Hello, and welcome back to Second Chances where I'm on a mission to recon the maligned, forgotten, and ignored, and I have to do it without a government supercomputer in my head.
Last time when I mentioned three TV shows worthy of binge-watching, I mentioned the underappreciated spy show Chuck. I said that I'd give it the full Second Chances treatment. As I have just finished watching all five seasons with Ally (I only got up to season 2 when it was initially on NBC because of scheduling), I'm now ready to gush all over this awesome bit of television. This is a show that, quite simply, has something for everyone to enjoy, and the fact that it had to fight to get the five seasons it got makes absolutely no sense to me.
Chuck ran on NBC from 2007 to 2012. It was created by Josh Schwartz and Jeff Fedak who also executive produced, but two of the other executive producers really let audiences know what they're in for. One is McG, the director of the two Charlie's Angels movies which starred Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu. The other is Robert Duncan McNeill, known in geek circles as Tom Paris from Star Trek: Voyager. While "an action show for geeks" is a fitting description for Chuck, it barely scratches the surface of what makes this show special.
The title refers to the main character Charles Bartowski, played by the future Shazam Zachary Levi. At the start of the show, he is hopelessly aimless in his life. After getting kicked out of Stanford for cheating that he didn't commit, he was stuck living with his sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and her fiance Devon (Ryan McPartlin), hanging out with his equally nerdy and directionless best friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez), and working 9 to 5 as the head of the Nerd Herd tech squad for the big box store Buy More. That all changes on his birthday when he receives an encrypted e-mail from his former friend from Stanford Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer). After cracking the code (which was a reference to the old PC game Zork), a series of images rapidly flash before his eyes, knocking him out. The next day he is confronted by two agents. One is the stern and trigger-happy Major John Casey (Adam Baldwin). The other is a bombshell, CIA agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski). They reveal that those images Chuck saw were from the Intersect, a massive supercomputer which contained all the spy world's biggest secrets. Bryce, who turned out to be a CIA agent himself, downloaded all the data and destroyed the Intersect, leaving Chuck's brain as the only place holding the data. Now, certain stimuli trigger flashes which make Chuck recall everything on a particular subject. Casey and Sarah, initially antagonistic toward each other, join forces to protect Chuck and use the Intersect information in his head to thwart threats ranging from arms dealers to enemy spies.
I realize that that summation of the premise was lengthy, but it only starts describing what makes Chuck great. Now, normally, when talking about a TV show, I highlight certain episodes to watch. For reasons I'll explain later, I can't do that here. So, instead, I'm going to highlight the various reasons the whole show is worth a watch.
All of the main characters (as well as many of the supporting characters) are fully-fleshed out and just plain lovable. Chuck himself is the kind of guy that starts out meek but grows through his adventures into an adept spy himself. However, he never loses his geeky good nature. Sarah can kick ass with the best femme fatales at the start of the show, but she learns to get more out of life through her time with Chuck. Chuck and Sarah's relationship which grows to romance is one of the best such relationships I've seen on TV since Odo and Kira from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Don't think I'm leaving Casey out in the cold, though. His attempts to stay tough while learning to embrace a sense of fun is one of the best sources of comedy in the show. Slowly, Chuck's family and friends get drawn into his spy life, and their support strengthens along the way. He even finds his long-lost parents who are played by sci-fi royalty! How cool is it that his parents are Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap (Scott Bakula) and Sarah Conner from the Terminator films (Linda Hamilton)?
Though the plots start as closed terrorist-of-the-week stories, the show grows to become more serialized over time. This is why I can't single out individual episodes for the most part. However, even though each season has a plot arc which dictates the course of the season, usually revolving around a specific terrorist organization, each episode is satisfying, leaving me hungry for more. The action scenes run the gamut from car chases to shoot outs to martial arts, and none of the setpieces felt stale, even by the end. The coolest episodes are the ones that make use of the three's individual skillsets. My favorite is the second season episode "Chuck Vs. Tom Sawyer". In it, a nuclear missile launch has to be stopped, and the missile's kill code is hidden in the kill screen of the old Atari coin-op Missile Command. While Sarah and Casey have to fight their way to the missile's controls, Chuck has to beat the coin-op to get the kill code. Who'd have thought that a geeky hobby could save the world? This is why I think Chuck is a better celebration of nerds than The Big Bang Theory. While nerds are the target of cheap jokes in BBT, Chuck shows just how valuable they can be in the right circumstances.
Even the sappiest romantic moments and the most fast-paced action scenes are lined with excellent comedy which got Ally and me busting up constantly. None of the jokes feel cheap; they feel like true extensions of the characters. Sarah playing up her obvious sex appeal to break into a shady tech company is hilarious. Casey being the overprotective father when Morgan starts dating his daughter Alex (Mekenna Melvin) actually made me spit take! The obvious sex appeal I mentioned isn't limited to Yvonne Strahovski. Ryan McPartlin finds more excuses to show off his six-pack than even Jacob from the Twilight films, and plenty of eye candy is provided by major guest stars ranging from Olivia Munn and Carrie-Anne Moss to Brandon Routh and Timothy Dalton.
Chuck is one of the best shows I've seen in years! Unfortunately, whenever I bring it up, most people had never even heard of it. It took obsessive fan campaigns centering on one of the show's biggest sponsors Subway (leading to lots of hilarious product placement in the show) to get the show its third, fourth, and fifth seasons. This is a show that actually has something for everybody. It has action, comedy, suspense, romance, nerdy stuff, and sex appeal in one stylish package. It deserves a MUCH bigger audience than it got. Fortunately, you can pick up all five seasons on DVD or Blu-Ray (like I did), or you can stream all five seasons on Amazon Prime. Check it out!
What do you think? Any other shows that deserve more love? Let me know, and take care!