Sorry, Doogie Howser and Jimmy Neutron; there can only be one supreme TV child genius. And 20 years ago this weekend, that genius — "a 10-year-old whiz kid" named T.J. Henderson — ditched his fourth-grade class to enroll as a sophomore in high school on The WB's Smart Guy, a savvy show about a kid trying to fit in with his new environment.
For three seasons, Tahj Mowry starred as T.J. Now 30 and acting on Freeform's Baby Daddy, Mowry recalls the show as a "blessing." In fact, the series was specifically created for Mowry, who remembers actually going into a meeting and pitching the show himself — at just 9 years old. "I was like, 'Yo, what's up? It's me. Gimme a show. Let's do this!'" Mowry said on the phone to MTV News.
Playing a young genius made sense for Mowry, who says he always "acted older than he was" as a kid. Growing up in showbiz as the younger brother of Tia and Tamera Mowry (of Sister, Sister fame), Mowry spent plenty of time in meetings, chatting with adults and entertaining them. Working with his costars, who were all considerably older than Mowry, never made him feel weird or out of place on set. Smart Guy "was like a second home" to him; he even set up a swear jar on set. "No one swore too much," he said, "but I did make some money."
Surprisingly, the show didn't end up changing much from its pilot, a rarity in the TV world. Mowry noted that a main difference involved Morris L. "Mo" Tibbs (Omar Gooding) not originally cast as a featured character. (Can you even imagine the series without Mo's antics every episode?) Thankfully, Mo went from "an in-and-out neighbor character" to a series regular, simply because, according to Mowry, Gooding "was so freakin’ funny."
But while T.J. was totally adorable and Mo was the comic relief, Destiny's Child still stole the show when they guest-starred on a 1998 episode. Mowry admitted that the insanity of having the girl group on his show — just when they were getting big — didn't hit him until he was in his early twenties. In the episode, T.J. is cast in Destiny's Child's music video for "No, No, No Pt. 2" and later offered the chance to go on tour with them (which he ultimately declines). "It was very cool to have been a part of Destiny’s Child, sort of," Mowry said, "when they were first getting popular."
Perhaps the only thing more famous about Smart Guy than a young Beyoncé is Mowry's journey to becoming a meme. On the show, T.J. made a habit of breaking the fourth wall and looking directly at the camera with what he calls the biggest "bitch, please" expression — which Mowry said was one of the first memes he saw. His preschool self has become a meme, too, as his young character Teddy from Full House, but the Smart Guy one definitely emerged first. His friends, including sister Tia, continue to send him various memes of himself today.
The memes continue to crack Mowry up, with one of his faves being from the second episode, "The Code." In the episode, T.J. threw his hand up because he didn't want to be part of a conversation happening nearby, as if separating himself from the drama. Laughing, Mowry asked, "What was I thinking when I did that?"
Though Mowry is still unsure of what T.J.'s initials actually stood for — the writers and producers never told him — he does have some ideas about where his kid genius alter ego ended up in life. He probably got a career in the tech field, possibly working for Pixar or on apps for Apple.
Of course, T.J. also managed brother Marcus (Jason Weaver) and Mo's now-successful band, Mackadocious — because, let's face it, those guys relied on T.J. for everything. As it should be.