Created By: Josh Schwartz, Chris Fedak
Starring:Zachary Levi, Yvonne Stzechowski, Sarah Lancaster, Joshua Gomez, Adam Baldwin, Natalie Martinez
Premieres: Monday, September 24, 2007 at 8 p.m. on NBC
Even if you didn’t see Josh Schwartz’s name on the show as a creator, you could probably guess he had a hand in it. A dark, curly-haired geek with few social skills who surrounds himself with beautiful people is our main character, and if Chuck’s titular character isn’t exactly The O.C.’s Seth Cohen, he’s pretty darn close. Schwartz excelled in making us all identify with his geeky hero when he created The O.C., and a show about a computer geek who inadvertently becomes the CIA’s greatest asset seems perfect for him.
And is it? Well, mostly. Chuck’s pilot episode-- seen by me at the New York Television Festival-- is a little gangly and awkward-- hey, like its hero!-- but shows promise as something pretty original, which is no small compliment in a world where even TV shows are getting remade. We start off with what seems like typical spy territory-- two compatriots trying to make their escape out a window, with quick cutting and dark lighting amping up the drama. Turn on a light, though, and we discover it’s Chuck (Zachary Levi) and his best friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez) trying to make their escape from Chuck’s own birthday party, where the two are too socially awkward to even talk to girls without depressing them or turning them off entirely.
Chuck’s life is familiar to anyone who’s seen The 40-Year Old Virgin, and that’s a good thing. He works in the “Nerd Herd” at “Buy More,” a clever stand-in for Best Buy. He plays Xbox, can only count Morgan as a friend, and still talks about his college ex-girlfriend as if she’d just broken his heart yesterday. Not far into the episode, though, Chuck receives an e-mail from his old college friend Bryce, who was always cooler than Chuck and hasn’t been in touch in years. Unbeknownst to Chuck, Bryce is not a Washington, D.C. accountant but a rogue spy, and before his death Bryce sends Chuck an e-mail that’s nothing but a baffling series of pictures-- millions of them.
Still with me? It’s a lot to swallow in a pilot episode, not to mention totally implausible. It’s necessary setup, though, and maybe the only way an average computer geek could become the U.S. government’s most valuable asset. With the photos now only existing in Chuck’s brain, he’s a walking computer of secrets, and teams up with that ninja NSA agent-- naturally a beautiful blonde named Sarah (Yvonne Stzechowski)-- to stop a terrorist attack that night. Once Chuck convinces another NSA agent (Adam Baldwin) that he should be allowed to live his life rather than be locked up in a room by the government, Chuck must find a way to continue being part of the “Nerd Herd” while also, improbably, being a spy.
Chuck looks like it’s aiming to the same hour-long comedy-drama sweet spot as The O.C., though this show seems a lot more slapstick and a lot less melodrama than that teen soap. The cast all seems primed to do great things, with Gomez as Morgan really stealing the show. The pilot is incredibly exposition heavy, but it’s a safe assumption that we’ll later get more adventures and less important people in suits talking about NSA secrets. The show ends with Chuck and Sarah talking on a beach in the sunset, classic O.C. territory. Chuck would probably be better off staying away from the musing and sticking to the slapstick fights, which are great.
In the end, Chuck shows a lot of comedy promise-- the audience loved it-- while not necessarily being a slam dunk. It’ll have to find its audience, which might not be hard in a world of 24 fans; it's also the lead-in to Heroes, and the fans of either show would probably love the other. Levi is a great actor to lead the series, and I can only hope he’ll stay like first season Seth Cohen, and nothing like the mess The O.C. developed into toward the end.