When Josh Schwartz created The O.C., he became a household name due to the show’s success and the pop culture phenomenon that developed. He was the young writer-producer who was setting television on fire, and the world was at his doorstep waiting for him to emerge victorious again. However, The O.C. ran into some trouble, and all of a sudden Josh Schwartz was behind a losing property that limped to its fourth season finale.
What this has given Josh Schwartz is one less steady pay cheque, perhaps, but also a new lease on life. The O.C. remained a credible formula for Schwartz because he balanced the oversexed teenage promiscuousness with witty and sarcastic banter, and those two parts stayed relatively intact following its demise. And so, like the sensible and smart man he is, Josh Schwartz took the oversexed teenage promiscuousness and channeled it into “Gossip Girl” for The CW, and took the witty and sarcastic banner and found a home for it on NBC.
The resulting show is Chuck (Premiering on Monday, September 24th at 8pm on NBC), an action-thriller comedy series that places Schwartz’s sharp dialogue into a setting more acceptable for the Seth-like viewers the show is trying to reel in. The result is a series that is sharp, funny, and certainly one of the most potential-filled pilots of the 2007 Fall Season.
The story of the pilot is actually painfully simple, and it isn’t exactly the most brain-bending drama you’ll see this year. CIA operative goes rogue, sends government secrets to unsuspecting Chuck (Who he has a history with), the secrets are stored inside Chuck’s brain, and this makes our hero the most wanted man in America. The plot of the episode consists of a visiting general, a series of high-speed chases, and (of course) an internet porn star’s website as a recurring theme.
No one will claim that Chuck takes itself entirely seriously; Chuck and his best friend are hopeless geeks in most normal ways, and their escapades in romance and employment are your standard comedy fare. However, at the same time the pilot raises a fundamental set of questions about both its characters and its universe that are more than enough to drive forward this story.
Why did Chuck receive the email containing the secrets? What made Bryce, the rogue spy, go rogue? These two questions alone are more than enough to ensure that the series won’t fall out of being a character driven story any time soon.
However, that fear is further allayed in the great performances throughout the show’s cast. Zachary Levi is perfect as Chuck, who walks that fine line between geeky and endearing that makes his mildly successful romantic escapades believable. While his social skills are lacking, they are not lacking purely because he’s a geek: a wounded heart is the cause, and provides opportunity for further baggage to reveal itself.
For the show’s supporting cast, Schwartz has stuck fairly close to the Alias formula. You’ve got two spectrums: your family and friends to ground Chuck in his normal life, and you’ve got the government agents designed to take him away from that normal life and provide a love interest. Sarah Lancaster plays a good supporting sister, here, and Adam Baldwin (Firefly) plays a great gruff no-nonsense NSA agent who doesn’t like Chuck or any other living being.
However, it is the love interest that deserves notice: relative unknown Yvonne Strzechowski delivers an enrapturing performance as Sarah, a CIA operative with connections to the rogue agent and a mission to deal with Chuck at all costs. Not only is she extremely attractive, but she also portrays the character as it should be: a woman forced to live a life of lies while her real life shatters from underneath her.
And, like Alias, this show’s pilot reveals a set of characters that we want to follow for a season’s worth of episodes. There might not be a real villain yet, and there’s no over-complicated centuried old prophet to contend with, but Chuck ends the pilot basically the male geeky version of Sidney Bristow. Which, to be honest, I think most people would probably be happy with.
I know that I am; as a fan of Schwartz dialogue if not The O.C.’s subject matter, I think that this is the perfect fit for his sensibilities. McG lends a shine to the pilot that draws you in, and even as the show heads into more procedural territory I think he has coaxed performances out of these actors and actresses that will sustain the series.
With a new pre-Heroes timeslot and a lot of critical buzz, Chuck might be the one pilot that might have a strong chance of succeeding should the stars align. The show premieres at 8pm on September 24th, and you should tune in: it’s funny, it’s smart, and it has a lot of potential to sustain itself as a series. I think that NBC might just have found a series worthy of airing before its sophomore hit, Heroes.