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The Glorious Bastards (of Television)

Bob Chipman | 12 Jan 2015 12:00
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HD: Blackstrom social

Geniuses with few social graces who nevertheless manage to save the day are all the rage on television - here's our ten favorites.

Just because I'm comfortable with my affection for "junk food" pop-culture doesn't mean I don't feel a touch guilty about just how disproportionately I look forward to stuff I mainly plan to "enjoy" in big bold quotation marks. For example: Am I glad to see The Clouds of Sils Maria getting a U.S. release at last? Sure. Does it occupy as much space in my anticipation-cabinet as the Flintstones/WWE Crossover? C'mon - by now you know me better than that.

With that in mind, I'm similarly sheepish about how much I'm anticipating the new Fox midseason offering Backstrom. A star vehicle for The Office's Rainn Wilson, it's an Americanization of a Swedish crime fiction series (and a Fox-ification of a onetime CBS pilot). It looks to be another entry into my favorite guilty-pleasure subgenre: Series where socially-inept (or outright hostile/obnoxious) geniuses are grudgingly tolerated by their peers (and beloved by their audience) because - "Sigh... gawd DAMMIT..." - they really are just that good at what they do (solving mysteries, usually).

I don't suppose it would come as a shock that I'd be fond of series premised on heroes being excused from basic social norms by virtue of being smarter than everyone else. But I'm also a big fan of Wilson's so I'm hoping for the best from Backstrom - even if it looks like something I'd like better if I could come to it seven or eight seasons in as overnight block-booking on USA. So while I wait to see how this turns out, here's a look back at the would-be hero's grumpy-yet-surprisingly-effective predecessors...

NOTE: Before anyone asks, Sherlock isn't on here because he's a basically faithful updating of the original Sherlock Holmes, the acknowledged progenitor of this entire trope. Walter White isn't here because he's a villain-protagonist, not an antihero.

NOTE: this list was compiled with input and assistance from writer and media critic Megan Kearns.

House M.D.
Dr. House is the modern TV poster-child for this trope, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. (Do you suppose we ever would have found out that Benedict Cumberbatch was a thing that existed if they'd gone with the original plan and called this Sherlock Holmes M.D.?) Hugh Laurie's career-transforming performance landed him a legion of fans who still have no idea he used to be best know as a comedian (or British!) and did real-life doctors the world over a solid by convincing a generation of patients that a decent bedside manner wasn't really necessary. Today, what still stands out about the character himself is how committed the series was to letting the audience excuse his eccentric-to-monstrous behavior rather than the plot - every time it seemed like there might be an "explanation" for what exactly was wrong with House, the possibility was gleefully yanked away. It wasn't really the leg, the genetics, the upbringing or even the Vicodin... it was just House, forever and always.

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