'Dexter's Laboratory' Is Most Realistic TV Portrayal Of Child Genius
The super-genius-child-prodigy is about as common a television trope that there is before you have to dip into the most generic categories of these things like "dude who hates his job," or "apartment friend," or "middle child that will vanish into the ether mid-way through season 2." About every other show, especially in kids' entertainment, features some sort of child who spouts off facts about quantum physics that makes Einstein look like he spent his entire career smearing paste on the walls. Obvious examples are shows centered around these prodigies, like Jimmy Neutron, or Doogie Howser, M.D., but there are also the characters in ensemble shows like A.J. from Fairly OddParents, Stewie from Family Guy, and even frickin this guy from Peppa Pig.
Oh, Edmund Elephant, you cocky piece of shit.
My point is it's a prevalent trope, but for how often we see it, there's only really one show that does super-genius-child-prodigy right: Dexter's Laboratory.
See, most shows treat genius as a fun quirk with mostly positive benefits. Jimmy Neutron, for example, goes to school with kids his age. He has friends and romances, and yes, sometimes he gets a little too ambitious with his inventions and gets himself into trouble, but ultimately those troubles are solved with a "brain blast" and an even better creation. Jimmy might have a robot dog and a jetpack, but the core elements of a "normal" childhood are there.
Meanwhile, Dexter's life is dark. He speaks oddly and doesn't have friends. He has trouble relating to his classmates and even his parents and sister.
Dexter's also haunted by existential questions from dreams such as the meaning of life and his own feelings of powerlessness in the universe.
Episodes of Dexter's Laboratory usually don't end well for Dexter, or at the very least, ends meh. Dexter's life is left in the same shitty state where it started, and Dee Dee probably destroyed his lab along the way. He's a tragic character, but his experience is also a much closer depiction of what child prodigies actually go through.
See, according to the Davidson Institute, being a child genius is awful psychologically. For example, existential crises happen early and often with children of superior intellect, much like they did for Dexter. It's hard enough for a 40-year-old adult to come to terms with an infinite universe and a finite existence, but how do you console a 3-year-old child when they've come to that same revelation? The answer is you can't, and that's just one of the many problems associated with having a super-genius I.Q.
Here are three names among the smartest people to have ever walked the planet: William Sidis, Christopher Langon, Ted Kaczynski. All three skipped multiple grades and had I.Q. scores reportedly over 200. (Genius I.Q. is usually viewed as over 160.) The first guy lived as a hermit before dying at 46, the second guy worked as a bouncer for 20 years (and is conspiracy believing bigot), and the third guy is the literal Unabomber. I'm not saying Dexter will one day be sending bombs through the mail, although this clip doesn't make his case seem promising ...
But Dexter is certainly burdened. He's not being told he's a clever clog every time he invents something new. He's being told to shut up and learn to play football. It's sad, but it's also real, and for that, we have to give Dexter's Laboratory major props.
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Top Image: Cartoon Network Studios