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The cast of NBC's Chuck

Chuck: A Life Too Short?

How Television May Slaughter Another Innocent Show

May 01, 2009 Web Exclusive By Jim Scott Bookmark and Share


While the prime time fascination with dead bodies, cops, doctors, and lawyers continues its relentless march, it’s sad to see some of television’s most creative shows on the chopping block. Yes, you can watch one CSI or another seemingly all day and all night, but a funny, clever, and involving show like NBC’s Chuck can’t find a big enough audience to justify a third season. Tragic.

An argument can be made, as the show wraps up its second and perhaps final season (that’s up to NBC), that it is better to die on your own terms than try to appeal to a new audience (let’s give Chuck an adorable, wise-cracking little brother/robot/monkey sidekick!). Shows like Battlestar Galactica, Six Feet Under, and The Wire all went out on their own terms, but a better model for Chuck might be the Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant creations The Office and Extras. Go two years, squeeze as much as you can out of the characters, and let that dead horse rest in peace. After all, how terrible has the American Office been the last year and a half?

But there is still a lot of room to explore with Chuck. Creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak have given us a bunch of interesting characters to look into. Chuck is essentially Seth Cohen from The O.C. (another Schwartz production) seven or eight years down the road (Zachary Levi’s Chuck looks like a somewhat bulkier version of Seth) if he was dropped into the middle of Alias (it wouldn’t be surprising at all if they sold the show exactly in those terms). After being booted from Stanford, while working in a Best Buy-type store called Buy More, Chuck is sent an all-knowing spy program called The Intersect which he downloads into his brain. Oops. Like Seth, Chuck is a good guy with good intentions who is seeing things he’s never seen before, doing things he’s never done, trying not to screw them up and trying, if at all possible, to look at least a tiny bit cool doing them. It’s a new character type, one that still has room to grow. Chuck has slowly gotten past his own fears and clumsiness, and seeing him come into his own and truly own this spy thing would be a neat trick for the show to pull, and spoiler alert, they do, as the new intersect Chuck downloads gives him Jason Bourne-like martial arts powers. What else could this new Intersect enable him to do? We may never know.

After Chuck, the other characters are equally interesting. There’s still a great deal to find out about Chuck’s sister Ellie and her hilarious husband Devon “Captain Awesome” Woodcomb. When, in a recent episode, Awesome found out about Chuck’s secret life as a spy, it felt great for Chuck to finally have someone’s approval. Schwartz and Fedak made the wise decision to not have Ellie discover Chuck’s spy secret, and a season of Awesome trying to keep it under wraps would be, well, awesome.

The most interest lies in Chuck’s handlers, the beautiful Sarah Walker, played by Yvonne Stahovski with the proper blend of subtlety and over-the-top ridiculousness the show requires. Sarah’s feelings for Chuck are kind of a dead end now—he knows she loves him. But her father (played by the always excellent Gary Cole) could figure in, and Sarah’s battle between protocol and Chuck hasn’t been totally exhausted. Adam Baldwin’s Major John Casey is one of the chief reasons to watch the show. It’s impossible to watch Baldwin and not think of his Full Metal Jacket role, and he is, episode by episode, becoming more textured and interesting. He is always funny.

NBC and the Schwartz/Fedak combo labeled the Season 2 finale a “game changer.” That it was. Perhaps having Chuck leave the Buy More (which had, let’s face it, probably run its course anyway) for a new job, and introducing a new set of secondary characters would work. It’s difficult to see Levi doing much more in the way of action, judging by the early returns on the finale, where every kick looked like it might cause a muscle pull. However, a new Intersect that could suddenly threaten Casey’s alpha-male status and could make Chuck a more aggressive agent and less a recurring stay-in-the-car joke, could help lift the show from the slight rut it found itself midway through this season. A rut for Chuck, however, still put it above 99% of what’s currently on television.

So where did Chuck get lost, where a show like Alias found an audience and survived? NBC hasn’t yanked the show around from time slot to time slot, but they did throw it up against two shows with vaguely similar audiences: Gossip Girl and, even more troublesome for poor Chuck, How I Met Your Mother. Even if NBC shifted Chuck to 9, it would have to fair better (and it hasn’t done that horribly, sitting somewhere around the middle of the pack). But Chuck‘s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: that ridiculous premise. It’s difficult to sell people on Chuck if they haven’t seen it, because once one tries to explain what the show is “about,” there’s always a moment where, no matter how much one loves the show, you can’t help but think, “Man, this does sound stupid,” and then you settle with, “You just have to watch it.” To this point, not enough people have. They’re missing out.

www.nbc.com/Chuck



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Chelsea
May 1st 2009
8:50pm

Bummer.
Kinda reminds me of Arrested Development, great show… possibly too great for it’s time.

;)

DANIEL S. FRANK
May 2nd 2009
4:38pm

Hate! to see ONE of your GOOD shows going. The one that puts them (CHUCK) on the block should be your next person to go.When you get a show that the hole family can watch you people deep 6.  Daniel S. Frank

Cale
May 12th 2009
12:36am

I’m on pins and needles waiting for this show to be renewed.  Next to LOST, this is the best show on TV.  It’s consistently humorous, topical, and dramatic and it’d be a shame for it to be canned so soon.

Hakim Callier
June 2nd 2009
7:50pm

That really sucks. I was pitching music to be placed on Chuck… damn it!

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June 11th 2009
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Wow. Nicely Done! Sweet! I’m on pins and needles waiting for this cute love quotes show to be renewed.  Next to LOST, this is the best show on TV.  It’s consistently humorous, topical, and dramatic and it’d be a shame for it to be canned so soon. Thank you. Have a good day.

Noah
July 25th 2009
5:09pm

That really sucks. I like Sarah

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September 25th 2010
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The most interest lies in Chuck’s handlers, the beautiful Sarah Walker, played by Yvonne Stahovski with the proper blend of subtlety and over-the-top ridiculousness

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January 10th 2011
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Vipit
August 12th 2011
9:33am

All the decisions in the entertainment world seem to be made based on purely rational and commercial motives. There is a certain script that is followed - this is, however, never revealed to the public! Greetings from Finland where this show is also followed by a great many people.

Yritysinternet
August 12th 2011
9:38am

A life is often too short for TV shows. People are basically numbed into watching yet another new show. No matter how interesting or “new” it seems to be, one is usually left with an empty feeling.

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September 15th 2011
12:51pm

Whatever happened to the good old BBC-types of series and shows that had some passion and quality inn them. Nowadays these product-like shows are being constantly cranked out of the entertainment machine and one does indeed feel quite empty on the inside after watching them.

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