Barclay NOT out of pity, but out of justice. He deserves better, if only he could catch a break or grow some balls. Plus, the poor guy’s been through a lot: He’s been the vessel for a superintelligent alien computer program, he’s conquered a crippling fear of transporters, he got a disease named after him after contracting a retrovirus that caused him to devolve into a human/spider hybrid… Oh, and fucking Wesley calls him “Broccoli,” a nickname which unfortunately catches on, as the video above shows. When Wesley Crusher makes fun of you, you’ve earned the #1 spot on this list. Also, I think Starfleet owes him some kind of medal or commendation for not throttling the little prick.