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'Chuck' new season: Is it a 'Get Smart' knockoff?

A scene from

A scene from "Chuck," now in its third season on NBC. Credit: NBC

Chuck Bartowksi (Zachary Levi) is no longer riding the Nerd Herd at Buy More but has moved on to bigger, better things - hopefully, a future with agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski). He has been transformed into Intersect 2 - the vast store of supersecret spy knowledge that was downloaded into his brain two seasons ago by a wayward college friend - and is training to become a spy. But "training" and "becoming" turn out to be separate matters.

Bartowski is - it seems - emotionally ill-equipped to become a spy, struggles with his pants (long story) and ultimately gets busted down. He loses the girl, the job, grows a beard, ends up on his sister's couch, and . . . a new season begins.

Special bonuses: NBC has been almost profligate in its love for this show - giving it good time periods, reasonable promotion and so many lives a cat would be envious. NBC's gone this far, and it's not giving up now. Special guest stars this season include Angie Harmon, Brandon Routh and Robert Patrick.

My say: "Chuck" is, was and always will be a big, lovable, charming blob - or shaggy dog, which this sinuous and silly tale is. But as the third season begins, doubts begin to creep in. Isn't this really - after all - just a cartoon?

Sunday's episode feels frantic, and predictable, and the old familiar will-he-get-Sarah-won't-he-get-Sarah is worked into flashbacks, flashforwards and maybe even a real-time story line. So, I decided to jump to the fifth episode - NBC, bless 'em, sent out a batch of shows - just to see if the same-old-same-old persisted. "Chuck," alas, has turned into "Get Smart."

Bottom line: Would you believe "Chuck" is still charming? How about "fun"? Would you believe this is just a "cartoon"? Believe it all. But we've also been down this road before - 45 years before.

Grade: B

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