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. ]