What TV Takes for "Smart"

The character Spencer Reid in criminal Minds is supposed to be a super genius. When the writers want to illustrate this, they have him say things off the top of his head (in the context of the search for the identity of a Las Vegas waitress) like, "There are 2538 restaurants in Las Vegas."

Someone who really said that in that context would be, not a genius, but an idiot savant:

1) What in the world is he doing wasting his time and neural capacities memorizing trivial facts like that?

2) What about the ridiculous precision? If he were really smart, he would realize that the day after he read that number, the number changed, and changed again the next day, and the day after.

3) And what about the useless precision? What the team needed to know was that they couldn't afford to try a one-by-one combing of all restaurants: they needed a better strategy. "There are around 2500 restaurants in Las Vegas" would have done the job quite nicely!


  1. The thing that always struck me about that show was the bizarre unnaturalness of the way the 'team' would speak to others (and to one another) -- seamlessly finishing eachother's sentences/thoughts, even on really 'technical' topics, like having five different people reading somebody's term paper with sporadic breaks mid-sentence and seamless transitions. One continuous train of thought delivered from five different people.

    Basically, I think that show is something like 'teamporn.' The various characters are hardly different from one another, just with different functions within the team -- one guy's a hammer, another a wrench, another a screwdriver, but they're all just tools to get a job done.

    Which makes me wonder if the 'smarts' being depicted are not really what anyone believes actual smarts are like, but just a sort of pornographic fantasy for the type of person who gets into this particular show -- the smart guy just has all the answers. That's his function in the team, to cough up info on command. No, that's not how it is in real life, but the point of the show is not to depict how real life is, it is the fulfillment of a strange pornographic fantasy.

    I find that show kind of creepy. But maybe it's just not my kind of porn. :)

    1. "The thing that always struck me about that show was the bizarre unnaturalness of the way the 'team' would speak to others..."

      They even do this when they are in separate locations!! It is very weird.

    2. "They even do this when they are in separate locations!!"

      It is for dramatic effect. Suspend your disbelief.

  2. IIRC, Sherlock Holmes had memorized the street layout of all of London but wasn't aware that the earth went around the sun.

    1. Doyle gave Holmes a narrow sense of the life of the mind, but it was very much focused on what he could use in his job, like the layout of London or varieties of cigar ash. Reid knows completely random facts, like the number of boats on Lake Mead.

  3. Oh, just admit it -- you're jealous of Spencer knowing how many restaurants there are in Vegas when you didn't.

  4. Samson, we understand *why* they do it. We're just saying it is a cheap, crappy way to "achieve" that effect.

    And suspension of disbelief should not have to be a determined effort on the part of the audience: it is the writer's job to pull us in and make us *want* to suspend it. This drives us out and makes us critics instead.


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