The Unbelievable Wretchedness of Mainstream TV's "Nerd Episodes"

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We all know crime procedurals and medical dramas rule mainstream TV. Every network has them, they almost always attract viewers, and they last for years — which means they're constantly scrambling to new ways to make their murder/patient-of-the-week interesting. One tried and true trope that these shows inevitably turn to is the "nerd episode," where the straight-laced cops/doctors/whatever enter the bizarre and terrifying world of gamers, role-players, cosplayers… and even furries. These are usually poorly researched and almost always make nerds look like morons, lunatics and/or sociopaths. Here are just a few episodes of these super-popular, mainstream network TV shows that did nerds no good at all.

CSI, "A Space Oddity"

Shortly after CSI techs Hodges and Wendy run into each other at Whatifitcon, a murder takes place on the con's recreation of the bridge of the pathetically named Astro Quest TV series. It's Jonathan, a fan who has somehow bought the rights to the series with his friend/business partner/possible murderer Wendy, because we all know how easy it is for fans to buy the rights for TV series from studios, even failed ones. The nerd stereotyping flies fast and furious, including a nerd chanting the Astro Quest's-version-of-Starfleet's mantra "We abhor violence!" during an actual barfight, grown nerd men who live with their mother in a replica of the Astro Quest ship bridge, and the nerds' almost total inability to differentiate fiction from reality.


Law & Order: Criminal Intent, "F.P.S."
Interestingly (and tellingly), this L&O:CI episode has absolutely nothing to do with first-person shooters. Instead, it's fighting game called Blood Match, whose tagline is "In the arena he with the most heads on a stick wins." This isn't supposed to be silly, but horribly grim and disturbing, a la Mortal Kombat. Anyways, a girl is murdered and Goren overhears the "heads on sticks" phrase, which he Googles to discover the game. As it very coincidentally turns out, the girl was murdered by one of the game's programmers, because she was involved with the other game programmer, and distracted him from making Blood Match 2 (ihe evil programmer is played by Grey's Anatomy's T.R. Knight, for the record). But the real despair come in the episode's complete ignorance of video games, their popularity, and how they work. It's like the writers were pooling all their knowledge from the one time their nephews and grandkids told them about Quake and World of Warcraft, six months ago. E.g.: when Goren and his partner discover that Evil Programmer used a "Bot" to play his character in the game to give him an alibi, the partner says, in all seriousness, ""Computer geek who can clone himself. Scary thought."

Emily Owens, M.D., "Emily and... the Love of Larping,"

Airing this very week, this episode of Emily Owens, M.D. features a guy who says he's Paravell, King of Elfland (Elfland? What is this, a Shannara book?). Turns out he's just a data entry guy named Tom who LARPs as Paravell, who decides to stay in character after he enters the hospital, because as we all know, staying in character is far more important than receiving proper medical attention. Doctor Will thinks the guy is crazy — like, neurologically damaged — even after Tom simply admits he likes to LARP, so… yeah. LARPing is a mental illness. Great.


Bones, "The Princess and the Pear"

A superhero LARPing group — which includes a skinny dude with glasses and a pointy wizard hat, the standard headwear of LARPers everywhere — comes across a body while playing in the sewer, like LARPers are wont to do. It turns out the body belongs to another nerd who was attending ImagiCon, your basic nerd con. Bones, who is generally already baffled by "normal" human behavior, is more or less aghast. The girl was killed over a sword prop from the movie Le Morte de'Arthur (because I guess John Boorman's Excalibur is off-limits to mention.) worth hundreds of thousands; suspects include an appraiser and a weapons collector, as well as a dude dressed in full black knight armor who drives into Bones' car (while wearing said armor). The knight attacks Bones with his own sword — because a nerd who is a murderer still has to do it nerdily — but Bones out-duels him (seriously). In the end it's revealed that the knight loved the girl, gave her the prop, got mad when she planned to sell it and killed her because she didn't appreciate the gift properly. Nerd movie props are serious business, you guys!


NCIS, "Kill Screen"

A game of undetermined play-type named Fear Tower 3 has special code in it that hacks the Pentagon's computerevery time someone plays it (or something). This is discovered by a gamer named Maxine, who has "the high score in virtually every massively-multiplayer online role-playing game" and who "single-handedly killed the entire skank horde from Isle of Cardias in Blood Fun 6." Apparently Maxine was playing Fear Tower 3, broke her "max points" and encountered a "kill screen" — looks like someone on the NCIS writing staff skimmed a summary of The King of Kong — which was somehow representative of the terrorist-sponsored Pentagon hacking. Alas, Fear Tower 3 has 50 million players, forcing the NCIS team to shut down the servers. It culminates in an impossibly forced first-person shooter scenario, as NCIS' resident nerd McGee directs them through the booby-trapped server warehouse via the team's remote cameras, which just happens to be positioned so that their guns stay in the lower-left of the screen in fixed positions. Sigh.


Law & Order: SVU, "Bullseye"
L&O:SVU actually has a whole episode about an evil Grand Theft Auto clone that inspires someone to run over a woman, beat her to death and steal her purse — because that's what the game gives "points" for — but I'd like to focus on"Bullseye," which features a 10-year-old child leaving her house and getting raped because her parents are so busy playing a video game they can't be bothered to feed her. Just to add insult to injury, the game somehow features a 10-year-old boy that needs saving, and of course the parents are infinitely more concerned about him than their own daughter. Did I mention the parents are fat, gross, and so into the game they don't even notice when the police burst into their apartment? Or that the guy points out in his interrogation that he "hasn't had sex with anyone for six months"?

CSI: Miami, "Urban Hellraisers"

As bad as "Bullseye" is, this CSI episode is actually much worse. So there's another GTA-type game called "Urban Hellraisers," which involves bank heists and shooting cops and raping people for points, because all video games still use points, as we all know. A group of deluded young men are re-enacting the game in real life, to the point where they're carrying clickers to their crimes in order to keep track of their points, which you'd think would be pretty difficult to do if you were already raping someone. But it gets worse: There's a "scorekeeper" who's also keeping track of everybody's points, who is fat, pees in jars (rather than hit the goddamned pause button) and died because he was so into the game he forgot to eat. When the detectives go to the gamemaker's company to find out what the next stage is to figure out what these idiots are going to do next, the programmer refuses to tell them because it's proprietary — which is the stupidest thing ever even before you learn the game supposedly sold 800,000 copies meaning the internet should be flooded with FAQ guides. Oh, and the programmer/game company is behind the Urban Hellraisers-in-real-life game because his clearly best-selling game needed "an edge" and people who make video games are evil. While people who play video games kill people and/or piss in jars.


House, "Knight Fall"

A knight gets sick during a duel at a Renaissance Fair, and House investigates. So far so good, right? Well, this particular knight had been living at the fair for an entire month (despite having his own apartment, where he of course keeps an occult magic room, because knights = dark magic, naturally) — meaning this was a pretty goddamn long-running Ren Fest — but also that the "King" made his knights perform Fear Factor-esque food challenges, such as eating cow eyes, because this is also a perfectly normal thing that happens as Ren Fests. Meanwhile, as the Knight gets examined, he talks all about the "knight's ciode," which is obviously far more important than dropping his shtick to find out what his horrifying medical condition is. Turns out the "King" accidentally gave the knight some Hemlock thanks to a shitty "Herbalist," but that's not it either — the Knight's been taking steroids! Which is against his Knightly Code! So even though he decides he has to give off a massive diatribe about it on his hospital bed and lives at a goddamned Renaissance Festival full-time, he can't be bothered to follow his own ridiculous code! Arrgh.


CSI, "Fur and Loathing"

We close with the most infamous of all nerd TV, the "furries" episode of CSI. Basically, a guy in a giant raccoon costume is found murdered, leading Grissom and the CSI team to PAF-Con, the "Plushies and Furries" convention. Here they learning about yiffing, skritching, furpiles, and guys wearing sexy female cat costumes that inevitably have semen encrusted on them. CSI portrays this furry convention as basically a nonstop Roman orgy of depravity (as opposed to one of those tame orgies, I suppose) with animal costumes, complete with the participants using ipecacs, because… all furries also like to vomit? Look, I have little doubt some naughtiness goes on at fur-cons, I sincerely doubt most hotels would agree to host them if people were actually walking around covered in semen. Also, I have no idea why furries would be into ipecacs, but if they are please don't tell me. Anyways, the raccoon guy? He was shot by a forest ranger who thought he was a coyote.


Much thanks to The Nocturnal Ramber's "Video games in TV" series for help.