Oct 4 2008 12:20pm

Chuck season premiere makes me oh so happy

I am totally and absolutely in love with Chuck. Chuck makes me smile. It makes me laugh. It sometimes makes me tear up (I am a sentimental gal). It’s exciting. And it’s not stupid.

It’s a tremendous relief to have not stupid television that portrays geeks and geek culture in a positive light. I look at Chuck and I see my people—comics fans, sf&f fans, gamers, computer geniuses . . . nerds, dorks, fanboys and fangirls . . . smart people, caring people with offbeat senses of humor, people who support each other and their families.

At the same time, Chuck doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’ve no idea what the atmosphere is like on the set, but when I watch lantern-jawed Casey (Adam Baldwin) doing his Superspy thing, gun firmly in hand, teeth gritted, eyes glinting, over-the-top yet utterly convincing to anyone who has ever read a comic book, I imagine that he can’t possibly be that straight-faced all the time. In my mind, the minute someone says “Cut,” Baldwin (and everyone else) falls over laughing. Watching Casey struggle morally is giggle-inducing—almost nothing moves in his face, but you know he’s dying inside, caught between conflicting loyalties, between his patriotism and his sense of what’s right.

Then there’s Sarah (Yvonne Starhovski, and you’d never know she was Australian). The first time you see her in each episode, she’s presented to the viewer as a vision of loveliness. She glows, time slows down, her hair floats, her smile lights up the room. It’s a cliche, and everyone knows it, but it works all the same.   Her fight scenes are well choreographed, well shot, well cut . . . and impossible for any real person to execute without being severely injured. Again, a comic book come to life. Except that Sarah has better shoes.

Last season, Sarah worked at a German-themed hot dog store. She wore an outfit that wouldn’t be out of place on a St. Pauli Girl. This year, the hot dog place has been transformed into . . . a fro-yo stand!When we saw that in the season opener, my daughter and I just howled. What could be more trendy than a fro-yo place, one whose motto is “Yogurt and Fun?”Here in NYC, so many frozen yogurt places have sprung up over the last few months that they're starting to out-compete each other and fold.   Though I’m willing to bet there’s an armory tucked away somewhere in the back of this one, given that Casey came out of the “kitchen” packing heat in the premiere.

The heart of the series is Chuck himself (Zachary Levi), in whom resides all of the super-secret data gathered by the NSA and the CIA and other spy organizations. This stuff was all downloaded into Chuck’s brain at the beginning of the first season—yeah, I know that doesn’t work, scientifically speaking, but it looked way cool—and is the chief macguffin for the series. Chuck was kicked out of Stanford for cheating (he didn’t, and the resolution of that plotline in the first season tied up three different subplots) and labors as the leader of the Nerd Herd for a branch of Buy More. Levi plays Chuck with a sweetness that makes it hard to believe he’s never had a girlfriend, even given the Star Wars poster hanging in his bedroom. Especially since he’s really cute (so is Casey).

Chuck spent most of the first season in over his head, pulled hither and yon by what had happened to him, stunned by having to live a double life, and perpetually terrified. The season opener implies that some of the terror is losing hold and that Chuck is beginning to enjoy being a spy, wanting to be an active player rather than a pawn. Chuck’s not content anymore to “wait in the car. ”He’s even got a new secret identity that I hope we’ll see more of, though it should be used judiciously. I also hope we will continue to see Chuck periodically dangling upside-down from some great height.

The main supporting cast, on the surface, looks like a quartet of geek caricatures. But over the course of the first season, we’ve learned a little bit about most of them, and they have developed some depth. The most simplistic character is also the oldest, Jeff (Scott Krinsky) a white guy who spends as much of his life as possible drunk out of his mind. Then there’s Lester (Vik Sahay), the Indian computer repair genius who is studying for his bar mitzvah (a detail which made my daughter and me sit straight up on the couch because one of our hobbies is looking for Jews on tv who are “just Jewish”). Anna (Julia Ling) might be the best hacker in the group and is both innocent and lascivious at the same time, a rather neat trick. Chuck’s best friend is fanboy Morgan (Joshua Gomez), who wants the best for Chuck and for himself and considers their fates eternally entwined. He’s more ambitious on Chuck’s behalf than he is on his own, and often more ambitious for Chuck than Chuck is for himself.

Every character on the show comes in for a share of gentle mockery at some point, from “Big” Mike (that’s what the nameplate on his desk says) to Chuck’s sister’s fiancé, Captain Awesome (one of my favorite bits from last season was Captain Awesome teaching Chuck to tango. Of course, Chuck wound up learning the woman’s part—but Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) was a great teacher and Chuck now tangos quite nicely). The exception seems to be Chuck’s sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), whose true love for and understanding of her brother prevents her from coming across as pitying when she thinks about Chuck’s apparently-stuck-in-adolescence life.

One thing that worried me as we approached the start of the new season was how to sustain the gimmick.   Because, comic book or not, it’s hard to believe that the NSA, CIA, FBI, etc. wouldn’t build a new supercomputer to replace the one destroyed in season one. Eventually, they’d have a replacement for the Intersect. And then what would happen to Chuck?

To my delight, that is exactly what the season premiere addressed. There was a new supercomputer, Chuck became expendable, and, in the end . . . sabotage!The new computer is dead, and Chuck lives. Though how to update the data bank inside Chuck’s head is yet to be determined.

Chuck is great geek tv. I love it a lot. I especially love that I can watch it with my daughter. Chuck, Pushing Daisies, and Ugly Betty are our three “don’t miss” programs, and we are very glad to have them all back and looking good.

[Image copyright NBC. ]

1. rogerothornhill
I've never watched an episode that wasn't at least enjoyable. It's as if you decided to center a tv show around a sweeter, cuter, and less self-centered Xander.

And they definitely have a high geek quotient among their writing staff. I loved, for example, that last season the title character wanted to time his fake makeout session with Sarah for cover purposes to the Arcade Fire's first album. How many people (in the US at least) are getting this? Who cares?
Eugene Myers
2. ecmyers
Oh, I'm so glad someone is blogging about Chuck here! Next to Pushing Daisies, this is my favorite show of last and this season. It's a goofy premise but the characters really sell it, and I have not seen a bad episode yet. The series could easily wear out its formula, but it's always fresh and every episode impresses me more than the last. I really like all the geeky references, and Chuck is so sweet and likeable. It's amazing how much his relationship with Sarah can tug the heartstrings, considering the show is essentially an action comedy.
David Bilek
4. dtbilek
Isn't the poster in Chuck's room a promotional poster from TRON rather than STAR WARS? Or are there multiple posters? Does even asking this question make me one of Chuck's tribe?
Tex Anne
5. TexAnne
This season it's Tron. Last season, I couldn't tell you--I was too busy ogling Chuck and Casey to look at the backgrounds.
6. rbtroj
Maybe NBC would fare better if they changed their "mission" from "Must See TV" to "Not Stupid TV".

I'd watch.
Melissa Ann Singer
7. masinger
Unless I am nuts, the poster this year is the rework of the iconic Star Wars image of Luke holding up the lightsaber in the middle of a wide beam of light.

I think it's not the original poster but the remake. It went by pretty fast, though, so I could be wrong. If we get into Chuck's bedroom again tonight, I'll look again.

My brother-the-graphic-artist (5.5 years younger than me) had the Hildebrandt poster in his room for a while. I, otoh, had the soundtrack album and the tie-in novel.
Tex Anne
8. TexAnne
Here's the Tron poster on Chuck's wall. Any similarities to the iconic Star Wars poster are purely on purpose.

And OMG squeeeeeeeeee, tonight we got John Larroquette as Dan Fielding playing James Bond! I love this show!!
9. rogerothornhill
The show continues to be a wonderful fantasy of geek empowerment. Increasingly, Chuck's instincts in the field are better than Casey's or Sarah's, but not because he's changed--because he's himself, he's different, and that gives him a unique perspective. He's like us, and he saves the day because of that.

The normal template for shows like this is that the innocent needs to have his/her innocence taken away so they become grimmer, more professional, more "realistic." (Brood brood brood, heavy sigh about loss of olden days) This is where whatever fun Heroes ever had has just been sucked out of it by this point, and I increasingly find it piling up on my DVR unwatched.

I know it's good (realistic) to be dark dark dark and all that, but occasionally it's nice to have a show where oddball niceness pays--especially when we define oddball niceness, not to mention suavity, as asking an international spy called the Black Widow what bands she's into.
Melissa Ann Singer
10. masinger
With last night's episode, Chuck graduated from "tv that's on in my house" to "tv I have to watch without doing anything else." By about 20 minutes in, my daughter had put down her DS (quite a feat considering she was playing a brand new game she only got two days ago) and I had set aside the crossword puzzle I was working. And we just sat and watched.
Didn't I _say_ there was something going on in the back of the fro-yo shop? OMG! A new secret headquarters! It made me think of the old Get Smart series.

While I liked that Laroquette's character had had a thing with the general, I didn't like the physical behavior of the actress--the lock of hair that came loose to be tucked behind the ear. There are cliches and then there are cliches, kwim?

OTOH, Sarah's entrance last night was a pinnacle of joy, a collection of cliches that worked.
Tex Anne
11. TexAnne
OTOH, Sarah's entrance last night was a pinnacle of joy, a collection of cliches that worked.

Yes!! It's so cool that we see her through Chuck's eyes. He's just utterly gaga about her, and it's not wearing off.

It's possible that I love Chuck as much as I love Lord Peter.
12. Alasdair
Chuck's great:) I'd not picked up on the fact that Sarah is in slo mo for every first appearance before either:)
13. Tom Galloway
There is a fundamental problem with the show premise that, alas, does make that aspect "Stupid TV".

The government has just spent a million or two on constructing and equipping the FroYoLair (y'know, they really do have to make a "cone of silence" joke there at some point). But it's never occurred to Chuck:

1) He doesn't need to work at BuyMore. He should be getting paid at least what Sarah and Casey are making (if he's sufficiently noble and patriotic) or, more realistically, should be charging serious consultant rates. Hell, the government should be offering him a salary to be sitting around looking at data in hopes of an Intercept flash rather than getting $15/hour or whatever at BuyMore.

2) He's learned that the government, or at least agents of it, was responsible for him getting kicked out of Stanford. Even if he doesn't want to go back there, he should have them at least clean up his record and get him accepted, even with delayed admission until the Intercept II is operational (he not knowing about the "kill Chuck when it's up and running" protocol) at an equivalent school. Say, UMaryland, which has a decent CS dept. and is in the Washington area. Or UCLA or USC if he wants to stay in LA.

The whole work at the BuyMore bit works from a meta-show viewpoint to provide contrast, but really neither the government nor Chuck should actually want him to still be there.
Mitch Wagner
14. MitchWagner
One of the many things I like about this show is the mutual respect and affection between geeky Chuck and his very, very mundane sister and Captain Awesome. They don't condescend to each other, they don't think the other is weird, they're just family and they care about each other, even though they have very different interests and lifestyles. The culture wars between geeks and mundanes are over in that family.

Even Morgan is family, by virtue of being Chuck's best friend from childhood.

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