Nerds, geeks, dorks bringing pocket protectors to prime-time

The Nerd Herd.

It’s more than the name of the brazen Geek Squad rip-off on "Chuck" (8 p.m. Mondays, KVBC-TV, Channel 3). It’s also a pretty snazzy nickname for some of Monday night’s least likely stars.

Well, Chuck is a nerd. Technically, Hiro ("Heroes," 9 p.m. Channel 3) is a geek, Leonard ("The Big Bang Theory," 8:30 p.m. KLAS-TV, Channel 8) is a dork and his roommate, Sheldon, is a spaz. But you get the idea.

So why is prime-time looking like last call at a virtual bar in Second Life?

"Chuck" co-creator Josh Schwartz, who helped get the nerd ball rolling with "The O.C.’s" Seth Cohen, says it boils down to writing what you know.

He’s got a point. The typical Hollywood writer isn’t some dashing playboy performing medical miracles by day, kneecapping terrorists by night, all the while bedding a succession of supermodels that would make the boys on "Entourage" blush.

On average, he’d be far more comfortable at Comic-Con than Cannes. (Seriously, have you seen the picket lines? Those matching red strike T-shirts are hideous.)

For Schwartz, whose nerds set the gold standard, it’s mostly just "wishful thinking," he says. "Do in art what you can’t do in life."

In the case of Buy More computer jockey Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi), that means becoming the government’s most valuable asset after unwittingly downloading every state secret — from the plot to assassinate President Carter to what really happened to the plane from "Lost" — into his brain.

In "Chuck’s" best bit, he stays undercover at the electronics store, forcing his handlers to adapt: The NSA’s gruff Major John Casey (Adam Baldwin) poses as a polo-shirt-and-khakis-wearing salesman while the CIA’s top agent, Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski), gets a job next door at Wienerlicious, where she has to dress like a Bavarian milk maid.

While Chuck the character has never been less than puppy-at-the-pound adorable, "Chuck" the series has had trouble living up to its laugh-out-loud pilot, especially during its action-heavy episodes. In the past couple of weeks, though, with more character-based stories and the addition of "The O.C.’s" veteran nerd lover Rachel Bilson, "Chuck" finally seems to have found its groove.

"Heroes," on the other hand, couldn’t find its groove with both hands, a road map and the help of Terry McMillan’s Stella.

After a disappointing first season finale, the already overcrowded fantasy series wasted precious time — time that could have been spent setting up this year’s pending apocalypse — on a parade of new characters, each one so much lamer than the last that only the writers’ strike kept the show from introducing Tiny Tim and Barbaro.

Instead, "the virus" pandemic that’s supposed to wipe out most of humanity wasn’t introduced until episode seven of what has become a strike-shortened, 11-episode season. Making matters worse, Hiro (Masi Oka), the patron saint of comic book geeks, spent those episodes in 17th-century Japan, casting aside his pocket protector to become a noble samurai.

At least the physicists from "The Big Bang Theory" never would turn their backs on their dorkdom. They couldn’t if they tried.

Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon (Jim Parsons) — because nerds never have cool names like Hunter or Chase — are the least believable dorks ever to exist outside of "Saved By the Bell." They’re so unrecognizable as human beings, Galecki and Parsons might as well be portraying an armchair and a potted plant.

Sheldon sorts his breakfast cereals numerically by fiber content, and for Halloween he dressed as the Doppler effect.

Instead of asking for a date, Leonard proposes a "biosocial exploration with a biochemical overlay." ("We tried kissing, but the earth didn’t move," he reports back to his friends. "I mean, any more than the 383 miles than it was going to move anyway.")

They’re obsessed with superheroes and "Star Trek" — Klingon Boggle being a favorite pastime.

And their wardrobe! The two mix plaids and stripes, earth tones and pastels, with the reckless abandon of a befuddled cockatoo.

As a proud member of Nerd Nation — in high school I lettered in quiz bowl, thank you very much — I’m offended. "The Big Bang Theory" is nothing more than a nerd minstrel show.

"I think a lot of people relate to the character of Chuck," Schwartz says, "and feel like Chucks in their own lives." The same could be said of Hiro, at least until he went all feudal.

But Leonard and Sheldon? May those two spend eternity on the business end of a nonstop barrage of atomic wedgies, lemon swirlies and purple nurples.

Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Mondays. E-mail him at clawrence@reviewjournal. com.

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