As the fall TV season moves into full gear, "geek chic" – or the celebration of the meek, hyper-brainy, antisocial, and bumbling – is in full bloom. Led by two of last year's breakout nerds, the lead in "Ugly Betty" and Hiro in NBC's "Heroes," critics have heralded the arrival of two more shows with almost painfully sympathetic geek leads.
"Chuck" stars a hapless, but supersmart Stanford drop-out who manages to become the keeper of every important secret in the Western world after accidentally viewing a rogue e-mail. At the same time, he romances a beautiful – and equally brainy – babe, and fights off trained assassins. "Reaper" offers an equally momentous task for its bumbling antihero: an unwilling bounty hunter for the Devil himself. Both shows elevate the values of the geek, not just the fashion statements of the stereotype: stubborn intelligence, esoteric knowledge, and an innocent heart. "These characters are telling us that our culture has been humbled by the demands of technology," says Adam Rogers, senior editor of Wired magazine. Our future is tied to obscure scientific knowledge, which most of us don't understand , Mr. Rogers adds. "These are the ones with the key," he says. "As a culture, we know we have to be nice to them now." – Gloria Goodale