Some of the ’90s TV’s Most Memorable Nerds: Where Are They Now?
Hollywood can be notoriously hard on child actors; one day they’re America’s pint-size sweetheart, and the next they’re heroin-addicted has-beens knocking on Dr. Drew’s office door. But the kids who play TV’s most recognizable geeks may have even more trouble finding their place in the industry as adults, because outside of a few sitcoms like Community and The Big Bang Theory, their archetype is far rarer in shows about adults — and unlike the jocks and cheerleaders who are their teenage cast mates, they don’t generally have the superhuman good looks that will translate to leading roles. So, as a recent article about Freaks and Geeks‘ head geek Stephen Lea Sheppard got us wondering, what has become of all those memorable ’90s TV brains that we grew up with? We check in on everyone who isn’t Alyson Hannigan (because we’re sure you know what she’s up to) after the jump.
Stephen Lea Sheppard: Freaks and Geeks’ Harris Trinksy
On a show that proudly states that it’s about freaks and geeks, you can bet there will be no shortage of the latter. But William McKinley High School’s geek to end all geeks was Stephen Lea Sheppard’s Harris Trinsky, a wise and noble guru figure to the school’s outcasts, not to mention their honored Dungeon Master.
It probably won’t surprise most Freaks and Geeks fans to learn that Sheppard, who turned up in the equally nerdy guise of Dudley Heinsbergen in The Royal Tenenbaums, was an intelligent loner in real life, too. The Canadian magazine Maclean’s recently checked in on him and found out that his early years weren’t easy — in addition to relentless bullying, he endured the cancer-related death of his father, a recovering alcoholic, and had to live with family friends while his mother went to school to become a midwife. After he impressed Paul Feig and Judd Apatow just by being himself, and they wrote the role of Harris just for him, Wes Anderson came calling. But while his Freaks and Geeks co-stars went on to A-list fame, Sheppard flubbed auditions and made just one commercial. These days, the 29-year-old moderates gaming forums and writes video game reviews for Vice.
Dustin Diamond: Saved by the Bell’s Samuel “Screech” Powers
Of all the ’90s TV geeks on this list, none has been in the news more than Dustin Diamond — although, unfortunately, not because his career is going great. Yes, the guy once known as Screech has kept up his acting career over the years, mainly in films we promise you haven’t heard of (Tetherball: The Movie, anyone?). But you’ve probably read more about his 2006 sex tape, Screeched: Saved by the Smell (excuse us while we go vomit up our childhood), and his tell-all 2009 memoir, Behind the Bell, in which he claims to have “banged two thousand chicks” and dished about promiscuous sex and drug use on the teen sitcom’s set. Diamond has also had the oddest TV career of any former child star we can think of, in which he regularly flipped the eff out on VH1′s Celebrity Fit Club and then, in 2010, appeared on CMT as a contestant in Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling. Aside from those curiosities, he plays bass in a band called Salty the Pocketknife, which a fan site describes as “progressive math rock.” Last summer, he did the inevitable: appeared at the Gathering of the Juggalos (in a Beavis and Butt-Head T-shirt, no less) and demanded that Brooklyn’s Bell House take his photo off a flyer for their Saved by the Bell-themed party.
Jaleel White: Family Matters’ Steve Urkel
Another ABC TGIF star we checked in a few years ago, Jaleel White spent the first year or so of his post-Family Matters career on UPN’s single-season sitcom Grown Ups and finishing his undergraduate work at the UCLA Film School. After that, he did the guest spot/voice acting thing, most notably providing the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonia, and Manic in 40 episodes of Sonic Underground, and, in 2006, showed up briefly in Dreamgirls. In recent years, he’s done a few web series, 2009′s Road to the Altar (about a black man marrying a white woman) and 2010′s Fake It Til You Make It, a show that follows White as a child star turned image consultant, which he also wrote and produced. These days, he’s hosting the Syfy game show Total Blackout, where contestants perform terrifying tasks in utter darkness, and just finished a run on Dancing with the Stars. He didn’t win, which is pretty shocking considering how wonderful he was in Cee-Lo’s “Cry-Baby” video last year.
Josh Saviano: The Wonder Years’ Paul Pfeiffer
At the height of Marilyn Manson’s fame, in the late ’90s, a rumor circulated that he was really Josh Saviano, they guy who played Kevin Arnold’s dweeby best pal Paul Pfeiffer on The Wonder Years. Although there is certainly a resemblance between the two, that theory has long since been debunked. So, seeing as his IMDb bio ends in 1993, what has Saviano been up to in two decades of not being an actor or a goth-industrial superstar? When Buddy TV published an update in 2007, they learned that the Yale and Benjamin Cardozo School of Law graduate was an associate at the New York City law firm Morrison Cohen LLP. It seems that in the past few years, he’s moved up to Senior Counsel at the same firm, where he specializes in intellectual property. And according to his bio on Twitter, where he has plenty of witty things to say, Saviano is also married with a kid.