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TV Review: Chuck

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Reading about this fall's television lineup, one often finds a phrase akin to "the geeks shall inherit the earth."  With new shows like NBC's Chuck airing this fall, it's not hard to see this statement coming true. 

NBC, having achieved success last season with Heroes and it's breakout character, the nerdy Hiro, is trying to duplicate the results in several new shows.  One of them comes from creators Josh Schwartz (The O.C.) and Chris Fedak and is the tale of Chuck (Zachary Levi).  This nerd, who prefers that to geek, works for an electronics retailer and ends up with all of the intelligence secrets of the United States in his brain when he opens an e-mail sent by an ex-roommate. 

This prompts the CIA and NSA to launch separate investigations into Chuck's life, attempting to determine whether he is working for an enemy of the country.  The CIA sends Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski), who seduces Chuck in order to find out more about him.  The NSA sends John Casey (Adam Baldwin), who takes a more lethal approach.

The show is fast-paced, foolish, and a lot of fun to watch.  The basic concept is, of course, completely outlandish and so the show requires, more than some others, much suspension of disbelief.  In order to watch the show one first has to either accept or get past the fact that simply by watching an e-mail that contained hours and hours of still images changing on a computer screen at a phenomenally high rate of speed that Chuck can remember them all.  And, not only does Chuck have to remember them, he has the ability to associate the image with what it actually represents, as these images are, according to the show, how the United States stores all of its intelligence data.  Happily, the pilot does manage to gloss over the absolute foolishness of this conceit relatively quickly and get back to having fun, which is something it excels at. 

However, still always at the back of one's mind is the idea that everything on screen is built off this ridiculous state secrets concept. Thus, even when Sarah is dancing with Chuck, and, unbeknownst to him, waylaying members of the NSA with throwing knives, the viewer never quite escapes the idea that the basic notion of the show is silly.

Amazingly, the show somehow still works.  This is at least partially because the show understands how absurd the very concept is and just goes with it — which makes it easier for the audience to do the same.  Levi, Strahovski, and Baldwin are all sufficiently tongue-in-cheek in their roles, and everyone that appears on-screen seems to be having a lot of fun.

Whether or not Zachary Levi truly looks and acts like a nerd or geek is wholly debatable, and, if the nays win, excusable.  As with the intelligence data, the show is not concerned with how true it is to the life of nerd-dom. It is about comedy combined with over-the-top action. It is about having fun and making sure that the audience has fun. 

McG (Charlie's Angels), is an executive producer on the show and directed the pilot.  He keeps everything moving at a brisk pace, ably balancing both the comedy and action moments. 

Chuck is supported in his trials and tribulations by his sister, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), who, seemingly wants nothing more than for Chuck to find a nice girl and ditch his best friend, Morgan (Joshua Gomez).  Morgan, who functions as comic relief in the pilot, is Chuck's co-worker and playmate in nerd-land.

The dichotomy of Chuck's normal life and friends, versus his new work life and friends, will almost certainly be a recurring theme throughout the series. Hopefully this will work better than it did on Alias.  There, never quite finding the right balance between home and work, all of Sidney Bristow's friends somehow found their way into her work life or found themselves off the show.    

There are several different, difficult balancing acts the producers will have to face as the season continues — action versus comedy, straight versus over-the-top, Chuck's work life versus Chuck's home life.  It will not be an easy task, but if things continue in the same vein as the pilot, they have a better than even chance of success.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    If nothing else this looks like it has the potential to be a perennial guilty pleasure for at least one couch nerd I know of this fall. Thanx for the overview.

    -Glen

  • http://tvandfilmguy.blogspot.com Josh Lasser

    Congratulations! This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States.