New Heroes at NBC: Charming Chuck, Dark Bionic
Zachary Levi as Chuck by Chris Haston/NBC Photo
The network of
is going hero-crazy this fall. But two of NBC's more buzzed-about new genre series couldn't be more different: a dark and disturbing "reimagining" of '70s superhero series
and the laugh-out-loud action-comedy
, about a computer nerd whose brain is accidentally wired with government secrets, catapulting him into the spy game. Both were presented in back-to-back sessions at the TCA critics' press tour Tuesday morning.
Of course, much of the latest
buzz has focused on this week's announcement that the ever-controversial Isaiah Washington is joining the show for an early five-episode arc as a mystery man brought into the secret bio-science organization that turned Jaime Sommers (Michelle Ryan in a new twist on the old Lindsay Wagner role) into a part-machine superhuman. It's a casting stunt that at least a few journalists in the room feel could backfire. Executive producer Jason Smilovic defended the casting stunt by saying, "We feel that he is the right actor for the role. But we also believe in second chances."
The bigger risk, as executive producer David Eick learned when he adapted
for the Sci Fi Channel, is in confronting the history behind a show with such an iconic title while also seeking to update it. "Like
- which had at its nucleus a great story that just in its time was executed one way and then we found a way in an allegorical sense to execute it in a different way so it would have a contemporary resonance - this title has a history to it." The original series, he says, emerged in an era when the ERA and women's lib was in the zeitgeist. But now, at a time when a woman is making a serious run for the presidency, it's not so much about asking anymore whether a woman can do what a man does. "If the answer is yes, what does that mean? How do we feel about it? In this show, our heroine is faced with a choice about whether to embrace the thing that she's become that makes her super, other than human, unique - or embrace the things that make her a human being, a family girl, a big sister."
Eick doesn't seem particularly worried about alienating devotees of the original show. "In terms of the fan base, I don't believe that the core of the
fan base is quite as rabid or certifiable as the
core." Time will tell.
Gone are the slo-mo trappings of the original, replaced by sleek special effects "to create the illusion of a superhuman being, which in those days you didn't have," says Eick. "If the tone of the show was campy or retro or somehow satirical, it would make sense to [recreate the original effects]. But it's a drama first. We're playing it pretty straight. And her unique abilities are intended to accentuate who she is and what she's going through emotionally, not just to give the viewers eye candy."
Despite the often-disturbing violence in the pilot, which culiminates in a bruising battle between Jaime and an earlier bionic model (played by recurring star Katee Sackhoff, better known as
rock-em, sock-em Starbuck), Eick insists the show isn't meant to be dark. He decribes the new
as "a story about a woman coming of age, a young girl actually, realizing her potential as a human being while she's realizing her potential as a hero, as this new thing that she has become, which is part machine.... By and large, it's an uplifting story." Thankfully, it's also more exciting and unnerving than he's making it sound.
No such confusions when it comes to
, which is purely delightful. The show got the good news yesterday that it was being moved from Tuesdays (where it would have faced the CW's thematically similar horror comedy
) and is now on Mondays at 8 pm/ET, leading in to
"We appreciate the vote of confidence," says executive producer Josh Schwartz, who has grafted the irreverence of
onto this action comedy. Zachary Levi (
Less than Perfect
) is a real find in the title role, channeling the likable goofiness of Jimmy Fallon in a star-making turn as Chuck Bartowski, a "nerd herd" employee in the tech department of a big-box story who becomes a reluctant instant spy. Think
's Josh Cohen gone the Jason Bourne route.
"I think everybody in the audience sees themselves in a character like Chuck," says Schwartz, likening the title character to Peter Parker's Spider-Man or to Neo of the
movies. Levi, a self-confessed video-game addict, calls Chuck "cool-challenged." A buzzword both Schwartz and fellow exec producer McG are fond of is "quarter-life crisis," which a twentysomething slacker like Chuck is facing before he finds purpose in his new action-hero persona.
Schwartz talks of "wish fulfillment" as he describes the appeal of
. My idea of wish fulfillment: the audience finding and embracing
and turning it into one of the more deserving hits of the fall season.