Devon: “Way to go, Chuck. That’s awesome.”
Meet Chuck. He’s your average Joe: holds a dead-end job, comes with romantic baggage, feels like a loser. Girls start giggling the minute they see his Buy More uniform; his older sister, Ellie, dotes over him; her awesome live-in boyfriend is a virtual Adonis; and somehow the mighty shadow of Bryce Larkin, the man who stole his girlfriend, his career, and his very sense of purpose, still looms over him. Everything to emasculate the guy, really.
Bryce, who’s not an accountant (as the gloriously sarcastic subtitles inform us) but a rogue super-spy, has a lot for which to atone. I suspect that’s why his final act was to e-mail Chuck the Intersect: an all-inclusive government database, which our hero inadvertently downloads into his noggin. With it comes intimate knowledge of FBI, CIA, and NSA intelligence as well as a chance for him to prove his worth by saving the world on a weekly basis and maybe, just maybe, getting the girl for once.
Despite all its espionage references, Chuck is really more of a super-hero yarn. You’ve got dual identities, a clear delineation between good and evil, and a protagonist who was bitten by a radioactive Langley. The pilot, in fact, follows the exact structure of a Marvel or DC flick: three quarters origin story, one quarter saving the word from a threat that’s got nothing to do with the rest of the plot. The difference is the writers never let the spectacle overshadow the series’ endearing subtext.
Chuck versus Vampires
I’ve always perceived Chuck as a dude-oriented remake of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The same way Joss Whedon used vampire conventions (female fantasy) as symbols for the challenges a young woman must face, Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak have taken spy movie clichés (male fantasy) and turned them into a metaphor for the woes associated with becoming a man in this day and age.
In this episode, for example, Chuck’s miserable experiences become assets as he slowly learns to stop dwelling on them. It starts with Bryce giving him the knowledge he needs to catch up with his destiny. Then our hero transforms his ex-girlfriend baggage into charming banter and defuses a bomb with his Buy More knowledge of Internet viruses. Chuck, you see, isn’t a loser. He’s got wit, leadership, and a heart of gold. What he lacks is confidence. He’s stopped taking pride in what he does, who he is. Also, everything can be solved with porn.
Chuck versus Dimitri
As some of you possibly know, I sometimes write for a men’s magazine (the kind with articles). My first year doing this was an eye-opener. I learnt contemporary men were almost universally insecure about their place in the world, not in a trivial “I hate Spike because he’s a more giving lover than I am” manner (wink, wink) but in a more fundamental “I don’t know anymore what’s being asked of me” sort of way. I think that’s why I have such deep affection for Chuck, which discusses these issues without trivialising them or insulting the audience with condescending platitudes. Also, it’s funny. Really funny.
Huh. That was neither embarrassing nor an anecdote, was it?
Bits and Pieces
- Back when it first aired, I thought Casey was going to be the show’s big bad, and I was furious at what struck me as an insane casting decision.
- Oh, yeah, Tony Todd is in this!
- I love the thinly veiled consumer culture references: Buy More, Nerd Herd, Large Mart, etc.
- Bryce’s Parkour escape at the beginning of the episode is freakin’ awesome. His super blackberry, on the other hand, displays the name of his secret e-mail recipients in gigantic flashing letters. Worst spy equipment ever.
- I know I’m supposed to be drooling over Sarah, and Yvonne Strahovski is undoubtedly gorgeous. However, I’m all about the Ellie hotness. Yes, she’s a bit of a busybody, but that’s only because she cares so much.
I might have gone overboard with these. Look, I was reviewing Heroes and V before:
Chuck: “Do you remember Zork, the old text-based video game? Well, Bryce and I programmed our own version of it back at Standford using the TRS-80.”
Morgan (without irony): “Wow, you guys were really cool.”
Chuck (to Sarah): “Carnival freaks found him in a dumpster.”
Morgan: “But they raised me as one of their own.”
Morgan is the best wing man ever.
Harry: “Do you know what five minutes means in Buy More dollars?”
Chuck: “I didn’t realise we had our own currency.”
Jeff: “What if you’re the unwitting target of a ninja vendetta, and he returns tonight to strangle you with his nunchucks?”
Chuck: “Thanks for thinking outside the box, Jeff.”
Casey: “Pretty please, can we diffuse the bomb now?”
Chuck (answering his cell while diffusing the bomb pretty please): Morgan! Why are you calling?”
Chuck, why are you answering? That’s the one joke that fell flat for me.
Casey: “Don’t puke on the C4.”
Devon: “Group hug, huh? Awesome.”
All right, fine. I once used a fake ID to rent porn for my friends. World-saving porn.