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Red Right Hand: (P)REVIEW: CHUCK
*He is not a secret agent. Not at all.



This was certainly one of the standouts of the several pilots I read last whenever-that-was. Written by Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz, it's an action-comedy in the espionage/sci-fi genre that certainly owes a debt to stuff like Buffy.

I'm going to do this rundown in such broad strokes that you'll only be a little spoiled. I'm leaving out lots of stuff and may not even make much sense as a result. As I go, I'll have a thing or two to say. You probably won't find a lot of killer insight because, well you probably haven't seen it and I'm trying really hard to skirt that line of telling you stuff without ruining stuff. Besides, it doesn’t feel right getting heavy on this lite fare, but I will say, it's got the capability built-in, I think, to ratchet things up how and when it wants to. Like Buffy, for instance, which could go from ridiculous to heartbreaking in the space of...short space. Chuck doesn’t do it in the pilot, but I can totally see it.

Also, it's my understanding that Chuck is staffed up from the ranks of sitcom writers ( could be wrong about that, but let's assume I'm not). I have seen some criticism of this, speculating that they might not be as good at plot construction which is more the backbone of an hour show than the set-up and pay-off joking of a half hour show. As I think back though, a lot of people early on in Buffy had significant sitcomery in the background. Rob Des Hotel, Dean Batali, and Lady Jane of Epspenson. No plot problems there.

EDITED TO ADD: Okay, I see that Anne Coffell former of 24 and last seen at Battlestar is on board. She's not a comedy vet, but I do call that a good get.

And for no particular reason, I decided to watch it while occasionally glancing at the draft I have of the script.

Oh, and set in SoCal, because you can never have too many of those. It is, after all, the center of the international intelligence community (24, Alias, now this), not some other place where they have embassies (D.C.) or international governmental organizations (New York). Nope. It’s here.

Anyway...Chuck (Zachary Levi) is a geek and a loser by choice. He impedes his own progress. His old college roommate , Bryce (Matthew Bomer), is everything he is not and apparently a superspy.

He steals a big weird intelligence database and in a last desperate move, sends it to Chuck. It gets absorbed into Chuck’s brain. Also, the database seems to be accessed through a 14 year-old Apple Mac SE Color Classic.

Right away, it starts out with a little tweak to the script, nothing major (and scarcely worth noting) and also a shifting of scenes that I think served the story better. The script starts out with Bryce (the superspy dude) and goes for the this-is-a-serious-action-spy-show fake out that we've seen before. Now, we start with Chuck and go to Bryce in a funny transition. it better sets the silly tone of the show.

This thing in his head means he recognizes things like foreign assassins and important international…stuff…and he can put together things he notices on the news or around town (and being that it's LA, it's riddled with threats to the world's political stability). All that information is in his head, he just doesn't realize it until something triggers it.

So we get the explanation of the big ol’ database and we meet Graham (of the CIA (Tony Todd)) and Casey (of the NSA (Adam Baldwin), who we’ve seen before this point, but I’ll let that go). They both want the database and are tasked to go get it. I find that adding Tony Todd or Adam Baldwin to most things is a measurable improvement, so take that as you will. Two fine examples of bad ass black-suit feds. Their presence makes up for the fact that their appearance isn’t entirely consistent with what the script called for. When you got these guys, you don’t need gimmicks like “nicotine patches on either side of his neck.”

So a hot chick secret agent type chick dispatched by Graham, Sarah Kent (Yvonne Strzechowski) puts the moves on him (which is a really big thing for him), but it's just to find out about the thing, y'know. He kinda of wins her over in way too, when he does this thing with a little girl ballerina and her dad who can’t operate a camera properly in order to save the day and the lost recital by using the wall of TV's at the Best Buy-- I mean, Buy More.

Chuck works for the Geek Squad-- I mean Nerd Herd.

[tangent]Here's where product placement or some kinda...y' be good. We all know it’s Best Buy and if some Best Buy could just break that need to have a a stranglehold on what they think their image is and how it comes about, then it could benefit the show, the network and the store without being obtrusive. In real-life, Best Buy would probably object to the behavior of one of it’s fictional employees, but that’s bullshit, I say. Bullshit. It’s a fictional character, it services the story and a deaf bat with it’s eye’s plucked out could see that…well, maybe one eye left. The exposure, I would think, would outweigh the handful of people who stop shopping at Best Buy because “Morgan (Joshua Gomez), the guy that doesn’t actually exist” works there.[/tangent]

Thing is, he didn't do it for her (back to the ballerina thing) and since he was “the job,” or she was going to come on to him or get close to him anyway. I guess this was just for our benefit (see, Chuck's a good guy), but I didn't think it worked all that well once I saw it. It just worked better in my head when I read it, but then Bryce's action sequence was a helluva lot better on screen then in my noggin, off.

So he goes on a date with Sarah and is witty and charming in a lovable nerd kinda of way and she is...not. There's the sense that she's so much of a spy that she's forgotten to have a life and so she's...what...a dull date...until the car chase.

The actions scenes have that kinda drum and bass/techno sound track like you pretty much expect, but there's a little bit of, I don't know what to call it, an electrosqueezebox element to it that makes it knda neat. And I'm not a guy that notices the score that much. Music is, I think, by Tim Jones.

So, that car chase (Casey's after Chuck) pretty much blows her cover and she basically explains to Chuck what the premise of his new show is. Part of it. Not the head part. Not immediately.

So we get Graham and Sarah in a standoff over Chuck because she's with the CIA and Graham's with the NSA and they're not cooperating. They both want him. It’s at that moment that he puts together the big threat for the episode and just babbles it out, not even realizing why he knows it or where it's coming from. And Sarah puts together the head thing.

Chuck leads them through a hotel to stop the big threat thing and -oh shit, naked old man butts-- that's gonna have to get blurred or something. That's not spoiling. That's warning.

How does he save the day? not by being supercharged, but by being a nerd. Nice.

In the end, Chuck realizes that he's the one with the hopped-up head and that gives him a little bit of leverage against the CIA and NSA fighting each other over who gets to gank him and put him in a special little room (not really, but then it'd be a whole less funny different show). So a plan is reached. He goes on with his life, but there's a couple of new people in his life a special and little bit funny way. You'll see. And he's probably gonna have to save the world about once a week for a while.

Maybe all this will make him actually move on in his loserly existence and do something with himself. There's you're...whatchya call it...character arc.

This is a show that's left reality far behind...where it belongs. I don't know how well it really establishes that. I mean, I got it. I get those things. Some people suspension of disbelief needs to go up on the rack sometimes though. The first clue comes in Bryce's action sequence, where he does stuff like jump off things very high up onto very hard paved surfaces.

Then there's the ninja fight when Chuck comes home to find, well, a ninja...stealing his computer.

What am I saying, the whole premise of the show strains credulity. That's the big buy of the show. If you can't take the idea of downloading essentially all the knowledge of the intelligence community into a guy's head and run with it, then you just don't know how to have fun. Why are you even watching TV?

So, yeah. I dig it. I knew I thought I would from the script, but casting pretty much nailed it down. Now it's up to them to build on it. And build they must. I want them to stretch their muscles in every way they can. I want silly and serious and I want it almost all at once and I think this vehicle can do it.

I also think that NBC deciding to move it from it's announced spot on, I think, Wednesday to being the lead-in for Heroes was smart.. Makes it easy on the sci-fi fans and I think that the humorous Chuck is a great warm-up for the largely humorless Heroes (which is not to say that Hiro doesn't get a laugh now and again, but if you think about it, everybody's pretty fucking serious about everything pretty much all the time).

So watch it. There's all manner of important stuff I didn't even hint at it, so there's plenty of surprises left.

If you're a regular poster in the TV thread at the Engine, just take a pass on this. You won't like it...or admit to liking it.

Next on (P)review...something else, probably after SDCC.
©2024 Michael Patrick Sullivan
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