[4 May 2009]
There are plenty of reasons why Chuck is currently on the verge of cancellation. Its location on Monday nights leading into Heroes was supposed to be a great idea, but as Chuck began its first season, Heroes embarked on what would go on to be a universally derided sophomore slump of a season and unfortunately, Chuck seemed to be one of its casualties. In addition, the series has had to contend with the Dancing With the Stars juggernaut, the very established House, and CBS’s run of successful half-hour comedies.
What should be just as obvious as all the obstacles facing Chuck in the ratings war is that this is a series that has managed to meld comedy, drama, romance, intrigue, and action with just the right balance to keep the story fresh and the audience it does have invested. This season’s final two episodes showcased brilliantly just how deftly it’s kept all these elements alive while creating a story with just as much over-the-top silliness as subtle emotional depth to keep fans rooting for its return. Oh, and there’s also that cliffhanger it ended on.
Chuck’s first season was in many ways a light, amusing distraction – albeit one with great casting, spot-on music cues, and sharp one-liners – but as it has stepped into its second season, the series has become richer and more layered without sacrificing all the fun. While the show has never been an intricately woven story with big, mind-blowing reveals and lots of twists and turns, it has consistently been one of the most engaging series on television.
Much of its success can be attributed to its wonderful cast and their chemistry. Zachary Levi plays Chuck with just the right amount of bumbling nerd mixed with heart-on-his-sleeve sincerity and self-deprecation; while Yvonne Strahovski’s Sarah serves as the tough, emotional anchor of the series; and Adam Baldwin imbues Casey with the perfect amount of irritation and single-mindedness that makes his character so amusing. The show also benefits from an especially strong group of supporting characters: Jeff and Lester are creepy, socially awkward co-workers of Chuck at the Buy More where his needy best friend, Morgan, also works; and there there’s Chuck’s sister, Ellie, and her fiancé, Devon (also referred to as Captain Awesome), both doctors, whom Chuck lives with and is forced to continually keep things from. These characters add a touch of the ridiculous and ground the series all at the same time.
Chuck’s appeal lies in his ability to see beyond the spy missions he ends up being a part of (missions that Sarah and Casey are accustomed to dealing with all the time) to the real effects his actions have in his life and the lives of those around him. He’s not a spy and never wanted to be a spy and this reluctance has been fueling much of the story so far. However, things this season have changed. Yes, Chuck still wants no part of the spy life, yet he begins to see (along with Sarah, Casey, and the audience) how inextricable these missions have become to his normal life and how his involvement may be more than coincidence. By the end of the season finale, Chuck actively makes a choice to join the world he has been fighting against for two seasons. Given the chance, Chuck’s decision to be a “hero” opens up a new direction for the story with a whole host of possibilities.
Chuck may not be Lost or Mad Men or any of the other shows that tends to get all the critical praise, well deserved though it may be, but despite this it is probably the most enjoyable show currently on the air. I hope that there’s room for a show like Chuck on network television even if it isn’t a huge ratings smash. I think it’s earned as much. Besides, I want to see Jeffster! rock out some more.