The Harper House: The 10 Smartest Characters | ScreenRant – Screen Rant

The Harper House is an animated sitcom featuring an engineer as the head of the household, but how do the other characters rank in intelligence?
To its credit, The Harper House bucks a lot of traditional comedy stereotypes and doesn’t have a lot of stupid characters. Just because it takes place in River Creek, Arkansas, doesn’t mean it features any dim-witted Southern “hayseeds”, and it doesn’t showcase a married couple consisting of a dumb, slovenly husband married to an exasperated wife, nor a sibling pair consisting of a ridiculously smart know-it-all and a class clown.
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Where this animated family comedy truly shines is when it highlights all the different ways people can be smart, from the deviousness of Mayor Frakes, and the manipulative cunning of socialite Brenna, to the technical savvy of engineer Debbie, and the business acumen of her best friend Tonya. The smartest characters often have eye-opening emotional intelligence, or a phenomenal work-ethic combined with intellectual curiosity.
Debbie’s sister comes across as a self-absorbed snob, capable of insults as savage as Blair from Gossip Girl, but her stuck-up personality belies her intelligence. She confides to Debbie that she uses her femininity to get what she wants, and is actually much smarter than she appears. She’s not wrong — when Debbie acts more like Brenna, she acquires more clients for their father’s awning business, but it comes at a cost to how she’s perceived.
Brenna’s smarts are different than her sister’s, but no less practical. She has an accurate understanding of certain realities of the real world, some that Debbie would rather not admit exist, like that sex sells. Where she is praised for her brains, Brenna makes the most of what she has –a beautiful face and figure– to enjoy a high-status life that Debbie often envies.
Gbenge (the “G” is silent) is one of the Harpers’ neighbors and is less than enthusiastic about their arrival. Together with his wife Katrina, the Bradleys own a bookstore, where he spends his time chatting with literary critics and the authors that do book signings. Where he shines is with his daughter Shauna, who he encourages at every turn.
Unlike the Harper parents, Gbenge doesn’t promote self-care or tough-love, instead choosing to bolster Shauna’s scholastic excellence with “grit”. With the emphasis on “grit”, which combines determination with self-actualized messaging, he makes sure his daughter exceeds in everything she puts her mind to.
Making the worst things ever done by Mayor Quimby look quaint, self-serving mayor Kelley Frakes does nothing that doesn’t line her own pockets or promote her own self-interests. She pretends to support all of her constituents, but her underhanded schemes only ever favor the wealthy Southside of River Creek. The Northside, comprised of lower-income minority families, doesn’t receive her special attention except when she tries to disenfranchise it.
Mayor Frakes has the ability to concoct some incredibly shady schemes, from paying mercenaries to burglarize homes and increase the market value of her home security systems to trying to introduce fracking into the Northside, but the real mark of her savvy is devising how to get away with them.
Debbie’s husband and stay-at-home dad Fred Harper is often the more cautious, even-keeled partner, a fan of learning the most about something before executing a plan of attack. He has a solid beat on his children’s moods and takes care of running the household efficiently, but can often over-think situations until he’s backed into an intellectual corner.
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Fred is the person worrying about everyone else’s needs before his own, and often knows people better than they know themselves, such as when it’s time to pull Debbie away from being consumed by a huge project. His emotional intelligence is often highlighted to comedic effect, but it’s never implied to be inferior to his wife’s technical acuity.
A classmate of Todd and Ollie Harper, Jim Joe Dang is one of the smartest children in his class and at Redline Elementary. A rival of Todd’s, he competes with him in every school project, from the Leaf-a-Thon to the Historic Homes of River Creek report.
Jim Joe isn’t a very likable character because his intelligence makes him feel superior to others and he’s often pessimistic, but just because he’s disagreeable doesn’t mean the other kids don’t still invite him over to play. The “Eeyore” of their group eventually begins to value the emotional intelligence of his friends and knows enough to know that both kinds of intelligence have value.
Even though she wings her oral presentations at school and almost never does her homework, Ollie has a way of coming across smarter than people give her credit for. Often after she’s imparted some inane pearls of wisdom (like telling her uptight father his “caring about what other people think affects their caring of him”), she’s been dismissed before anyone realizes how right she was.
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Ollie might not know a lot about book reports, but she knows that after her mom drinks cheap Canadian whiskey, she needs a “cocktail” of Pepto and some greasy food to settle her stomach. Because Ollie gives people what they need rather than what they want, she has an emotional intelligence far beyond her years.
When he’s not getting a 105% on his geography assignments, Todd is generally seen as a deep-thinker and a sensitive kid (or a “young god”, in his estimation). It’s established that at his old school in the Southside, he was something of a child genius, but his high intelligence alienated him from his peers, forcing him to do the homework of the more popular boys to acquire friends.
Todd is a fan of delayed gratification, often deploying self-discipline –something his family isn’t known for– in order to get what he truly wants at a later date. Though he’s a fan of the long game, he luckily has the perspicacity to live in the moment when he should.
As Debbie’s self-professed sexually liberated, boozehound best friend, Tonya’s intellectual capacity often gets underestimated. And yet, River Creek’s popular veterinarian wrote a college dissertation on “The Killing Bush” (one of the most difficult works of literature to comprehend), and never hesitates to support Debbie in her next get-rich-quick invention or business plan (like the Margtruck).
Aside from being intelligent, Tonya knows that she won’t please everyone, and so decides to live her life unapologetically as she chooses. While she can at times be abrasive, it’s mostly due to people like Fred writing her off as a bad influence on Debbie. She gets her revenge when she comes to Fred’s rescue after he’s stuck in a huge lie, reminding him that just because she enjoys certain activities, doesn’t mean she should be reduced to the parts of her sum.
“If it can be done, I can do it.” is Debbie Harper’s motto, and as an engineer who used to work on giant factory robots, she’s quite capable at fixing things, even if she has to overcome great obstacles (like stealing cable and internet and causing a neighborhood-wide blackout). In an afternoon she can create an awning that guarantees 96% shade no matter where anyone sits outside, or make hilarious Home Alone-inspired traps to act as a security system for her father’s house. 
Debbie’s intelligence comes from being quick-thinking, resourceful, and confident. While this can often lead to reckless decision-making, her executive function over the long term shows positive growth. What’s most important is Debbie learns from every mistake, and makes adjustments and improvements on her mental thought model for the next problem to solve.
Shauna has common sense, intellectual curiosity, and business acumen, making her a triple threat. For instance, she never plays anywhere but on the sidewalk, so when the Harper kids get ticks from the creek, she doesn’t have anything to worry about. She invents the Irish Heritage Foundation, an organization that she uses to funnel money to her soccer team and her school through the sale of coupon booklets and holiday goods.
Shauna’s the smartest character in the series because she’s not only adaptable and inventive, but encouraged by her parents to reach her goals. That positive reinforcement, combined with a strong work ethic and nurtured in a loving family home, has ensured that her intelligence can only grow. Unlike Debbie and many of the other adults, her plans always succeed and she’s only 11, so the sky is the limit for Shauna.
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Kayleena has been raised on Star Wars and Indiana Jones from the crib. A film buff, she has a Western collection of 250+ titles and counting that she’s particularly proud of. When she isn’t writing for ScreenRant, CBR, or The Gamer, she’s working on her fiction novel, lifting weights, going to synthwave concerts, or cosplaying. With degrees in anthropology and archaeology, she plans to continue pretending to be Lara Croft as long as she can.


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