When I was very young, and first came across these characters on screen and in books, I had no qualms about them. I actually liked them. After having a chance to grow up and experience life however, I started to find them more and more unlikeable.
You might be wondering what it is about these characters that I dislike. Believe it or not I think that these characters are poorly written. Let me explain why.
I find that Lisa and (movie) Hermione don’t seem to have flaws, and instead of feeling like properly fleshed out characters, they are the characters who are “always right”. I think the reason for this is that they are inherently “self-insert characters”, that the readers or viewers are supposed to imagine themselves to be like.
I think that writing self-insert characters is okay, but that it is poor writing. As I aged and grew up as a person, I started to find self-insert characters unappealing, in preference to reading and watching well fleshed out characters with their own goals, motivations and flaws.
There is admittedly a great difference in the way movie Hermione and book Hermione are written. Movie Hermione has even the negligible flaws from the books taken away, stealing the spotlight from other characters in the process. Movie Hermione loses not only the wild hair and buck teeth of book Hermione, but her hesitations, fears and insecurities.
In the book however, Hermione is still portrayed as a character who can do little wrong. She doesn’t have a lot of depth to her personality, which can be mostly summed up by a love for learning, a strong desire to help others, and an intellect that keeps most of her peers at bay. These are the exact same traits that Lisa exhibits.
One episode of The Simpsons that cleverly bucks the trend is the Season 6 episode “Lisa’s Rival”, in which Lisa is faced with a new student who could be more intelligent and talented than she is.
Within the episode Lisa displays jealousy, and sabotages her rival’s diorama. By the end of the episode her guilt causes her to confess. Throughout this episode the writers introduce a fatal flaw to the character, before following through with a redemption arc. For me, this made Lisa feel multi-dimensional and far more likeable.
After this episode however, the rival along with all traces of Lisa’s jealous streak fade into insignificance.
Hermione on the other hand doesn’t really get any sort of relevant flaw besides the minor ones I’ve already mentioned.
Extremely clever characters can be written quite well, without all of these problems. Take Dr House from House MD for instance, he is an extremely likeable and charismatic character because he is flawed. Rather than it being assumed that people keep their distance from him simply because he is intelligent, the writing makes it clear that it’s because of his personal flaws rather than everyone else’s. House is not always right, he is abrasive and blunt. And he is one of the best written characters on TV.
Now I’m not saying that Hermione or Lisa need to be antisocial drug addicts or anything of the sort, but simply that a defining flaw can add a lot to a character. Lisa’s short lived jealousy is a good example of that.
Not every character can be a font of all the world’s knowledge, and even the most intelligent person will say something stupid over the course of their lives.