In the world of fiction, there will always be extraordinary scientists. Some of them are brilliant to the point of being nearly superhuman. Others are reckless and wild with the powers and devices they harness, causing havoc at every turn.
As such, the assistant is frequently working in their mentor’s shadow. Too often, we focus on Dr. Frankenstein while Igor runs around the lab performing manual labor.
That’s why we’re counting down the most memorable research assistants on TV. From the brilliant to the mad to the outright silly, these are some of the most compelling research assistants that television has to offer.
1. Astrid Farnsworth
Astrid Farnsworth is a junior FBI agent on the television series “Fringe,” whom we first meet as a research assistant for agent Olivia Dunham. However, Dunham quickly and permanently assigns Astrid to work alongside Walter Bishop. The dynamic between the two keeps the show and their experiments together fresh, quirky, and bizarre.
Graduating from Haverford College with a B.A. in linguistics and music with a minor in Computer science, Astrid has a solid background for assisting in Walter’s experiments and navigating his eccentricities. Walter Bishop is a prototypical mad scientist who (after seventeen years in St. Claire’s Mental Institution) exhibits tendencies for behaviors dangerous to himself along with the parallel universes that seem to be colliding.
Astrid is the perfect counterpart for Bishop as she exhibits immeasurable patience for his antics. Walter can never seem to remember Astrid’s name, referring to her with such comedic misnomers as “Aspirin, Asteroid, or Asterisk.”
2. Amy Wong
Amy Wong is an intern for Professor Hubert Farnsworth (no relation to Astrid) on the TV series “Futurama.” Farnsworth uses his intergalactic delivery service to fund his scientific experiments, which often result in some form of comedic chaos.
Although Amy is an engineering student at Mars University, Farnsworth only granted her the internship because they share the same blood type. Amy seems to have a general knowledge of formal sciences even though she can appear to be vapid and superficial at times.
After working under Farnsworth for twelve years, she finally earns a doctorate in Applied Physics. Upon reaching this achievement, Farnsworth informs her that she could have done this six years ago, but he forgot to tell her.
3. TV’s Frank
Working under Dr. Clayton Forrester on “Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K)” is TV’s Frank. There is little information on Frank’s background other than his time at Harriet Tubman High School and his discovery by Dr. Forrester while working at an Arby’s. Frank seemingly has a secret fortune at his disposal that he utilizes whenever large sums of money are necessary.
On the show, Dr. Forrester and Frank routinely engage in an “invention exchange” with protagonists Joel Robinson and Mike Nelson. This typically results in some disaster that injures or otherwise humiliates Frank. Frank has died many times on the show, only to reappear alive and well after a short time period.
Unfortunately, in the episode “Samson Vs. the Vampire Women”, Frank’s fortune cookie predicts his impending doom. He is later taken to Second Banana Heaven only to return as a ghost one last time in the episode.
4. Alfred Pennyworth
Many consider Batman to be the world’s greatest detective. Though, his detective work would not be as impressive were he not also a brilliant scientist. There are countless situations wherein Batman deconstructs his enemies’ weapons, potions, and poisons in the hope of an origin or antidote.
Sitting by his side while he conducts his forensic experiments, you’ll find Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred’s insight often leads Batman to the resolution or answer to a problem or mystery that’s been eluding him. Alfred’s history and credentials vary depending on which iteration of the story you indulge.
Nevertheless, he is an invaluable ally for Batman and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne. Whether appearing on the 90’s “Batman: The Animated Series” or the more contemporary “Gotham,” Alfred always proves himself to be one of the most reliable research assistants on TV.
In the darkness of Acme Labs after business hours, perhaps at a government facility or medical school, you’ll find Pinky and the Brain. Pinky and the Brain are lab mice who use their time at night to plot and attempt to take over the world. The Brain (or ‘Brain’ as Pinky refers to him) is a megalomaniacal genius obsessed with world domination, while Pinky is his dim-witted, jovial assistant.
Brain can sometimes be quite abusive to Pinky, especially when frustrated or annoyed. Surprisingly, Pinky seems to enjoy the abuse and will often break out in fits of laughter after Brain assaults him. Brain’s grand schemes tend to fail due to Pinky’s ineptitude as well as Brain’s overconfidence or oversight.
What makes Pinky a noteworthy research assistant is his undying loyalty. Sure, they live in the same cage together, but they break out constantly. Pinky is always willing to assist in any of Brain’s plans, even if injury and failure are certain.
6. Peter Parker
Before a radioactive spider bite made him a superhero, Peter Parker was a high school science nerd. In the history of comics, Spider-Man is the first hero to have his crime-fighting and his personal life get equal attention. Not only did he have to save the city, but he also had to deal with his school, work, and home life.
Like Alfred Pennyworth, Peter’s credentials as a research assistant depend on which version of the Spider-Man mythos you’re following. In the 90’s animated series, Peter was the assistant to Dr. Curt Conners, as was the case in the film “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Conners famously becomes The Lizard, one of Spider-Man’s most deadly enemies.
In other incarnations, Peter works under Dr. Otto Octavius. Octavius eventually goes mad and becomes the villain “Dr. Octopus.” In both cases, Peter fights to bring his mentor back to their senses while they are working their hardest to kill him.
If he’s not a candidate for one of the best research assistants on TV, maybe we should all go back to the laboratory.