Someone once told me there were only seven stories. By way of contrast, the Venetian dramatist Carlo Gozzi and the French author Georges Polti both argued that there were actually 36. Either way, it seems everyone’s agreed that there are no new stories, just new treatments. And then, perhaps, a sequel.
In UPN’s Jake 2.0, for example, Jake was an NSA computer expert accidentally infected by nanobots and receiving super-special-secret powers as a result: call him Peter Parker meets the Six Million Dollar Man. Four years on, Chuck, debuting on NBC tonight, offers a hero who has sucked the living Steve Austin out of Jake and injected self-mocking humour (borrowing from, say, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and high-gloss balletic violence (Charlie’s Angels). This is probably the right time to mention that Chuck is the creation of Josh (O.C.) Schwartz and Mc (Charlie’s Angels) G. While McG — who also had his fists in Fastlane, Supernatural, The O.C., and that Pussycat Dolls atrocity — will supply the action, Schwartz is providing actress Rachel Bilson, slated to guest-star in several episodes.
As the Bilson-free premiere reveals, Chuck (Zachary Levi) is your traditional computer geek caricature. You know, the sort of saddo who attempts and fails to escape from his own birthday party — though he’s attractive and in shape, of course. Apparently the victim of a fiendish plot cooked up by his roommate Bryce (Matthew Bomer), Chuck was kicked out of Stanford University and lost his first and only girlfriend on the same day. Uncannily, his girlfriend ended up with Bryce. In mourning ever since, Chuck’s now a resigned team leader of the Nerd Herd at his local Buy More Electronics. You can tell how much you’re going to enjoy Chuck by your reaction to these jokes.
At the end of his disastrous birthday party, Chuck is surprised to receive an electronic greeting card from — guess who — Bryce. He’s considerably more surprised when he realises that in opening it, he’s unwittingly downloaded an entire database full of government super-secrets into his clearly massive brain. Bryce, it transpires, wasn’t really an accountant at all, but a CIA agent gone allegedly “rogue.” If the enormous infeasibility of the idea that an email attachment can beam the entire contents of a joint CIA-NSA database into your head causes you to flinch even for a moment, then you’re probably not going to enjoy Chuck. Even if the story isn’t new, I like Chuck‘s lame geek humour as much as its frequent near-movie quality action sequences. I also appreciate the way the politics and retail rivalries at Buy More are treated every bit as seriously as the struggle against international terrorism.
When the NSA and CIA discover Bryce has stolen their crown jewel database and emailed it to Chuck, they send their top agents to the West Coast to retrieve it, little realising exactly where their data is or that hilarious consequences will ensue. The lovely but lethal Sarah (Yvonne Strzechowski) represents the CIA, while marvelous Adam Baldwin is the deadly NSA Major John Casey, all sneers and casual disregard for sanctity of life. It never occurs to the agencies that they should work together, and so their conflict leads to several spectacular sequences, including a particularly effective car chase. Still, Walker and Casey are obviously going to have to learn to play nicely together over the course of the season (that, or Adam Baldwin will have to shoot Chuck in the head).
A good-natured show with a convincing sense of fun and a likeable cast, Chuck also has the wit, confidence, and grasp of the cultural climate to turn a running joke about a celebrity porn site into a major plot device. If it wasn’t so tough for arc-based storytelling on TV today, I’d place moderately large money on Chuck making it to the end of his first season in one piece. Adam Baldwin notwithstanding.