There are many characters on television out there that are thought of as being none too bright. Meat-heads. Jarheads. Louts. Ditzes. Lunatics. But then the veil is pulled back, and we see something totally different.
The military officer who is actually an amateur astronomer, the supernatural hunter who can construct complicated technology with bits and pieces, the Southern belle who was trained in interrogation by the CIA...
In the same way that we're told to not judge a book by its cover, we shouldn't judge a character by his or her appearance. Because they might be a lot smarter than they let on, and it makes for very entertaining television. Whether it's a natural defense mechanism or just a strategy against enemies, these characters are often the most interesting and sometimes endearing on their series.
So sit back and enjoy this list of characters that make "hidden depths" into a specialty as they surprise both other characters and us the viewers, and be sure to share your own suggestions and thoughts in the comments section below!
Tony DiNozzo, NCIS
Very Special Agent Tony DiNozzo was a flirt, ladies' man, and sometimes unbelievably obnoxious. But he was also the guy who got the Director of Mossad to accidentally admit some very compromising information – while *Tony* was the one being interrogated. His attitude often grated, but his interrogation and investigative techniques were undeniably effective. He also made a remarkably effective team leader during the times when his boss was away.
Eliot Spencer, Leverage
Eliot Spencer was the hitter (i.e., person who beats up other people) on the Leverage team, but he was also remarkably intelligent, perceptive, and thoughtful – plus an excellent musician and exceptional chef. It was pointed out more than once that he's a lot smarter than he usually lets on, but it served his purposes to let everyone underestimate him.
Three, Dark Matter
Most outsiders see Three as little more than a crude, unsophisticated mercenary lout. So when he busts out his skills and knowledge (plus his unexpected heart), almost everyone is surprised. But it's important to remember that the man formerly known as Marcus Boone has kept up with the likes of Four (raised from birth as a warrior-prince) and Two (a literal human weapon), and stayed ahead of the law pretty much the whole time.
Jayne Cobb, Firefly
The Man They Call Jayne was, for the most part, an unsavory character. Happy to drink, have sex, and shoot things, he could nonetheless pull one over on far more intellectual characters, immediately produces a word ("Pretentious?") that another character had been trying in vain to think of, and he is surprisingly philosophical about matters of life and death and what it means for people like him. Also, he is remarkably sentimental, and will cheerfully wear a ridiculous (but very cunning!) knit cap made for him by his mom.
Dean Winchester, Supernatural
It's easy to see Dean as the brawn to his brother Sam's brain. Dean may not have gone to college like Sam, and he may be more than happy to leave the research on their supernatural hunting to his brother, but Dean is hardly a meathead or a lunk. This is a man who has rebuilt his 1967 Chevy Impala from the frame up and constructed an electromagnetic frequency detector using a Walkman. This is a guy you should never, ever underestimate, as countless supernatural beings up to and including Lucifer himself have discovered.
Seeley Booth, Bones
Special Agent Seeley Booth is often overshadowed by his literal-genius wife, forensic anthropologist Temperance "Bones" Brennan. But don't let his aw-shucks attitude fool you; he's a brilliant investigator and reads people's body language like most people read books. Plus, he's an expert marksman (being a former Army Ranger sniper). His wife has acknowledged that she knows he's not as dumb as he lets on, and he admitted that he acts that way to let her do her genius scientist thing while he does his federal agent investigator thing.
Brenda Leigh Johnson, The Closer
Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson played up her ditzy Southern belle persona like there was no tomorrow, practically elevating it to an art form. Many a suspect discovered far too late that this apparently absent-minded, chocolate-snacking bubblehead was actually a ruthless and brilliantly manipulative CIA-trained interrogator. "Thank you. Thank you *so* much!"
John Casey, Chuck
Maybe it's a bit of a cheat featuring Adam Baldwin twice, but John Casey was one of those characters who constantly surprised you. Described as a "burn-out" NSA agent early on, Casey appeared to be a gun-happy, none-too-bright, over-the-top patriotic bruiser. Over the course of the series, however, he was revealed to have perfect pitch (he was once a choir boy!), he could cook and plan a wedding, and his favorite movie was... Steel Magnolias.
Jack O'Neill, Stargate SG-1
Jack O'Neill at a cursory glance appeared amazingly obtuse and completely disinterested in anything even vaguely scientific. Then you realized that the man was (1) an amateur astronomer and (2) remarkably capable of applying in a practical manner the scientific techobabble his teammates had been spouting moments earlier! He was also a brilliant strategist and spoke reasonably fluent Spanish, and he was capable of figuring out and operating extraterrestrial spacecraft in a remarkably short amount of time.
John Crichton, Farscape
Whole empires have fallen after their leaders underestimated John Crichton. It's not surprising, though; after being sucked through a wormhole to a distant part of the galaxy, Crichton found himself in over his head and being endlessly pursued by unrelenting aliens who want to kill him or possess what he knows about wormholes. Because the guy who seemed utterly insane (he called his gun "Winona" and once had a coma-vision of Looney Tunes!) was actually a brilliant scientist and engineer -- he designed and built the space pod that got sucked through the wormhole. He also built a portable thermonuclear weapon once. Yep. Don't mess with John Crichton. Or anyone he knows. Ever.
Saul Goodman, Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul
Saul may come off like a sleezy, two-bit hack, the used-car salesman equivalent to a lawyer, but he was actually very, VERY good at what he does. And he also had numerous underworld connections that gave him a wide range of shady resources. At the same time, he was loyal to his clients and unafraid to give it to them straight. Saul knew enough, too, to wear a bullet-proof vest, showing he was not only smart, but prepared and well aware of what was likely to happen around his less-than-savory clientele.