Glee returns tonight (read our recap here), and hopefully one of its key strengths will still be in force: Its depiction of the high-school outsider, whose passions — singing, in this case — trump the desire to blend in with the popular crowd. In Glee’s world of spontaneous group dance numbers, the characters’ single-minded zeal for show tunes just feels real. Their looks do not: Except for a nerdy handicapped kid (the ultimate double-whammy “outcast” signifier), the cast looks like a Benetton ad. We apologize to any former choir members out there, but no glee club in the history of glee clubs has ever been so collectively good-looking. But such is the tricky balance whenever any movie or TV show tries to depict one of the brainier, nerdier, more outsider-y common high-school cliques. Whether it’s the AV Club, mathletes, a yearbook editor, or a Goth, Hollywood has struggled to capture them without dipping into tape-on-the-glasses nerdy stereotyping. Let’s take a look at how the various outsider cliques have fared in their most memorable embodiments.
How they’re like a real glee club: People who were obsessed with choir in high school will recognize the determination and obsession that the Glee kids show for their chosen art form. The joy they get out of singing seems genuine, and their cliqueishness rings true.
How they’re not: Not all glee-club members can sing that well; adolescent enthusiasm does not always equal talent. Also, glee and theater kids aren’t complete hated outcasts; Glee makes them seem like they’re the school’s Unicorn Poisoning Club.
How she’s like a real newspaper staffer:
As the strident editor in chief of the West Beverly Blaze, Andrea pushed stories through in a way that turned many off and aimed to uncover scandal where there wasn’t necessarily any. She practically lived in the offices of the paper and overestimated its importance to the annoyance of others. Also, she wore giant glasses.
How she’s not: Gabrielle Carteris, who played Andrea, was 29 years old at the time. She looked old and acted old, bossing around teachers and administrators. Which, granted, is often a posture struck by actual Baby Woodward and Bernsteins, but they cave a lot faster.
How they’re like real science geeks:
Science guys have lauded The Big Bang Theory for its (semi) authenticity, especially in regards to Leonard, the least stereotypically nerdy of the bunch. Leonard knows he’s geeky, and it’s that self-awareness that keeps the show from being fully overdone in its depiction of dorks (see below). And let’s face it, scientists do love Star Trek.
How they’re not:
They discuss neurons and rockets and Star Trek … and nothing else. They also hew to the Hollywood-nerd playbook first established in 1979’s Meatballs: They wear plaid with stripes, have nasal voices, and can’t talk to women. Yes, there are ill-dressed, antisocial scientists, but all of them?
How he’s like a real Goth kid:
Pudgy and awkward, the son of Thomas Jane’s manwhore dresses like a Goth in an attempt to stand out and fit in at the same time. Plus, he’s pissing off (and scaring) his mom, which seems to be one of the main points.
How he’s not: His all-black wardrobe and nail polish are actually relatively sedate for a Goth kid, which is oddly counterintuitive for a TV show. And for a tortured youth, he seems surprisingly okay with having his dad teach at his school.
How he’s like a real yearbook staffer:
Angela’s childhood friend turned punching bag carried a camera everywhere, using it as an excuse to start conversations with people, while also hiding behind it when he felt awkward (which was most of the time … poor Krakow). His camera was his armor.
How he’s not: Except for the fact that he wasn’t nearly obsessed enough with making sure the class-superlative elections were democratically sound, Krakow was pretty much like a real yearbook staffer.
How they’re like real comedy nerds:
Neal, Bill, and Sam hold Steve Martin and Bill Murray up as gods, and nothing gives Bill joy like squirting brownie out his nose
while watching comedians on Dinah Shore. While other teens are memorizing Rush lyrics, they’re home quoting Caddyshack
and judging everyone else who doesn’t “get it.”
How they’re not:
They’re pretty close to spot-on, though more Monty Python
quoting would really fill out the picture, not to mention laughing over Cheech and Chong jokes that they don’t entirely get.
How they’re like real Mathletes:
They’re proud of their math skills, and no one can convince them that their team is uncool. They’re not outcasts, they’re just quirky, which feels more authentic in the highly competitive and diverse high-school worlds of today (which Mean Girls did an impressive job of capturing). Plus, they’re all really horny, which is true for all teens, regardless of their affinity for Pythagoras.
How they’re not:
Not even the most pi-enraptured mathlete would wear a math team jacket to the prom.
How they’re like real techies:
Bryce (John Cusack) and Cliff’s (Darren Harris) gadgets are their prized possessions, and though they’re into girls, the prospect of talking to one is so scary that instead they choose to worship disembodied panties. They mindlessly follow the Geek, whom they’ve deemed their leader. All of this is pretty on point.
How they’re not: Even techies don’t wear their gadgets to bed, do they?
How he’s like a real AV-club member: Freddie gets overly stoked about webcasts and basically anything to do with technology, and uses his tech skills to get closer to Carly, on whom he harbors a major crush. This I’ll help you with your project strategy is an actual proven goldmine for real-life AV-club members.
How he’s not: We’re too old to know what AV club is like now that projector-spreading and filmstrip-loading are obsolete skills, but Freddie does seem too cute and well groomed to have to resort to homework help to get close to his crush.
How she’s like a real band geek:
She plays the flute and went to camp for it.
How she’s not:
The flute is less a specific key to her character than a phallic prop set-up for a dirty punchline; she could just as easily have been a member of student government obsessed with her gavel. She’s just a generic movie nerd with a woodwind and a kink.