By Tom Gliatto Cynthia Wang
January 18, 2010 12:00 PM

Chuck

NBC, Jan. 10, 9 p.m. ET/PT |

COMEDY

The new season of Chuck establishes the action-comedy as NBC’s liveliest hour-long series. Which means the network is in a pickle. Zachary Levi plays an electronics chain-store nerd whose brain has been implanted with a sort of Wikipedia of spy data, along with martial-arts skills and other odds and ends (including mastery of the flamenco guitar). Working with the government, he can access this information only in moments of panic. One operative, reviewing his file, complains, “Sometimes it sounds like [007], and other times it’s like a Jerry Lewis movie.” But the show never hits those extremes of silken violence or unhinged nuttiness. It hovers in a playful middle ground—as does Levi, who comes across like John Krasinski with a geek’s greased-down hair. Got to kick it up a notch, Chuck.

Archer

FX, Jan. 14, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

COMEDY

Less a spy parody than an office sitcom with assassinations, Archer is a great little cartoon to kick off 2010. Sterling Archer (voiced by comedian H. Jon Benjamin), superagent with the International Secret Intelligence Service, has the requisite suave looks for the job—something like Jerry O’Connell without the smile—but his dignity is undermined by the fact that his code name is Duchess. And his mom, Malory (Arrested Development’s Jessica Walter), heads the agency. Malory is fond of cocktails and likes to engage in phone sex with the Russian high command. While the show’s humor can be raunchy or even cruel, the voice work is pure unruffled deadpan.

Pit Boss

Animal Planet, Jan. 16, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

REALITY

Shorty Rossi runs his own L.A. talent agency, Shortywood, specializing in (and employing) little people like himself. A hard-boiled fella with showbiz credits and a tough past, he also adores pit bulls, and in his spare time runs a rescue operation dedicated to finding foster homes for the unwanted dogs. The problem with Boss is that these pit bulls—in addition to their intimidating reputation—aren’t very expressive: Their heads look like walnuts studded with raisin eyes. My interest constantly refocused on Shorty’s staff of aspiring actors, who are articulate about their daily challenges and understandably ambivalent about gigs as Oompa-Loompas. This show would play better on Human Planet.

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