Despite its very loud and supportive fanbase, Chuck is a series that managed to fly under my radar until very recently. I had assumed it was some kind of new sitcom, and while I do like sitcoms, I’ve seen more than my fair share of them, so what could the networks possibly offer of interest nowadays?
The answer: …Well, Chuck’s not really a sitcom, but it does have elements of it that have been thrown in a blender with action, drama, a little bit of sci-fi seasoning, and an eccentric cast of characters. (For those interested, the first episode of Chuck is embedded at the bottom of the article.)
The general premise of Chuck is nothing terribly new. An average guy (Chuck) inadvertently gains a special ability — recalling government secrets when something triggers memories of them — and must learn to manage his new responsibilities while also keeping it a secret from his friends and family. The first season exhibits this primarily through crisis-of-the-day episodes, but later on, we begin to see elements of an overarching plot involving the Fulcrum organization. Fulcrum then becomes the primary villain and focus throughout the second season. But the second season also further explores the series’s background pertaining to Chuck’s special ability, and culminates with a season finale that answers most questions while creating a few others. Amidst all of this is Chuck’s day job at an electronics store called “Buy More,” which provides a setting not only for many crises, but for plenty of subplots as well.
Having summarized all of that, Chuck probably sounds like a lot of other action series, and in some ways, it kind of is. However, one of Chuck’s strong points is execution. It manages to provide a highly enjoyable spin on old cliches through the use of strong characters and humor. But that’s not to say there’s no originality to the stories themselves, because there certainly is. In fact, the writing really hits its stride on both counts in the second season, where the overarching plot allows for more dramatic depth, and the increased focus on certain side characters improves the humor levels. The second season finale in particular manages to combine both of those elements seamlessly in one big, epic scene.
Other particular examples of positives in the writing include Chuck himself. I like that the series doesn’t try to turn him into a sudden superhero, and does not hesitate to show his flaws in comparison to professional fighters and spies. But on the flip side, we also get to see that the professionals are not entirely flawless either. Those moments serve not only to humanize them, but also gives Chuck a chance to try learn for himself, often with humorous results. I consider that a plus on both counts.
On that note, I really do enjoy the characters. The main cast is relatively large, and provides a mesh of many different personality quirks, the quality of which I would even compare to the cast of Cheers. There are also numerous guest stars who are noteworthy as well, with everyone from Chevy Chase, to John Larroquette, to Ben Savage, to Scott Bakula, all doing top-notch work in their relatively minor parts. But everyone, guest or series regular, manages to be quite believable in their parts, which really helps to enhance both the dramatic and comedic values.
As for the humor, in general, I find that it works well because much of it is situational and done through actions as much as it is through words, as opposed to relying on extremes of one or the other. There is both good one-liners, such as just about anything that comes out of Jeff’s mouth, and good physical comedy, such as Chuck’s first attempt to use a gun. But aside from just being funny, the series expertly combines its comedy with its action and drama, as seen in a certain scene involving fake snow, for example. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of any other series that combines these aspects nearly as well. Not even Buffy the Vampire Slayer does it quite so well, and I know I’m risking my life by saying so.
So, yes, if you haven’t guessed by now, I think that Chuck is an amazing show with outstanding acting and writing. I can more than sympathize with the “Save Chuck” campaigns, because it certainly would be a tragedy to see a gem like this canceled, especially after the way the second season finale shook up the status quo. But thankfully, it has been renewed for a third season, which is still many months away, but will undoubtedly be worth the wait. Also, I’ve avoided spoilers and details in this review, mainly because I think newcomers deserve to experience the series as freshly as I did. That’s how much I like the show.
Overall: A+ (I have no complaints. It’s a great show!)