Slacker Showdown: CHUCK vs. REAPER

Chuck vs. Reaper

Chuck and Reaper are two new fall shows on two different networks (NBC and The CW, respectively) that seem to have an awful lot in common.

Chuck is about a geeky slacker (Less Than Perfect‘s Zachary Levi) who accidentally downloads top secret government intelligence into his brain and embarks on a double life as a super-spy while juggling his job at Best Buy clone Buy More. (Yes, that’s right, downloaded into his brain. Just go with it, it’s no more ridiculous than most of Alias and takes itself a lot less seriously.) Reaper’s Sam (The Loop‘s Bret Harrison), on the other hand, is a geeky slacker who discovers his parents have sold his soul to the devil and embarks on a double life sending escaped souls back to the Netherworld while juggling his job at Home Depot clone The Work Bench.

See the similarities? They don’t end there.

Chuck is exec produced by The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz. Reaper is exec produced by Clerks director Kevin Smith. Chuck’s best friend Morgan (Without a Trace‘s Joshua Gomez) provides goofy comic relief while channeling Seth Green. Sam’s best friend “Sock” (Invasion‘s Tyler Labine) provides goofy comic relief while channeling Jack Black. Chuck has to contend with a cranky government agent played by Adam Baldwin, in a standout performance as a delightful bad guy you can’t help but love. Sam has to contend with a mercurial Prince of Darkness played by Ray Wise, in a standout performance as a delightful bad guy you can’t help but love. And both shows are high-concept affairs with a lot of style but little depth.

There are, however, some differences between the two series. Chuck’s slick production features lots of high-speed car chases and exciting spy vs. spy action. Reaper is a little less flashy, and a little cheesier when it comes time for Sam’s showdowns with the escaped demons. Chuck is closer to a true geek (O.C. fans will recognize him as, essentially, Seth Cohen, Super Spy) while Sam is a little too hot and a little too cool to be particularly geeky.

On Chuck, the various story elements seem at times to be in opposition, as though they haven’t quite figured out whether they want the focus of the series to be humor, action, or drama. Reaper, on the other hand, is more of a straight up supernatural comedy, with threads of drama woven more gracefully into the story.

Both shows, though, will live or die by how well they manage to keep the procedural elements from growing tiresome week after week. But as long as they can sustain the sense of slapstick fun evident in the early episodes, both Chuck and Reaper will have a place on my Season Pass list.