Chuck Me Mondays:
“Chuck vs. The Intersect”
[As any fan of Chuck knows, the good folks at Chucktv.net have organized a scenario whereby everyone, all at the same time (Mondays at 9pm, it seems), watches the entirety of Chuck’s first two seasons between now and the show’s return later this year. It’s a great way to keep the hype alive (Twitter hash tag #ChuckMeMondays shows it all!), introduce new people to the show, and just revisit a really fun series. For me, I’ve blogged about many of the episodes already: in those instances, I’m going to link to my original review and then offer some retrospective thoughts based on having seen the first two seasons. In instances where I haven’t reviewed the episode (like next week’s “Chuck vs. the Helicopter”) I’ll try to offer a bit more of a substantial review. Anyways, onto our first edition!]
Chuck’s pilot was something that really excited me upon first viewing: having been able to see the episode ahead of its premiere, I was quick to offer my thoughts to my (much smaller than the present) readership in terms of how much I was looking forward to the series.
The O.C. remained a credible formula for Josh 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, 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.
I think I leaned a bit too heavily on The O.C. comparisons, as the show certainly evolved beyond its geek appeal, but the point stands that the pilot emphasizes the way the show uses its witty banter for good and not evil, and never falls so far down one of its many outlets (comedy, drama, romance, etc.) to create an unbalanced pilot.
But having reread that piece, and rewatched the episode in question, I do have some additional thoughts on the pilot that I wouldn’t have been able to have with no idea of what was in store. Now, there will be some light spoilers here, but I’ll try to keep most of them in a “Plot” section at the very end of the main portion of the post.
The Buy More Factor
The absolutely weirdest thing about this pilot is the diminished presence of the Buy More, which has now become a comic centerpiece for the series. It was so strange to see Jeff and Lester as simple nerds as opposed to the perverted and sketchy individuals we know them to now be. What’s fascinating to me is that, despite the characters having regressed tenfold in terms of their ability to discern proper social conversation, they’ve actually become far more interesting characters in the process. Yes, some of their personality comes from the genius of Jeffster, but stuff like Jeff’s run in “Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer” seem incomprehensible based on the characterization he was given here (ie, almost none). I know some people find the Buy More stuff a distraction from the main storyline, but I certainly feel they’ve become an integral part of this cast and have really evolved from the pilot.
The Acting Factor
Any pilot is going to show some evolution in terms of various actors and their roles, but beyond the inevitability I want to single out Joshua Gomez and Yvonne Strahovski. In Gomez’s case, he spent much of the first season in this awkward position of being either Chuck’s annoying friend or, well, just plain annoying. Perhaps it was just the hair, but Season Two really showed Gomez stepping into a new position on the show, one where Chuck’s concern over his well-being was actually shared by the audience. He isn’t bad in the pilot, certainly playing his role, but the show will later ask slightly more of him, and the way he steps up really takes things to that next level.
As for Strahovski, I made a lot of Alias comparisons in my original post, and one of them was this idea of finding unknown leading ladies (which J.J. Abrams did with Jennifer Garner on Alias, Keri Russell on Felicity, Evangeline Lilly on Lost, etc.), and how Strahovski fit the bill. Looking back, her performance early in the pilot is a bit stiff as we don’t yet know her character, and she struggled to overcome both some stilted plot-driven dialogue and the gratuitous nature of some of her underwear shots, but damnit if she doesn’t completely win you over in scenes like Chuck and Sarah’s date. Zachary Levi was perfect from this role the moment you meet him trying to sneak out of his own party, but Strahovski takes more time to warm up to, and when she sits with Chuck on the beach asking him to trust her you really do trust her, a tough task for any actress in a pilot like this.
The John Casey Factor
It’s very strange to see Casey being sold as a cold hearted killer considering that we know later how he will begin to soften and fall into a dynamic with Chuck and Sarah. These three had a strong dynamic here, but the edges were too sharp and something was amiss: it’s not that Adam Baldwin is bad in the role, but he’s forced into a position where he has to be quite cruel and heartless and we don’t quite see too much of Adam Baldwin’s charm.
The Plot Factor
One of the show’s problems early on is that it was either too obtuse about the way the intersect operated, or it was too fascinated with it: once the show settled into that groove, it improved immensely. The plot here, a general is in danger from a Serbian bomb that Chuck detects using the intersect sent to him by now deceased Bryce Larkin, is all about getting them from Point A to Point B, and it neither showcases the potential of Chuck’s power nor the potential downsides. But a good pilot isn’t really about plot, and this one does a better job of setting up the overall plot of Chuck trapped between the world of his family and the world of espionage, which would become a far more important element of the show’s future.
SPOILER PLOT DISCUSSION
This isn’t going to be anything major, but it’s interesting to see an episode with no mention of Fulcrum at all, considering what would come later. We do get copious mentions of Jill, however, who we know returns and eventually plays a key role in the second season. Otherwise, the only other real foreshadowing we get here is the bit of business over the assistant manager gig (we miss you, Harry Tang!), although there’s also some reverse foreshadowing in the NSA/CIA charactertizations: the NSA end up being the organization that doesn’t end up being a tiny bit evil, while the CIA guy ends up becoming a little bit dead due to the rush to create a new intersect. I wouldn’t have expected that based on the pilot.
END SPOILER PLOT DISCUSSION
Overall, it’s a pilot that really hooked me in, and really did remind me of Alias in terms of providing a really strong setup for the series moving forward on a quasi-episodic basis. I am, of course, happy to look back and see how right I was although, admittedly, next week’s episode isn’t a good example of this.
- Dan Fienberg made a note on Twitter that this could well be the most impressive thing McG has ever directed, and I don’t doubt that: it’s a really sharply made pilot, capturing the excitement of a car crash and the banter of Chuck and Morgan with similar aplomb. I always forget how great stuff like the Bryce parkour stuff plays on camera, although the show would later reach even more impressive highs in terms of action.
- Anyone else watching along with the Chuck Me Mondays? Drop a comment below with your thoughts, or your twitter name, and we’ll see if there’s a little micro-community of sorts.