'Encyclopedia Brown': The 1989 TV Show

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Did you know the book series had a TV show? It did. And it was awesome.

Encyclopedia Brown belongs to a special category of children's books: books--the kind starring characters like Harry Potter and Nancy Drew--that treat curiosity as one of the best assets a kid can have. Books that make it seem not just acceptable, but actually kind of wonderful, to be a nerd. Donald J. Sobol's "boy detective"--enjoyer of puzzles, observer of oddities, lover of facts--derives much of his charm from his earnest appreciation of the world's details. He finds his fun in the mundane: in the revealing little banalities that make life interesting and weird and, if you're lucky, mysterious.

Sobol, whose death at 87 was announced this week, leaves a rich legacy. It includes not only the Encyclopedia Brown book series, and not only the comic strip of the same name, but also multiple generations of people--girls and boys--who were inspired by Encyclopedia to go off and solve their own mysteries. In an age that increasingly needs and values its engineers and its makers and its problem-solvers, that is something to be celebrated. 

But Sobol's legacy includes something else, too: a TV show. An incredibly cheesy, ridiculous, wondrous TV show. For a brief, shining moment in 1989--a stretch of time that had more than its share of brief, shining moments--Encyclopedia, Sally Kimball, Bugs Meany, and the gang got to together to act out their adventures in the full, fluorescent glory of the late 1980s.

In the series, Encyclopedia is played by Scott Bremner, who portrays Encyclopedia not so much as the winsome nerd I'd imagined as a kid, but rather as a spunky tween--as adept at wearing blazers as he is at solving mysteries. This is Encyclopedia as a fast-talking, lady-charming hero, one who also just happens to be whip-smart and mystery-solving. This is Zack Morris and Screech rolled into one. 

And that actually makes sense. The point of the Encyclopedia Brown series, or at least one of its many points, was to frame knowledge as its own kind of social capital. In the episode above, Encyclopedia is a king among men children--made so not because he dresses more sharply than his peers, and not because his hair is gelled more awesomely than theirs, and not because his Canadian accent is stronger than theirs ... but because his mind is simply more active than theirs. He knows more. He cares more. He sees more. He is a nerd. And that is why he is loved.

Should you be inclined--and why wouldn't you be?--here's the rest of the episode:

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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