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FALL TV PREVIEW: Battle of the Network Nerds -- Chuck (NBC) vs. The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Chuck and Morgan; Sheldon and Leonard. Take your pick, ladies.

Chuck, premiering Monday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Joshua Gomez, Adam Baldwin, Sarah Lancaster
Created by: Josh Schwartz, McG

The Big Bang Theory, premiering Monday, Sept. 24 at 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helbert, Kunal Nayyar
Created by: Cuck Lorre, Bill Prady

Nerds loom large in the new fall season, with two pimple-muscled duos going head-to-head Monday night.

NBC's Chuck stars Zachary Levi as computer geek Chuck Bartowski, whose best pal, Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez), works with him as part of the Buy More store's "Nerd Herd." They're fated to meet a lush blonde.

CBS' The Big Bang Theory stars Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons as physicists Leonard and Sheldon. They have the people skills of amoebae. Still, they're fated to meet a lush blonde.

Both shows are entertaining, but CBS clearly out-dweebs NBC with its pair of socially challenged goofs. Sheldon and Leonard (a nice salute to the late producer Sheldon Leonard -- The Andy Griffith Show, I Spy, etc.) are first seen at a sperm bank specializing in high IQ deposits. Of course they chicken out, returning to their walkup apartment to spot a new neighbor across the hall.

She's the very cute and curvy Penny (Kaley Cuoco), who incredibly doesn't run away in horror after asking, "What do you guys do for fun around here?"

"Well," says Sheldon, "today we tried masturbating for money."

They muster the gumption to ask her over for lunch rather than watching Season 2 of Battlestar Galactica on DVD with the commentary activated this time.

Leonard's smitten and Sheldon is snooty. He resents Penny taking his spot on the couch and then goes all Enstein on her after she tells them she's a Sagittarius.

"That probably tells you way more than you need to know," Penny adds.

"Yes," retorts Sheldon. "It tells us that you participate in the mass cultural delusion that the sun's apparent position relative to arbitrarily defined constellations at the time of your birth somehow affects your personality."

Again, why would she stay, let alone shower in the boys' apartment because hers isn't working? Bewitched seemed more grounded in reality.

Penny hangs in even after meeting two more sub-girlymen -- Howard (Simon Helberg) and Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar). They all end up driving to a karaoke sushi place in a final scene that plays more creepy than funny.

The writing has its moments, though, with Galecki (formerly of Roseanne) and newcomer Parsons working hard in the service of oft-crisp punch lines and serviceable sight gags. Co-creator Chuck Lorre also has Monday's following Two And a Half Men in play, so he knows how to make a sitcom pop. This one may wear pretty well, even if Penny really must be crazy to hook up with guys who make even Richard Simmons seem manly.

NBC's Chuck begins at the title character's birthday party, where sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) as usual is having no luck hooking her brother up.

Meanwhile, Chuck's former college pal, Bryce Larkin, is spending his last moments downloading all of the government's top secrets. He emails them to Chuck, who somehow manages to have them all implanted in his brain. This makes him of paramount interest to gung-ho National Security Agency dude John Casey (Adam Baldwin) and sexy CIA operative Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski).

She's a lot nicer, quickly befriending Chuck to the amazement of socially inept best pal Morgan. Adventures and misadventures ensue, with the overall tone veering from Get Smart to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. -- and back again.

Levi (Less Than Perfect) is an appealing and amusing head geek, with newcomer Walker adding abundant sex appeal. In Episode 2, Sarah rather ridiculously becomes a pig-tailed cook at the Wienerlicious restaurant in order to keep an eye on the nearby Buy More. Surly agent Casey has a better idea, directly joining the fractious Buy More work force.

This episode is highlighted by a crackerjack fight at the hot dog emporium between the two jealously protective agents. The overall story line is kind of a mess, though, making one wonder how far they can carry this stuff.

Chuck potentially might score big, though, with younger viewers warming up for the following Heroes. Even so, Big Bang Theory is more comfortably nestled on an already established comedy night. Can Monday accommodate all of these nerds at once, though? We'll get back to you on that.

Chuck -- B+
The Big Bang Theory -- B