Recently, my wife and I made the difficult decision to cancel our satellite TV subscription. With the satellite bill seemingly going up each month, we felt that $100.00 a month was just too much. I was shocked to discover I was paying over $1200.00 a year for long hours of mindless entertainment. So we got a subscription to Netflix, where I now spend only $8.00 a month for hours of mindless entertainment.
I call that a win!
While I was browsing through the list of titles available to Netflix subscribers, I came across an old show I had forgotten all about called Chuck.
Chuck (IMDB page here if you're interested) is a really funny, lighthearted series about an underachieving computer nerd, stuck in a dead-end job and going nowhere, who suddenly gets an entire database of government secrets downloaded into his brain, making him the government's most valuable asset and a walking, talking, super computer.
Chuck gets assigned two handlers to protect him, one each from a joint task force between the CIA and the NSA. Sara Walker, played by Yvonne Strahovski, is the female CIA spy who becomes Chuck's main love interest. John Casey is played by Adam Baldwin and is the straight-laced, gun-toting, Ronald Reagan loving NSA assassin who provides the muscle and much of the straight man humor in the show.
Chuck is played by Zachary Levi and creates a bridge of sorts between the super intelligent and worldly agents assigned to protect him, and the small group of super nerds that work with him at the Buy More (which is the show's version of Best Buy). Chuck's friends are mostly idiots, and much of Chuck's time is spent trying to keep his moron friends from screwing up either of his double lives - the normal Buy More geek life, and the super secret spy life he's trying to keep hidden from everyone.
Sadly Chuck, the show, was cursed almost from the beginning. Though it initially received high ratings, the writers strike of 2007-2008 stopped the show's production and, as a result doomed it to losing most of its audience immediately after. When the show resumed it was as well written and funny as ever, but most people had simply lost interest.
In spite of these hurdles Chuck managed five seasons, and the producers put together a really interesting and humorous story line. The show is a mix of the old "Get Smart" series, along with a heavy dose of "The Matrix" tossed in.
For my writer friends out there, or anyone who is interested in stories and such, Chuck is a good example of some things to do, and some things NOT to do.
What the show does really well.
Chuck does really well at not taking itself too seriously, and that's one of its greatest draws. While it borrows (IE: steals) many of its concepts from popular geek culture, it doesn't try too hard to explain why it takes so many elements from these other shows or movies. Instead it celebrates them in a very humorous way.
Chuck is well written, and the characters are excellently developed. You find yourself really drawn into Chuck's world, and feeling for him as he struggles to lie to his only remaining family member (his sister Ellie who raised him after his parents disappeared), and as he fights to survive in a world where he's constantly outmatched by just about everyone around him. The show does a good job of showing how his 'normalcy' is his greatest asset in a world of killers, spies and arms dealers.
Chuck is a "nice guy" thrust into a world he knows nothing about, and as his story unfolds, you find that so many of his struggles come from his college nemesis, Bryce Larkin, who is not as evil as he might seem at first glance. As the seasons progress, Chuck develops into a more proficient spy, while his family secrets are revealed along with the backgrounds of the other characters.
What the show doesn't do so well.
When I first started watching the show, and was hip deep into season 1, I thought to myself: "How could I ever have forgotten this show? It's so funny!"
As I got into the middle of season 2, I thought. "Oh yeah, I remember now."
The show hits a bit of a lull in the middle to end of season 2 and into the middle of season 3. The reason for this is that Chuck's character loses most of his abilities, and suddenly he is thrust into a scenario where he's no longer qualified, he's virtually useless, and people start stealing his girl while he's helpless to just sit and watch.
I know as a writer you're supposed to put your characters into distress, that's key to any good story. The problem isn't that Chuck encounters issues. The problem is that Chuck becomes powerless and, as a result, weak and whiny. Initially, he's unique in that he likes to talk about his feelings and such, when all the hardened spies around him hide their emotions, so his emotional state is a bonus, it humanizes him. Eventually, though it becomes a major drawback to his likability as a character. Chuck is forced to sit by while a better "typical" spy walks onto the scene and steals Sara from him. Instead of fighting for her, he complains constantly about the situation and doesn't do much to fix it. During a few episodes, Chuck loses the super computer in his brain and transforms from the guy everyone wanted to protect because of his value, into a sort of third wheel. The sort of like the little dog yipping and following behind the big dog down the alley, begging for scraps of food.
So why watch?
The good news is, the writers rectify the situation within a handful of episodes. If you stick with it, the show picks back up and gets back into its rhythm of Chuck being nerdy awesome, his friends being nerdy crazy, and everything he loves and cares about in the world is constantly put in jeopardy because of secret job with the government.
If you're spending some time, looking on Netflix, trying to figure out something to watch, I recommend you check out Chuck. It's the sort of show you can turn on, have a few laughs and go to bed without having nightmares or worrying that your children are being abducted in the room next to you while you sleep. It's lighthearted and fun, and let's face it, there isn't much of that on TV anymore.