The geek shall inherit the earth

You know what it’s like with those spam emails. They’re always too good to be true, offering  sure-fire stock tips, extra inches without surgery and really cheap Viagra  (that never arrives). At best you get annoying pop-ups; at worst a dead laptop. You don’t expect them to turn you into an spy.

But that’s what happens to computer geek Chuck Bartowski when he opens an e-mail from   an old college friend now working in (and dying for) the CIA, and it embeds the only remaining copy of the   world’s greatest spy secrets into his brain.

Damn. Doesn’t Norton Anti-Virus cover that?

Action-comedy Chuck launches in the UK this week on Virgin1, which has already brought us the excellent Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, and so is now a favourite stop on my remote.

One thing that kept gnawing at me was where I’d seen the lead actor before. Took ages to work out it’s Zachary Levi, who played acid-tongued metrosexual Kipp Steadman in Less Than Perfect. This threw me for a while, but I’m over it and no longer expect him to dispense bitchy put-downs to anyone within clawing range. Chuck Bartowski is a different animal altogether: a loveable loser trying to get his life back on track.

He is ably assisted by Oz-babe Yvonne Strahovski, who plays Chuck’s CIA handler/pretend girlfriend, who might have deeper feelings for him… or might have to kill him (but that’s pretend girlfriends for you).

Chuck rides in on a wave of slacker comedies, competing with Reaper (currently showing on E4) and jPod (already cancelled).  What I find interesting about them is not that they are glorified sitcoms about slackers, but how they transcend the slacker premise.

If these were  UK series, it’s highly likely that the concept would extend no further than a bunch of slackers work in a   computer store (Chuck), a bunch of slackers work in a DIY store (Reaper), and a bunch of slackers work for a new media company (jPod).

But in America, where they do these things properly, Chuck is slacker working in a computer store becomes an accidental spy, and Reaper is slacker working in a DIY store discovers his parents sold his soul to the devil and he now has to capture escaped souls and send them back to Hell on behalf of his new demonic boss.

You can see how going that  extra High Concept yard can pay off. Perhaps this is why jPod got cancelled: it doesn’t have anything other than its basic situation to play with and a bunch of quirky characters you don’t really care about.

Having watched the first few episodes of Chuck, I’m finding  it a charming piece of escapist fun and I’m firmly along for the ride, so it’s good to know it’s already been picked up for a second season.

Okay, I admit it, I wanted to be a spy when I grew up.

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