Most producers with shows scheduled opposite each other on rival networks would be none too happy about it. But it doesn’t seem to bother Josh Schwartz; the cynical, decadent Gossip Girl and the optimistic spy comedy Chuck have both carved out niches for themselves on Mondays at 8pm. The writers’ strike significantly curtailed Chuck’s first season, but NBC appears to have a lot of faith in it: The network ordered a full 22 episodes for 2008–09 before any of them had even aired. Based on the first three episodes of the new season, which refine Chuck’s premise and status quo, that confidence seems warranted.
For those tuning in late, Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi), kicked out of Stanford for cheating (he was framed), runs the “Nerd Herd” at a Best Buy clone—and has a massive database of intelligence knowledge implanted in his brain. The wacky store antics are juxtaposed with spy missions that Chuck runs for his bickering handlers, CIA babe Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and the Ronald Reagan-worshipping NSA hard-ass John Casey (Adam Baldwin).This year, the trio acquires a Batcave of sorts after high-level skullduggery reiterates Chuck’s value to the government. Chuck’s crush on Sarah is stepped up, giving the show more of an emotional core. And the third set of characters—Chuck’s sis Ellie and her fiancé “Captain Awesome” (Chuck lives with them; both are physicians in training)—now seem a lot less extraneous. In an era when 90210 is serving up blow jobs at 8pm, Chuck practically seems like family programming, but that never stops it from being a whole lot of fun.