Tuned In

Test Pilot: Chuck

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Levi, left, with Joshua Gomez. NBC Photo: Greg Gayne

Test Pilot is a semiregular feature this summer sharing my first impressions of the pilots for next fall’s shows. These aren’t reviews, since these pilots may be rewritten, recast and reshot before airing, and end up much better or worse. But, premature opinions are why God invented the Internet, so let’s get on with…

The Show: Chuck, NBC

The Premise: Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi), a socially inept techie working the “Nerd Herd” desk at a big box electronics store, receives the strangest e-mail ever. A former college buddy, working secretly as a spy, sends him a densely encoded file of images that, when he views it, subliminally downloads a hard drive’s worth of government secrets into his brain. Overnight, he’s unwillingly transformed from a man of introversion into a man of intrigue.

First Impressions: The promos have looked cute. The pilot is, well, cute. As a drama, it’s feather-light–really, the premise is about a notch in sophistication above “he got hit by lightning”–so it had better work as a comedy if the series is to thrive. Judging by the pilot, it could; it was amusing, though it didn’t measure up to Reaper, which has a fairly similar setup. (Loser in big-box store suddenly invested with major powers.) Levi is appealing; he has good comic timing, and as Mrs. Tuned In said–in a good way–he seems to have come from the secret network lab for Tom Cavanagh clones. But he doesn’t really seem like the straight-up nerd Chuck is written as; he seems like an attractive L.A. actor someone happened to slap a pocket protector on. Co-creator Josh Schwartz practically invented the cool-nerd meme with The O.C.’s Seth Cohen, so let’s hope future episodes flesh out Chuck’s Zork-playing, woman-fearing Poindexter character.

Will I Watch Another One? Maybe. Particularly if NBC sends it in an encoded e-mail.