Fictional scientists on TV


Recently I started binge watching a couple of TV series I somehow never got around to seeing. Star Trek Voyager and Breaking Bad. The Star Trek Captain Catherine Janeway is a scientist turned captain. Though the stories are peppered with morality plays where much of the time science conquers all, Janeway is so earnestly moral it sometimes hurts to watch her. But the protagonist/antagonist of Breaking Bad, Walter White, is a scientist whose life descends step by step into… more on that later.

Wired listed many favorite  fictional TV scientists, including Star Trek’s Spock, Gilligan Island’s Professor, and Bunsen Honeydew (look him up if you are not sure where he practices science.) I would add Phineas and Ferb’s Dr. Doofenshmirtz to my list of favorites. But happily, Wired did include Walter White from Breaking Bad in their list of favorites.

Thus my binge watching of Breaking Bad.

Pretty much any description of the show points out that White is morally ambiguous and soft spoken. Wired says Walter White “upended every stereotype of the quirky, soft-spoken high school chemistry teacher.” That got me to thinking. I had lots of quirky science teachers. I am not sure I ever formed a stereotype. I know of several preschool teachers who go out to bars and party after working with 4 year olds. I have to say that did not fit my stereotype of preschool teachers. White descends a moral ladder. He justifies the descent with his economic descent and serious health problems. His partner from graduate school struck it rich by sticking to his research and patenting an invention. White, on the other hand descended into teaching high school chemistry. Then murder and big time methamphetamine manufacturing and distributing.

Ouch. Teaching is so poorly paid and morally fraught that it puts you just one major illness away from becoming a drug dealer. As a scientist I admit I am a little creeped out by White. But I find the earnest Janeway and the overly controlled Spock to be creepy, too. Great characters, but a little uncomfortable. I have to vote Dr. Doofenschmirtz as my favorite. He is evil by profession, but unmistakably good, if a little incompetent.

So who is your favorite fictional scientist? Why?

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  • Reply August 30, 2013


    Dr. Doofensmirtz is my favorite. He has a good heart if somewhat incompetent work habits.

  • Reply August 30, 2013


    I also like the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. So focused and undeterred by failure or skepticism.

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