Sunday 29 January 2012

10 Things I Love About Chuck... and why I'll miss it.

Chuck Unplugged: 
Another Great Show Ends
By W D Nicolson, January 28 2012

Let's be honest, Television can suck.

For all the channels there are available to us these days, there is very little that is actually any good.

Which means that each time a show that we become attached to finishes, saying goodbye just gets tougher and tough. Don't get me wrong, I know it is just a TV show but the very good ones have a way of establishing themselves as my TV show, so letting go after watching them regularly is no easy task.

I was too young to appreciate Seinfeld when it started but by the end in 1998 I was a big fan, and actually came to love the genius of the show even more via reruns. Admittedly, Seinfeld is one of the truly great shows of all time but as far as my favourites go, the action-drama-comedy series 'Chuck' is right up there.

I didn't see or even know about Chuck when it first aired in the US in 2007 and it wasn't until 2009 that I discovered the show via Foxtel's FOX8 channel over my lunch break. The first episode I saw wasn't even in the original season but it was entertaining and got me interested enough to seek out the pilot and give the show a go.

I haven't regretted it.

The plot of the show surrounds a computer geek working in a Buy More (a retail electronics store) by the name of Chuck Bartowski. He gets an email from a former college room-mate who just happens to be a member of the CIA that turns his brain into a safe-house for a supercomputer programme called 'The Intersect'.

Now if I may have lost you already - it is vital to stress that while the whole Government/Computer/Spy stuff is the main plot line in the show - the believability factor regarding that isn't actually that important, despite the action and storyline actually having some depth of reality.

Because it is the characters that make any good show, great.

Chuck is played by Zachary Levi - an everyman who nobody really knew before he started in the role, and his Nerd Herd existence (more on that below) is turned upside down when CIA Agent Sarah Walker played by Australian actress Yvonne Strahovski is assigned to 'handle' Chuck. Because the CIA knows he had 'The Intersect' downloaded into his brain he becomes an asset that Sarah has to make sure is protected while the government builds another one.

There's a bunch of other great characters that come in and out of the show over the next five seasons (Adam Baldwin as Casey - another government agent and Joshua Gomez as Chuck's best friend Morgan are the two standouts) but the show is based around the relationship that forms between Chuck and Sarah.

Here are just two short YouTube clips from the pilot that pretty much hit a home run chemistry wise for the two lead characters. Again - character is the strong point of the show and they found a way to make it work from the very first episode.

Chuck Meets Sarah

And Sarah Follows Up Chuck with arguably the best line ever. (Click link as YouTube disabled embedding on this video, as well as a few others below - so please click the links - they are well worth it)

I won't spoil the show for you by trying to sum up five seasons in a few paragraphs but trust me, if you can accept the plot line for the purpose it serves (heck Seinfeld was after all, a show about nothing and nearly anyone with any good judgement at all has had no dramas liking that) then you'll really like this show for the way it develops and how the characters evolve.

The two hour Chuck Series Finale aired on NBC in the United State on January 27, 2012 (so now basically) and the reason I am writing this article is because I'm actually trying to delay the end.

In fact, the moment I hit publish on this blog - I simply won't be able to avoid the end of Chuck any longer.

So let's get to the Top 10 Things I Love About Chuck... and why I'll miss it.


10. The Buy More
Somehow the fictitious Buy More in Burbank, California made retail cool again. It operates as almost a show within the show with the cast that works there but it has become something that frees the viewer from the sometime intensity of the spy related action.

When the show's creators Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz were brainstorming ideas for the central location in the show - somehow they turned a retail electronics store into a place where everything happens... and gave a whole new meaning to the word 'Pineapple'.

Now who wants a Buy More Coffee Mug?

9. Captain Awesome (and Mrs. Awesome)

Now Devon Woodcomb (Ryan McPartlin) and Ellie Bartowski (Sarah Lancaster aka Gift Shop Girl from Scrubs) are key supporting characters in the show but the nickname that Chuck and Morgan have for Devon is... well, AWESOME.

We all know someone who is naturally gifted and ridiculously good looking and the Chuck spin on how to incorporate that kind of person into the show is to nickname them 'Captain Awesome' and gradually unfurl the mystique surrounding the awesomeness.

Mind you, he is pretty awesome. Heck he makes tucking in your shirt seem cool.

And then there is Gift Shop Girl... forget about it.

8. Action Sequences
Chuck dabbles in a number of few TV genres per episode but it has made considerable effort to bring realism (as much as TV allows) to its action sequences. It's obvious that all the main characters involved in 'spy-related' activity do as much of the stunt work as they can and the fighting is very well choreographed so that the actual actor sells the fight.

Because everyone gets a crack at throwing some fists of fury, it is important that it doesn't detract from the show and more importantly, not define it. Something that a show about spies could have struggled with. Chuck avoids this and the action scenes rock as a result.

Plus any time you can work in a genuine Cat Fight is a good time right?

7. Ensemble Cast

All the great shows need chemistry amongst their cast and the Chuck crew look like they have genuine fun making the show - because the finished product works so well.

As important as it is for the creators to hit the mark casting the key characters (and this wouldn't be a blog about the greatness of Chuck if they didn't), getting the whole ensemble right is almost as important.

There are a few recurring characters that play their part, such as General Diane Beckman played by Bonita Friedericy, and they fly in and out of the show seamlessly.

And that goes for all the guest actors (more about them below), as well as the lesser known ones in as minor role as a Buy Moron.

Note: Well I made it through 4 of the Top 10 before I gave in and watched the Finale... thus the Top 6 may be full of extra emotion that comes from just watching the end of one of my favourite shows.

6. Get Me A Pocket Protector
I mean really, who doesn't want to be part of the Nerd Herd?

I'd trade my car and job for a Nerd Herder and a outfit sporting a pocket protector any day of the week... especially if all my co-workers were so talented.

5. Guest Star Home Runs
There have been too many good ones to pay proper tribute to them all but here are snapshots of a few favourites over the five seasons. 

One of Chuck's big hooks is the way it honours pop culture icons and they hit home runs a-go-go with guest casting.
  • Timothy Dalton as Alexei Volkoff for 6 episodes
James Bond in the building. Enough said.
PS. His interview about the role is worth a look.
  • Tony Hale as Emmett Milbarge for 13 episodes
The younger brother from Arrested Development does a memorable guest stint as Buy More management.
  • John Larroquette as Roan Montgomery for 2 episodes
Clever actor who clearly had a blast playing an elderly James Bond type charmer on the show.
  • Brandon Routh as Daniel Shaw for 12 episodes
Superman (albeit a poorly rebooted movie version) was a character I didn't think I'd like, but Routh did a fine job layering his at first rigid character. This one's for the ladies.
  • Kristin Kreuk as Hannah for 4 episodes
The girl from the Superman TV series Smallville. The only genuine competition to Sarah across the five seasons as Chuck's love interest and who looked better in the Nerd Herd uni.
  • Chevy Chase as Ted Roark for 3 episodes
Comic genius from the 1980s was the bad guy for a few episodes and just added enough subtlety to his character to make him a quality bad guy.
  • Armand Assante as Premier Alejandro Goya for 2 episodes
South American dictator... or entertainer masquerading as a South American dictator. Either way - it worked.
  • Rachel Bilson as Lou Palone for 2 episodes
The lovely actress from the OC was the sandwich girl and Sarah's first competition for Chuck's affection. Plus she made a mean sandwich.

In fact, there's a lot of great guest stars but one more deserves a mention - even as a lesser known actor - and that is Rob Riggle who was incredibly entertaining as Agent Jim Rye in Episode 8 of Season 4.

Others of note: Linda Hamilton and Scott Bakula as Chuck's parents (Sarah Connor from Terminator and the guy from Quantam Leap) and so many pop-culture one-off guest spots that I won't spoil it for you - just watch the show.

Buy More residents Big Mike, Jeff and Lester were the kind of support acts that the show needed in its establishing stage. Funny, fresh and slightly off - the duo of Jeff and Lester went from the Nerd Herd to stardom with Jeffster - their band.

And when Big Mike got involved as manager, the sky was the limit. Or at least the rain was.

As the series progressed it was harder to make them fit the show as often but their appearances were always highlights. 

Case in point - Jeffster performs 'Push It' in the Sacred Heart Wing from Scrubs.

3. De-constructing Casey
John Casey played by Adam Baldwin starts off as a cold blooded NSA killer... I won't even write any more on the subject other than to say - the way his initial character de-constructs because of the people around him is a truly impressive piece of writing.

The way Baldwin slowly gives in to the new Casey, is a credit to his acting.

Plus he grunts.

2. Chuck and Sarah
Yes it is a 'Will they? Won't they?' Love Story but like any good one, it is well told and more importantly, brilliantly acted by Levi and Strahovski.

From the first time Sarah lays eyes on Chuck you see a spark, and from then on - both characters play out the script in a believable manner. Spy life aside.

In fact that's what makes it work within the Chuck reality - they grow closer more through their interaction than their situations, so when they do (or they don't) - you can believe it.

Not that you should get a look at some of their best moments (before you've actually watched the show) but for those of you who have... enjoy The Best of Chuck and Sarah.

1. Care Factor
A show about a spy with government secrets in his brain?

As I've pointed out previously, that's not why I watch the show.
I watch it for the characters.

And the way the writers develop and the cast carry out that heartbeat of the show makes you actually care about a television show.

Even though, it is a television show.

In my experience watching TV - that's rare.

Scrubs had it and Ed had it. And no, not even Seinfeld (arguably the best TV show ever made) ever really had it.

But Chuck has... or should I say had it.

If you've seen any of the interviews with the cast from the show talking about Chuck - you get the impression the cast cared a little bit as well. And in my view that makes the show rewatchable, because you simply do not get any indication that the cast is 'mailing it in' when making the show.

And sadly I can think of a whole bunch of shows that fail on that last count.

Which leads me to my final paragraph on the now watched, Chuck Series Finale...

The Last Word... on Chuck.

Well I just finished Chuck... or should I say, Chuck just finished.

The journey may be over for me, but for your sake, I hope it has just begun.

Watch Chuck. Thank me later.