The smartest TV characters of all-time
Fox

The smartest TV characters of all-time

Lots of TV characters have brawn, especially in action shows. However, plenty of others also have brains. The running to be the smartest character in television history is a tricky one. We aren’t here to decide on who’s the smartest of them all right now. We merely want to collect a few of the biggest brainiacs on television and put them on a list to shout out their smarts. This is our list of TV’s smartest characters. However, for these purposes, we excluded anybody robotic (like Data) or alien (like The Doctor).

 
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Sheldon Cooper

Sheldon Cooper
CBS

We should also note that we decided to only include one character per show. There are several big brains on “The Big Bang Theory,” but Sheldon has to be the representative here. The consensus seems to be he’s the smartest of the bunch. Apparently, he was even smart when he was young. Plus, he was the only one in the cast who had the smarts to come up with a catchphrase.

 
2 of 25

Lisa Simpson

Lisa Simpson
FOX

In truth, Professor Frink is probably smarter than Lisa. He’s an adult and a scientist, after all. However, Frink is also a tertiary character, and we are grading on a curve. For a child, Lisa is quite smart. She’s also the first person you think of when you think of smart people on “The Simpsons.” We’d take her for our quiz bowl team anyway.

 
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Professor Farnsworth

Professor Farnsworth
FOX

Here’s a professor that does make our list. Admittedly, Farnsworth is mostly surrounded by idiots. However, he’s a college professor, a scientist, and the inventor of many doomsday machines. Also, a machine that allowed him and his crew to enter multiple universes. All this in spite of the fact he seems fairly senile and is usually in his pajamas.

 
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Walter White

Walter White
AMC

Walter White brought science to the world of drug dealing like nobody before him. He was smart enough to do some real worthwhile scientific work, and also to be a teacher. Then, he managed to create basically perfect crystal meth, while also outsmarting people left and right. Walt managed to pull one over on the equally smart Gus Fring, so we had to include him.

 
5 of 25

Adrian Monk

Adrian Monk
USA

Smart but quirky crime solvers were quite commonplace on USA during its “Characters Welcome” phase. That guy from “Suits” faked his way into a law degree. Shawn Spencer from “Psych” was extremely observant and had a photographic memory. He was also a goofball who barely paid attention half the time. Monk, on the other hand, was overly attuned to detail. His personal neuroses and mental illnesses like OCD were detrimental to his day-to-day life but helped him solve even the toughest of crimes.

 
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Gregory House

Gregory House
FOX

Sure, Dr. House is a curmudgeon. His bedside manner isn’t the best. However, he’s clearly a genius doctor. He solves the cases nobody else can. He may be annoying when he does it, but you can’t argue with his results. His painkiller abuse, on the other hand…

 
7 of 25

Steve Urkel

Steve Urkel
ABC

Urkel may be a stereotypical ‘90s “nerd,” but he did some truly incredible things. Turning himself into the suave Stefan Urquelle? Yep! How about building a cloning machine? You bet! A time machine? Unfortunately for Carl Winslow, yes. If Urkel were to ask, “Did I do that?” about any of these accomplishments, we’d have to confirm that he in fact did.

 
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Samuel "Screech" Powers

Samuel "Screech" Powers
NBC

Screech is basically Urkel but more annoying. Socially, Screech is seemingly helpless. However, he was the valedictorian of Bayside, beating out even Jessie Spano. Also, he built Kevin the robot when he was in high school, and that robot is more advanced than anything else of the era. Yeah, he may irritate his friends and make dumb decisions, but on the whole he’s got to be considered a genius.

 
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Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes
BBC

Sherlock Holmes is one of fiction’s foremost geniuses. He’s been played by several different actors on TV. Many are fans of Benedict Cumberbatch’s take on “Sherlock.” Holmes can solve crimes with the slightest bit of evidence. Few in Sherlock’s universe can match his intelligence. One of them is, of course, his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty.

 
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Velma Dinkley

Velma Dinkley
Boomerang

Every time they take a case, the Mystery Incorporated crew solves things. Who is doing that? Shaggy and Scooby? They are stuffing their faces and running from danger. Fred mostly drives and builds traps. Daphne is a utility player and often gets herself in danger. No, it’s Velma who is the driving force behind solving all these crimes and unmasking all these fake supernatural creatures. That is, as long as she hasn’t lost her glasses.

 
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The Professor

The Professor
CBS

We were never really given the name of the Professor on “Gilligan’s Island.” He was defined by his status as a professor. The man could seemingly make anything out of coconuts and palm trees. Have you made a radio out of a coconut? Case closed.

 
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Doogie Howser

Doogie Howser
ABC

It usually takes a fair amount of intelligence to become a doctor. Becoming a doctor when you are still a kid? That takes extra intelligence. Doogie Howser couldn’t even drive when he started his medical career. We can only assume he went on to great things in adulthood.

 
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Frasier Crane

Frasier Crane
NBC

Both Frasier and his brother Niles consider themselves highbrow intellectuals, and they definitely know their way around fine art and clever bon mots. They have also both been practicing psychiatrists. However, we are giving Frasier the entry on this list, because he’s the one who got his own show, and also he’s the older brother. Sorry to Niles. We don’t want to cause any sibling conflict.

 
14 of 25

Lilith Sternin

Lilith Sternin
NBC

We are totally using a workaround for the “One character per show” here. Frasier is here representing “Frasier,” while Lilith is here for “Cheers.” After all, she was only a guest star on “Frasier.” Honestly, we just wanted to include Frasier’s brainy wife/ex-wife because we love Bebe Neuwirth in the role. A lot of people agreed as she won two Emmys for “Cheers.”

 
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Tyrion Lannister

Tyrion Lannister
HBO

Some people in Westeros survive with brawn. Others do it with brains. Tyrion Lannister is one of the latter. Played impressively by Peter Dinklage, Tyrion is not as imposing as, say, the Mountain. What he is, though, is clever, ruthless, and conniving. Hey, he survived. In Westeros, that means a ton.

 
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Angus MacGyver

Angus MacGyver
ABC

MacGyver has a very specific kind of street smarts. Put his back against the wall and he’ll solve a problem with whatever is around him. The guy could get out of a locked safe with a paper clip and some chewing gum. He thought on his feet and kept cool in any situation. Plus, he had to know a little science to make it work.

 
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Rick Sanchez

Rick Sanchez
Cartoon Network

Rick, of “Rick and Morty” fame, is basically a nihilistic version of Doc Brown from “Back to the Future.” Doc Brown invented time travel, so he was clearly a genius. Also, he was in a “Back to the Future” cartoon so maybe we could have included him. Oh well, we went with Rick instead. He’s done way more than travel through time. We just wish he’d cool it with the burps.

 
18 of 25

Lieutenant Columbo

Lieutenant Columbo
ABC

On the surface, Columbo doesn’t seem like a genius. When you watch him in action, though, you really a lot of that is a put-on. OK, maybe not all of it, but Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have all the social grace in the world either. However, when it comes to solving a murder and trapping a killer who thinks they are smart enough to get away with it, nobody is better than Columbo. Give him one tiny clue and he’s going to know who did it.

 
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The Brain

The Brain
The WB

He may have been a mouse, but the name “The Brain” was an earned moniker. The Brain was a genius, but also an evil mastermind. Of course, he was often thwarted by the fact his own compatriot was Pinky, a mouse of limited intelligence to say the least.

 
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Charlie Eppes

Charlie Eppes
CBS

“Numb3rs” is one of those CBS procedurals that was watched by a lot of people, but nobody you know (save for maybe your parents and grandparents). It had a little more going for it conceptually than, say, “NCIS” though. It was about an FBI agent and his genius brother, a mathematics professor who uses his math skills to help the FBI solve crimes. A weird premise? Perhaps, but Charlie Eppes is clearly a TV genius. Also, he puts an end to the argument that you will never use math in real life.

 
21 of 25

Benjamin Linus

Benjamin Linus
ABC

Many of the characters on “Lost” had secrets, but Linus had some of the most. He’s considered the smartest character on the show, and also one of the smarter television characters in general. Linus was a master manipulator and a clever problem-solver. Michael Emerson’s acting performance helped get both his intelligence and his internal menace across.

 
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Walter Bishop

Walter Bishop
FOX

Walter Bishop may be a mad scientist, but on “Fringe” he’s also clearly a genius. Is he the most ethical? Perhaps not, but he’s done some incredible things in the field of science. Plus, in a way, there are two of him, since in “Fringe” there’s an alternate universe featuring another Walter, one that is a bit eviler than the Walter who is the main character on a sci-fi procedural show.

 
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Phineas and Ferb

Phineas and Ferb
Disney

Aren’t Phineas and Ferb a little young to be doing all the incredible things they do? Yes, yes they are. Despite being suburban kids, the stepbrothers are capable of doing all sorts of things. They built roller coasters across the city, went to space, and did so much more. Phineas and Ferb are definitely smarter than Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz, even though Doof was able to build a lot of “Inators” that stretched the possibilities of science.

 
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Jimmy Neutron

Jimmy Neutron
Nickelodeon

It’s right in the name of the show: “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.” Despite being a child, Jimmy was able to do things most adult scientists could never dream of. For kids of a certain age, Neutron was the quintessential TV genius. The fact he aired on Nickelodeon alongside “SpongeBob SquarePants” probably just made him seem smarter.

 
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Dexter

Dexter
Cartoon Network

A lot of people online talk up the intelligence of Dexter Morgan, the main character from “Dexter.” He was probably quite smart, but do we want to include a serial killer on this list? Even if he kills other serial killers like some sort of murderous Robin Hood? Well, we can mention his name, but then also shout out another Dexter, the one from “Dexter’s Laboratory.” It turns out that there are a lot of shows about child geniuses, especially for kids. Fortunately, there are no shows about child serial killers who kill other serial killers. We’ll have to wait for “Young Dexter” to see that.

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

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