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TV Weekend: Chuck Vs. the Jaypocalypse

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No, not everything happening in TV right now is about Jay Leno. But it could well be that Chuck, which returns Sunday before moving to its regular timeslot Monday, could find that Conan’s loss is a certain Mr. Bartowski’s gain. The show, which teetered on the brink of cancellation last spring, got a surprise order of an extra six episodes from the hard-up NBC earlier. And if in fact NBC ends up moving The Jay Leno Show to 11:30, the show’s chances of being picked up for a fourth season are that much greater. NBC can only replace so much programming in the space of a few months—right?

But first let’s worry about the third season. If you’re worried that little-guy Chuck could not become a superspy while remaining adorable and funny, worry no more.

The five episodes NBC sent out don’t, to my eye, reach the heights Chuck hit toward the end of its season 2 run. But after a major change in the show’s premise—rather than being a sad sack nerd dragged into the spy-life, Chuck is now a certified ass-kicker, thanks to getting some superpowered brainwaves—the show successfully changes gears while keeping everything that’s best about it. (Save for a couple supporting cast members dropped for budgetary reasons.)

Chief among these is Chuck’s relationship with spy-mentor-heartthrob Sarah, as he finds his elevation to her level puts an entirely new crimp into their relationship. And Zachary Levi credibly sells Chuck new confidence, while also showing him struggling to adjust to spy culture, and reconcile his own morals with its ruthless demands. Along the way, we get more Buy More fun, and a does of Captain Awesome backstory. Chuck’s fists may be more potent. But his heart—and the show’s—are delightfully the same.

I probably won’t be day-after blogging on a regular basis, partly because of print-magazine duties right now and partly because while I enjoy the show, I’m not intensely enough into it that I always watch it night-of. (Whereas you can watch this space for a Big Love Watch Monday morning.)

But I’ll post for your thoughts after the premiere. Check it out, and tell your friends. I really don’t want to have to eat another Subway sandwich.