[Note: This article contains minor spoilers for the incredibly awesome show that was Chuck.]
Since the dawn of television way back in the 1950s many shows made television history, or claimed the title of "favorite show of all time" from one audience or another. Whether it was The Adventures of Superman, I Love Lucy, Star Trek, M*A*S*H, Cheers, Seinfeld or Friends; television has been there to keep the masses entertained.
Some shows are great, others moderately decent and some shows are so bad it boggles the mind as to how they ever made it beyond the pilot episode. And then there are shows that are so good they transcend just being a TV series. Some shows are written, acted and generally developed so well that they (for all intents and purposes) become part of a person's life. They look forward to seeing those episodes each week, anxiously await their return in the fall and become generally invested in the storylines and characters. I can see where that may sound a little sad but keep in mind that the purpose of television is to entertain, so when a show reaches that kind of level it's safe to say that it has done its job to perfection.
For a lot of people, shows like M*A*S*H and Friends were that kind of show. The former having taken a three year conflict and turned it into an eleven year series that opted to end its run while it was STILL on the top of the ratings chart. For me personally, being from a slightly newer generation of television, those shows consisted of Smallville (for the first five or six seasons at least) as well as Supernatural (also only for the first five seasons) and, more currently, The Walking Dead. Sometimes a show, even one that you were heavily invested in, can go on for too long. That, for me, was the case with Smallville and Supernatural. Both shows peaked about halfway through and started to reduce in the quality and consistency of their stories the longer they went on.
But then there was a little spy comedy that ran on NBC for five years called Chuck. I didn't know anything about Chuck when it was being developed. In fact, I had never heard of it even coming on all the way up to the premier date. The day that it was set to air I had suddenly found myself bogged down with the "Hi, I'm Chuck..." interactive ads that had taken over Yahoo! each time I went to the Internet. Through rather brilliant Gorilla Internet marketing (and given the fact that it was airing immediately before one of my other favorite shows at the time – Heroes) I decided to give it a shot.
And what a shot it was.
What was Chuck about?
Chuck premiered on NBC in 2007 and told story of Chuck Bartowski (played incredibly well by the multi-talented Zachary Levi – you may also know him as Flynn Rider from Disney's Tangled or as Fandral from Thor: The Dark World). The titular character of Chuck was a computer technician working for the Nerd Herd at the Burbank Buy More (think the Geek Squad at Best Buy) who was a little down on his luck ever since he had been kicked out of Stanford when his roommate, Bryce Larkin, accused him of cheating on a test. As it turns out, that very same roommate (played by Matt Bomer of White Collar and Magic Mike) is a CIA agent who steals a very important computer program called The Intersect and sends it to Chuck via email just before being shot.
Upon viewing the program in said email, Chuck suddenly has all of the government secrets for both the CIA and the NSA downloaded into his brain to access whenever a certain file is visually triggered. From that point on, Chuck becomes an irreplaceable asset of the U.S. government and is teamed up with a beautiful (and deadly) CIA Agent, Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski), and the dangerous and emotionally detached John Casey (Adam Baldwin) of the NSA. While maintaining his day job at the Buy More as a cover, Chuck gets thrust into the often dangerous world of espionage, terrorism and secret organizations bent on overthrowing the CIA from the inside.
Chuck had the misfortune of premiering the year of the dreaded strike of the Screen Writers Guild, which led to a shortened pilot year and almost ended the freshman series. However, the strike came to an end and the show was brought back for a second season and all started to be well. It maintained lukewarm ratings which placed it on the chopping block for cancellation ever year, but cult fan following plus the potential that NBC saw in the series kept it alive for a full five year run that allowed the creators, writers and cast to end the series on their terms. Other shows that year, like NBC's Journeyman, were not so fortunate.
What Made Chuck so great compared to other action shows?
On the surface, if one had not known much about the show, Chuck had all of the elements of any other generic government action show. Guy gets lured into a government plot, meets an attractive woman, sexual tension and intrigue ensue till show eventually ends. It's happened before in TV and film and will happen again, I'm sure. But Chuck did a series of things differently that brought certain elements to its show that most never achieve. As a result it remains, to this day, one of the best shows (if not, dare I say, THE best show) I have ever seen and continue to watch from start to finish over and over again.
1. Chuck Was About Us
That is to say that the title character of Chuck Bartowski was every bit the same as the average person in the audience that the show was targeting. Chuck was a regular guy in his late twenties with an interest in nerd culture and working a dead end job with dreams and aspirations of something bigger in life, as well as sharing that with the right woman. For every guy reading comic books, working retail and sitting in a room with a Tron poster on the wall there was that desire to be something more and Chuck Bartowski was THAT character. As a result, the show grounded itself with the audience more than any other genre show ever could. With most shows there's something unattainable about the main characters. They're usually incredibly well built models with lives and backgrounds that nobody can realistically relate to. Sure, the shows are entertaining when you suspend disbelief but there's always that realm that the audience just can't grasp. For this reason you're usually given the goofy supporting character(s) that pal around with the protagonists to relate to. With Chuck, science fiction elements of the Intersect aside, you have a lead character that essentially was the audience.
Not only that, though, Chuck was also a genuine "regular guy" in that he loved his family and friends and was loyal to them before anything else. And since he wasn't a military asset or government agent and didn't know how people in that world were he was very trusting. As a result he made the same mistakes that any of us would in his situation and learned from them accordingly. As time went by he got more adept to the situations and became a better agent/hero.
Having Chuck depicted that way rather than as a stereotypical hero type brought with it a whole new viewing experience.
2. Chuck Was Very Friendly To Nerd Culture
A lot of shows might try to reference nerdy things but more often than not they are actually making fun of them. Chuck fully embraced the nerd culture that it was setting its characters in and was very mindful of the fan base that was in the audience. So not only did you get the more obvious stuff like framed comic books, references to Comic Con and Star Wars, or the famous Tron poster – you also got more subtle Easter Egg style stuff. Whether it was the Chuck/Morgan Sandworm costume (from Dune) at the Halloween party, having Reginald VelJohnson reprise his famous role of Sgt. Al Powell from Die Hard (pictured above with fan favorite actor Michael Rooker), or having Stan Bush's "The Touch" from Transformers: The Movie play during a world-saving game of Missile Command – Chuck was never without its awesome surprises.
One of the more fun Easter Eggs I always enjoyed catching, as well, were the frequent references to the cult classic film Big Trouble in Little China. James Hong (who played David Lo Pan in the film) appeared in season one as Ben Lo Pan and Sarah Walker's father (played by Gary Cole) was named Jack Burton. In season two, when the episode ended with Chuck standing at the trailer of his estranged father I was seriously hoping that the following week it would be revealed that the actor playing him was Kurt Russell. However, we ended up with Scott Bakula (famously known for Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Enterprise) and the results made for splendid television. And then, of course, there was the inclusion of the cover to one of the DVD/Blu-Ray episode guides that featured an homage to the classic Drew Struzan Big Trouble movie poster:
The producers and writers really knew what they were doing when they developed all of the hidden gems for this show and they did with an extreme level of care and attention.
3. Tasteful Sex Appeal
Piggy-backing off of the nerd culture bit is the inclusion of sex appeal. All shows and movies do it to varying degrees of necessity and success. "Fan Service" (whether it be sex or violence) is a common factor with shows, movies and anime of this nature. Often times it's bluntly thrown into your face. Other shows with a hard R rating like Game of Thrones and Spartacus depend on it to fill in the gaps between character interactions and excessive subplots.
Chuck understood its audience and knew that sex appeal was a factor that would help generate the interest. However, they put a more comedic spin on it. Being on network television it was always kept within the acceptable parameters but they also played it up as much as they could to make it seem over-the-top. Whether it was Sarah Walker fighting crime in lingerie or a bikini, the women of the Nerd Herd filling out their uniforms like a Catholic School Girl, Brandon Routh's Daniel Shaw character conveniently walking out of the shower to comedically establish sexual tension with Walker or Ryan McPartlin's Devon "Captain Awesome" Woodcomb always working out in nothing but bicycle shorts, the sex appeal always maintained an element that was almost a parody of Fan Service as it was actual Fan Service.
4. Great Chemistry
It's not always easy to have actors with great chemistry. Sometimes, no matter how great the performance is, the chemistry just isn't there and the whole thing starts to unravel. Not only did Chuck's main characters (Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski) have amazing chemistry, but the entire cast worked great together! You believed that Chuck and Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) were perfectly bonded siblings. The development between Chuck, Sarah and Casey as a team who eventually began to really care about each other was amazing. The best friend appeal between Chuck and Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez) was relatable to anyone who has ever had that loyal best friend relationship.
But it always came down to Chuck and Sarah. There has never been a relationship in television or movie history that I, as a viewer, was more invested in. I really cared for these characters as if they were actually friends of mine and I wanted, desperately, for things to work out for them in the end. One of the best moments in the series, to me, was actually when Sarah and her father danced at a wedding they had set up to catch a team of Iranian terrorists and Chuck watched from the DJ booth with a big, genuinely loving smile on his face. Perfectly executed moments like that make for amazing television.
And when Sarah lost her memory towards the end of season five I was on the edge of my seat waiting for her to get them back. And when the series finale ended and she hadn't got them back I was actually quite devastated. As far as I'm concerned this was the best, most genuine couple in fictional history and you weren't sure that it worked out.
That's what great chemistry is supposed to do.
5. A Top-Notch Supporting Cast
Ensemble shows are hard. Sometimes there are too many characters. Often times there are the ones that aren't fleshed out enough or just aren't really that interesting and you can't help but not care about them.
That wasn't a problem with Chuck.
This is probably the only time that there weren't any unnecessary or underdeveloped characters. And each one was perfectly acted and gave their contribution to the development of the show. Morgan and Captain Awesome all eventually became valuable members of the team in one capacity or another, Lester Patel (Vik Sahay) and Jeff Barnes (Scott Krinsky) were always entertaining comic relief and the "Jeffster" subplot always came through at least once a year.
And then there was Agent Daniel Shaw (Brandon Routh).
I was already a big fan of Brandon Routh's. So much so that when I had the opportunity to meet him at a comic con in Philly I froze and my wife had to break the ice for me.
Daniel Shaw came into the show as the new leader of Team Bartowski in season 3 to help them take on the nefarious Ring organization. Through being a genuinely interesting character and extremely well acted by Routh he became a fan favorite character almost instantly.
And when he finds out that Sarah killed his wife on a Red Test mission he suddenly jumps ship and becomes a Ring agent, gets his own version of the Intersect and kills Chuck's father. Amazing...absolutely amazing television. I just can't even put it into words without probably recapping the entire season. The two-part season three finale, to this day, are my favorite episodes of the series and it took multiple viewings for me to finally not shed a little bit of a tear when Shaw kills Steven Bartwoski (Bakula).
The cast and characters on this show were absolutely amazing. There just isn't any other way to put it. It's by far my favorite ensemble cast and I'm a guy who loves an ensemble cast. That's putting them up against some fierce competition.
The series finale, Chuck Versus the Goodbye, aired on January 27, 2012 and like any fan favorite show there has been a clamoring for it to come back in one way or another.
And I'm here to now tell you that it can if the Powers That Be allow it to.
TV shows don't stay gone anymore. Canceled shows like Family Guy and Futurama got their revivals years later and Firefly fans got closure when the film Serenity was released. Heroes is coming back later this year with the event series Heroes: Reborn (starring Zachary Levi). Even shows that ran their natural course like 24, The X-Files, Prison Break and Twin Creeks either have or are coming back for a limited run event series. So why not Chuck? Or maybe a spin-off for other characters? How about Sarah Walker, Texas Ranger or John Casey: Agent of G.R.U.N.T?
All kidding aside, though, here are the three ways that Chuck can continue if the creators, actors and rights holder (Warner Bros.) are ever interested.
Event Series, Movie or Comic Book
The obvious choice would be to reunite the cast for a movie or 8-13 episode limited event series picking up where the show left off. If that just isn't in the cards then, worst case scenario, it can pick up as an official, ongoing comic book series the same way that Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville did.
It should also be noted that I have a killer idea that I have been developing in my head since the series ended that would work great in any of the aforementioned formats. So Josh Schwartz, Chris Fedak and/or Mr. Levi, if you're reading this (and I hope you are) hit me up on Twitter (@ThisIsJamesT) and maybe we can talk.
BUY MORE: The Series
Before there was an Intersect or the hidden CIA substation known as Castle, there was the Buy More. Just a regular, every day electronics retailer run by a group of misfits. So imagine if you will a Chuck shared universe (those are all the rage these days) depicting the Buy More as a workplace comedy. Perhaps bring back Morgan Grimes as the lead and depict his comedic adventures post CIA as the manager of the Buy More with Big Mike and his girlfriend Alex (Mekenna Melvin).
JEFFSTER: The Series
When last we saw the cover band, Jeffster, they had just helped save the day by highjacking a classical music concert and using it as an impromptu performance of their own. As a result they got a record deal in Germany and left the Buy More. Maybe now we get a The Lone Gunmen style spin-off where they get involved with some shady business on the other side of the Atlantic....while performing more cover songs, of course.
Well that's all I got for you, guys. Let me know what you think below.