Tuesday, September 25, 2007

“That’s not an X-Box, and you’re not an X-Man”: Chuck

Chuck is a show which has invited a lot of comparisons in the weeks/months leading up to its airdate. First there was a very brief fuss over plot similarities to Jake 2.0. It’s also frequently been brought up in relation to Gossip Girl, Josh Schwartz’s other new show this season, which has an entirely different sensibility. The most rampant comparison, however, has been with The CW’s Reaper, an understandable phenomenon as the structure and character dynamics of the two shows are very similar. Personally I preferred Chuck’s pilot to Reaper’s – both have a similar charm, but Chuck’s premise seems to lend itself to a series a lot better than Reaper’s. Regardless, I hope this is the last time I need to compare the two, as Chuck has a lot going for it, all of which deserves mentioning.

For starters, it’s fun. It’s very, very fun. Writers Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak use the typical necessity for exposition in network pilots to their advantage, and stuff loads of plot into a forty minute show. Although there are overarching mysteries left dangling (such as the big question of why Bryce sends the government secrets to Chuck in the first place), there’s plenty of action, car chases and people running about mixed in with quieter character moments. It pulls off that very difficult pilot challenge of establishing all the essential plot points without ever becoming mundane or plodding.

The ensemble isn’t too big, but it’s still always impressive when a pilot introduces each character and provides them with depth without slowing down as a result. Chuck himself, as played by the charming and likeable Zachary Levi, is your typical lovable nerd. Morgan, his best friend and obvious candidate for the ‘comic relief’ label, is well-played by Joshua Gomez. The character isn’t actually as funny as he should be, but he at least has a grounding in reality, unlike Tyler Labine’s larger than life alternative in Reaper. (Damn, another contrast with Reaper! Why must the parallels between them be so in your face?!) Chuck’s sister Ellie is the only normal one of the bunch, a status I hope she retains as she continues to bring Chuck back down to Earth whenever he needs it. Then there’s the two agents, best defined as ‘the hot one’ and ‘the funny one’. Yvonne Strzechowski thankfully keeps Sarah lively and layered, and gives the predictable reveal that she and Bryce were once together a surprising emotional resonance. The only character who isn’t explored at all is Adam Baldwin’s Major Casey, but Baldwin is so damn funny in the role that it doesn’t really matter. Oh, and Captain Awesome? Awesome, and hilarious.

One senses that Schwartz and Fedak are often just having some fun. The sequence following Bryce’s escape from a secure facility is well staged, on a par with most recent action films (say what you like about McG’s movies, but he’s a damn good TV director). Sarah neutralising all the agents while dancing with Chuck is fantastically zany. Of course the whole thing is more than a little tongue in cheek, and requires the viewer to use their imagination a bit – but that’s no bad thing. In other words, Schwartz and Fedak aren’t the only ones having fun. As geeks themselves (presumably), they know what the geeks who will watch their show want. Male fantasy it may be, but as long as it never takes itself too seriously, who honestly cares?

From what I hear, things are mostly looking good for future episodes; apparently episode two is a bit plot heavy, but as long as episode three lives up to the hype I’m pretty sure that can be forgiven. Schwartz has promised a combination of ‘villains of the week’ (I’m on board!) and a larger mythology (could go either way, but I have faith!). And if that’s not enough, perhaps a multi-episode guest arc for the lovely Rachel Bilson is geek-tastic enough for you. Either way, Chuck is one of the best, if not the best new show of the season, and I’m confident it’s only going to get better.


Todd said...

I hate to choose sides, and maybe it's because I've seen additional episodes of this, but I have less faith in the long-term prospects of this as a series than I do Reaper, where at least they have a monster-of-the-week format to fall back on.

Though episode three is, indeed, fun.

Joey Sims said...

Of course you have the benefit of having seen the next two episodes. But the monster/villain-of-the-week format will only serve both shows for so long, and when it comes time to shake things up a bit, I feel that Chuck would have much less difficulty doing that then Reaper.

This is assuming they both survive past one season, of course.

Carrie said...

I saw this one months ago and thought it was fun but nothing special. I watched it again last night and really liked it much more on second viewing. Aside from Mason (who doesn't really light my fire) the cast is pretty great and the jokes were much more clever than I remembered. I'm really looking forward to seeing how it translates into an episodic show, but I have confidence they can do it as well.

Adam Baldwin is so awesome. Obvious and repetitive, I know, but it must be said.

David Sims said...

If Adam Baldwin evolves his perf to be a scene-stealer, then Chuck has its Ray Wise.

It's amazing how appealing I found Sarah Alexander in this, considering she's never registered for me before. It's something about those scrubs...

Why must Reaper and Chuck be compared, anyway? They're on different nights, and one's about spies and the other's about Satan. Stupid critics, pitting my two favorites against each other. Hmph. (and yes, I know, they're very similar, blah)

Todd said...

I think the sheer bizarre coincidence of Chuck AND Reaper's settings and central conceits is what's setting all of us off.

It doesn't help that they premiered two nights in a row, so a lot of us were asked to do compare/contrasts, most of which amounted to "This one is marginally better than the other one!"

Though Tim Goodman hated Chuck, I guess.