221b—Baker Street. Anyone who doesn’t know what this means is no less than Anderson who needs to do his research. When it comes to smart heroes, the first name that springs to mind is Sherlock Holmes as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. Now a popular trope, a number of TV shows have jumped onto the bandwagon and are propagating the idea of a “smart” over a “sexy” hero.
Did We Not Have Smart Heroes Before?
Actually, we did. Sherlock Holmes is one of the most dramatized characters in TV history. From Sir Christopher Lee to Sir Ian McKellen, from Basil Rathbone to Peter Cushing, from Ian Richardson to Roger Moore, Sherlock Holmes has always been an integral part of TV history—the epitome of detective flicks. And it’s not even the fact that these dramatizations of older Holmes—Robert Downey Jr. starred as Sherlock Holmes in a relatively modern adaptation.
And yet it is Benedict Cumberbatch that we all think of when someone says “Sherlock Holmes.”
The reason is simple: it was the BBC version of Sherlock, set in modern day London that revolutionized how people perceive Sherlock Holmes.
This wasn’t merely a detective in a funny hat prattling about with a magnifying glass in his hand: he was using iPhones, speaking sarcasm, and ran a blog.
It was the element of modernity and a rehashing of all the famous Conan Doyle mysteries that arrested the imagination of its audiences—and then, of course, the cast gave some brilliant performances.
Others in Line
Next to BBC’s Sherlock and broadcast along the same time were the shows House M.D. and True Detective, which in their own manners presented a super smart protagonist to viewers. Where House was a medical show (and largely based on, again, Sherlock Holmes), True Detective is an anthology crime show that focused on the mysterious Yellow King. Others soon followed up—shows like Mindhunter, The Alienist, Hannibal, Dexter, and others have all tried to portray a protagonist who is less adept at jujitsu and more learned in basic chemistry.
Smartness as Superpower?
We’re no longer stuck in Terminator like heroes who’re buffed up and muscular—the representation of Achilles. The newer “smart” hero is lean, nerdy, and reads a lot of books. That is not to say that he lacks superpowers—because in all the aforementioned shows we do see the usage of extreme intelligence as a sort of edge over others. Perhaps the Terminator cliché finally proved to be too dumb for audiences who’re in for more than mindless fistfights and machine guns.
But Wait, Someone Did it Way Back
When we look at TV history, there’s one show that stands out from all the rest—and this show also revolved around a super intelligent protagonist too. We’re talking about none other than David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, wherein the character of Agent Dale Cooper was smarter instead of being stronger. Guess we know who the OG smart guy was after all!
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