On Twitter, history professor Tim Burke mused recently that tv and movie portrayals of academia tend to fall into a small number of boxes. So that many aspects of academia, and many sorts of academics, are either never portrayed on screen, or else are portrayed in a way that rings very false to anyone with any experience of academia.
I agree. (Although I might not be in a position to judge, given how little tv I watch, and how few movies I’ve seen over the last decade!)
Hence my question for you: what are the best tv and movie portrayals of academia? Doesn’t necessarily have to be tv or movies about academia. Could just be, say, dramas or romantic comedies or whatever with characters who just so happen to be in academia. It just has to ring true in its handling of academia and the people in it. Bonus points for anything that’s not a biopic of a famous academic.
Here’s an opening bid: Real Genius. Ok, the plot is daft and the characters are exaggerated. But it’s a comedy, the sort for which “daft plot” and “exaggerated characters” go with the territory. The important thing is that Real Genius exaggerates real stuff. Many of the pranks in the film are based on real pranks played by Cal Tech undergrads. And the characters ring true as well, I think. As director Martha Coolidge said of Real Genius, “The audience has a kind of sixth sense, they know when they’re being lied to. I was taken by the story from the start; I’m fascinated by science. But I knew that to make the comedy work – and the characters worth caring about – we had to do our homework.”
Second opening bid: Lucky Jim (1957) and Lucky Jim (2003). I’ve never seen either. But the book on which they’re based is maybe the most famous academic comedy-satire ever. The book rang true to me when I read it. So I’d think and hope the film versions would ring true as well.
Any other bids?