Zachary Levi may not have created the term "cool-challenged," but expect the phrase to get oodles of play when critics write about his character in NBC’s new action-dramedy hybrid Chuck.
The heavily promoted series, recently transplanted to a plum Monday night time period, focuses on an initiative-starved young slacker (Levi) whose life is thrown into tumult when he accidentally gets a vast intelligence database downloaded into his head. The character goes from being a computer-savvy member of a local mega-store’s Nerd Herd (all similarities to Best Buy’s Geek Squad are entirely… there) to being in the middle of a tug-of-war between several covert organizations.
"[E]veryone is throwing around ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ and all this," Levi told reporters at the Tuesday (July 17) morning TCA press tour session for Chuck. "I would say the ‘cool-challenged’ maybe, if we can coin that phrase."
Levi, who TV viewers may recall from a very different turn on ABC’s Less Than Perfect, continues, "Or the jock-challenged, whatever, one of those two. But I find myself very much being able to be myself. I find myself being myself, I guess, playing video games and being a nerd, which I really, really am in so many ways."
But might Chuck and The CW’s similarly themed Reaper usher in an a new era of Cool-Challenged Chic on the small screen this season?
"I think everybody in the audience sees themselves in a character like Chuck, and as Chuck succeeds, it gives you that sense of maybe I could succeed," says series co-creator Josh Schwartz, who crafted an equally unlikely emo-hero with Seth Cohen on The O.C. "You talk about the Spider-Man, Neo — that’s just a very appealing, I think, part of sort of the pop culture mythology right now."
McG (We Are Marshall), who directed the Chuck pilot, echoes, "I just love the Peter Parker ‘Hey, I’m just a high school photographer,’ or Neo saying ‘I’m just a guy who hacks computers.’ And Chuck is saying, ‘Look, I’m really not fit to do what you’re asking me to do.’"
Of course, there may just be an ulterior motive in the rise of these new kinds of protagonists.
"I think, you know, as a writer, you want to write what you know," Schwartz says. And certainly, as Chris and I can attest, we know many more writers who resemble Chuck than, say, Jack Bauer."