From movies like Knocked Up, Failure to Launch, and High Fidelity to the perennial loser George on Seinfeld, the specter of the 20- or 30-something male slacker has become ubiquitous in pop culture. Usually these characters are somehow likeable despite their unrelenting narcissism and abominable lack of personal responsibility.
NBC's new show Chuck (which has been quietly building an audience on Monday nights) gives viewers something different. Unlike most celluloid underachievers, Chuck (Zachary Levi) isn't lazy or selfish. He's just a sweet, unassuming guy who's been the victim of some bad breaks. And the worst of those breaks comes when the college roommate who got him expelled from Stanford years before sends him an email encoded with thousands of government secrets. It seems the former friend has made a career of betrayal-turning rogue agent after joining the CIA. Now, thanks to all the classified intelligence Chuck unwittingly absorbed, the Everyman who has spent his post-university days working as a member of the tech support "Nerd Herd" at a large electronics store has to spend his nights learning the international spy game.
The inherent silliness of this setup could overwhelm a lesser actor, but Levi brings so much charm and likability to the titular character that the show works. Though Chuck lives with his sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), he is less the lout on the couch than a comforting presence to everyone around him. His friends and family rely on him so much for advice and company that his high-stakes moonlighting has an immediate domino effect on them all.
Of course, the warm heart of the show wouldn't be enough to make it a winner if it weren't also funny, and Chuck succeeds on this count as well. It's unfortunate that a few of those jokes come from sexual innuendo and the skimpy costumes worn by Chuck's CIA handler Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski). But with his selflessness, wit, and sincerity Chuck is a slacker we can admire.