Sly `Chuck' outsmarts new shows

TV Preview

September 24, 2007|By Diane Werts | Diane Werts,NEWSDAY

From the cover So there's hope for the McJob generation. Stuck in soul-sapping retail gigs, bullied by bloated-ego managers, still living at home with the folks or the siblings, all these slackers need to make their lives exciting is something like a supercomputer downloading the world's espionage secrets into their gamer brains.

Piece o' cake.

And so is Chuck, which packs an entire life's worth of storytelling into tonight's breezy pilot hour. A guy who's "not awesome" with the chicks, who spends his days gaming in his room with his even bigger-loser pal, suddenly finds himself thrust into secret-agent status by an old college roommate who'd been hiding a surprisingly exotic existence. Thank goodness they'd bonded at Stanford over that early laptop TRS-80.

Chuck is savvy enough to drop reality checks like that but not overdo them. Consider it a live-action version of The Simpsons, if Bart had clumsily morphed into Jason Bourne. As presented by The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz and dynamic Charlie's Angels moviemaker McG, this is a tight-cut romp that names computer viruses after Serbian porn stars and throws in offhand gags.

Zachary Levi of Less Than Perfect is our accidental hero, whose haplessly fact-packed brain must now be guarded by Yvonne Strahovski's smart blond ninja-agent girlfriend, with help from Adam Baldwin (not one of the brothers) as her jut-jawed interagency rival. Even before we get to that point, the hour is alight with explosions, gunplay and chase scenes. Plus, fortunately, some funniness involving Chuck's (and his best bud's) general social ineptitude, as well as inklings that he's a sweet dude with some depth. Since the series' creators understand their Chuck-like viewership, they also show the blond babe squeezing herself into a bulletproof corset.

Well, why not? The second episode dishes up delights such as putting the blond to work at neighboring Wienerlicious and her rival at Chuck's store, where the two government guardians vie for his, uh, affections (platonic). They have to fend off the requisite nasty villain amid more chases, assassinations and, this time, a helicopter that Chuck is forced to fly.

That's hardly a spoiler. Our guy must face dastardly challenges weekly to earn his Avengers/U.N.C.L.E./A-Team stripes. Levi overplays the frantic bozo act in that second episode but settles down nicely in the third, when his first official mission takes him tangoing through an art auction patronized by international spies. The real-world intrigue is matched in dramatic flair by Chuck-world jeopardy. His store's fierce assistant-manager competition resounds as fatefully as saving the universe from evil which makes the dark light enough and the light dark enough to meld into a tasty escapist treat.

Chuck (airing at 8 on WBAL, Channel 11) is one of three new shows that debut tonight as the TV season gets into full swing. Hits like Dancing With the Stars and Heroes return, as well. Here's a rundown tonight's other new shows:

`The Big Bang Theory'

The bar has fallen sooo loooooooow.

There's actually buzz around CBS' new live-audience sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Never mind that last season CBS had a show more creative and sly in The Class. America didn't take to its subtle charms, so the network has reverted to bopping us with a mallet a la Rules of Engagement which inexplicably begins a second season this very night.

If that returning show pounds home cliches about relationships, The Big Bang Theory attempts to show how one might bumble into such a coupling. It's about nerdy brainiacs (Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons) who luck into a sexy blond (Kaley Cuoco) moving next door. The guys are fairly engaging, and the jokes could be worse. (Faint praise. Like the faint buzz.) But how many more woman-as-object projects does today's pop culture need?

The Big Bang Theory airs at 8:30 tonight on WJZ, Channel 13.

Diane Werts

`Journeyman'

Just what the world needs! Another NBC sci-fi drama about time travel and spontaneous regeneration! Another hero out to save the world and, while he's at it, figure out why all this weird stuff is happening to him! Actually, what the world really needs is a good, cheap cup of coffee, or a car that doesn't run on gas, or an effective Orioles bullpen. It doesn't really need Journeyman.

But then TV isn't about need, but desire, or even whim, and for the moment, anyway, NBC's divining rod seems stuck over this spot that is yielding whimsical, fanciful comic books. But it is a lot, and it does beg the question: When is a lot too much? Journeyman has elements of a couple other good thrillers that swam in the wake of Lost - serials with time-frame manipulation and narrative ellipsis. They were called The Nine and Day Break, and you know what happened to them.

But Journeyman does have the terrific Scottish actor Kevin McKidd (Lucius Vorenus in Rome). And while Journeyman received none of the buzz that some of the other high-concept serials (Chuck, Pushing Daisies) got at the recent press tour, the pilot still is often clever and engaging, but confusing, too.

Journeyman airs at 10 tonight on WBAL, Channel 11.

Verne Gay

Diane Werts and Verne Gay write for Newsday.

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