Fox has inadvertently stumbled onto a companion for CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory,” bringing a certain nerd chic to “Breaking In,” a breezy if familiar single-camera comedy. Barely a stone’s throw from his role in “Reaper,” Bret Harrison stars as the reluctant newbie recruited to a high-tech security team, with Christian Slater as his flinty-eyed boss/blackmailer. Although clever in spots and filled with pop-culture references, with its modest charms and well-trodden concept this comedic caper represents the kind of formula that has historically struggled to break out.
Writer Adam F. Goldberg certainly knows the territory, having worked on “Fanboys” and “Revenge of the Nerds.” Here, the nerd du jour, Harrison’s Cameron, is hacking his way through a free college education when confronted by Oz (Slater), who threatens to turn him in unless he agrees to become part of his secretive enterprise, Contra Security, which excels at exposing the vulnerabilities in clients’ existing protection systems.
The operation itself is filled with stock characters, from the pretty girl (Odette Annable) who instantly catches Cameron’s eye — and, despite her perfect-for-him tech-savvy credentials, is drawn to a different kind of guy — to geek-supreme Cash (Alphonso McAuley), whose useless skills include fluency in Klingon and a Han Solo outfit.
The initial assignment mostly functions as little more than an excuse to introduce the players, and despite a promising ensemble, therein lies some of the misgivings.
Although Harrison’s baffled newcomer, Slater’s mysterious honcho and the elaborate CalTech-style pranks have potential, there’s cause to fear the gizmo-driven plots will become repetitive quickly. And while the pilot is fast-paced — with rapid-fire flashes to visual gags, almost like one of Seth MacFarlane’s animated Fox comedies — it’s not like the nerd-spy-girl template has enabled “Chuck” to hack its way into the hearts of Nielsen viewers (or at least, their peoplemeters).
Fox will provide “Breaking In” the extraordinary scheduling perk of following a 90-minute “American Idol” for its entire seven-week spring tryout, which is about as much love as a network can offer. And lord knows, after multiple misfires, such brinkmanship might be necessary to help Fox establish a live-action comedy.
Even so, if Cameron and company can figure out a method to rig DVRs or otherwise game the ratings system, they’d probably be well-advised to use it.