Category Archives: Chuck

Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Fake Name”

“Chuck vs. the Fake Name”

March 1st, 2010

Reviewing Chuck isn’t quite as fun anymore.

That pains me to write, in a lot of ways, but there’s something about the show right now which has made the past few episodes seem particularly difficult to sit down and discuss. I’d love to say that it’s just residual effects of the Chuckpocalypse, so that I could blame that particular group of fans for my struggles, but I don’t think that’s all it is.

There is something about the show that’s missing right now, something that has little to do with Chuck/Hannah or Sarah/Shaw or any of the relationship drama that some seem so concerned about. And I don’t even think my problem has to do with character consistency, like the complaints that Chuck and Sarah are acting differently than they have in the past. I think the show has earned our patience on the former front, and in terms of the latter I think that it’s unrealistic to believe that these characters wouldn’t occasionally bottle up their feelings in a way that’s destructive in the long term but easier in the short term.

Rather, I think my problem has to do with the fact that this season has fingerprints all over it, too purposefully designed to drive the show to a particular point instead of allowing it to get there on its own. “Chuck vs. the Fake Name” has some nice comic moments, and sells its emotional side fairly well, but it’s one of many episodes this season that end up a bit anvil-like in terms of explaining the season’s central themes, while proving too subtle when it comes to actually justifying those themes from a plot or character point of view.

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Irrational Actors: 3 Reasons I Have Little Respect for Angry Horde of Chuck Shippers

Irrational Actors: Chuck/Sarah Shippers

February 9th, 2010

There’s been a lot of talk on the Twitter today regarding the storm of angry comments about last night’s episode of Chuck, in particular what some fans are viewing as a betrayal of the relationship between Chuck and Sarah (the comments on Alan Sepinwall’s post are the most telling).

Now, I have two immediate impulses in response to these comments:

  1. Write a lengthy treatise on the inherent positivity found in “shipping” a particular couple, arguing that the practice turns ugly when it shifts from celebration of a couple’s promise to anger over that couple remaining apart.
  2. Slap these people upside the head.

Since I don’t quite have time for the former, and technology has not advanced far enough for me to dole out the latter electronically, I’ll settle for an amalgamation of the two: let’s look at the three reasons why these fans are being entirely irrational, both in terms of general shipping logic and in terms of the content of the actual storyline.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Mask”

“Chuck vs. the Mask”

February 8th, 2010

I was pretty down on “Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler,” and I was in the minority on that one: many called it one of the best episodes of the season, and I’ll admit that I just don’t see it. I had a day to sit on the episode, which meant that my concerns festered overnight, but I do think that it failed to really capture the show at its strongest, losing a lot of its momentum by keeping Chuck and Hannah apart, and by sidelining Shaw in an effort to keep things moving. The Manoosh story was solid, but it seemed like it wasn’t saying anything new, and the story seemed to be actively delaying the inevitable (with Hannah) rather than integrating her into the stand-alone story.

And based on some early responses, I might be alone yet again in much preferring “Chuck vs. the Mask” to last week’s episode. While it wades into dangerous waters with its engagement with romantic entanglements, it uses that drama to its advantage, and crafts a story that sells some pretty important transition points as the show heads into an Olympics hiatus. The episode is a bit insulated, and it resolves one of its potential long term story threads a bit too quickly, but it’s all extremely well executed, and continues a string of good episodes that gives me plenty of creative faith in the show heading into the post-Olympics episodes.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler”

“Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler”

February 1st, 2010

We like to talk a lot these days about shows in which the creators take control of their own destiny: Lost, for example, decided it was going to end the show at a certain point, and it gave them a clear goal to work towards, leading to some great dramatic television. It’s one thing to laud a show for making the right creative decisions in the moment, writing good plots and the like, but it’s another when they make decisions that affect the show as a whole in a way that helps steer the ship as they sail onwards.

“Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler,” while a somewhat weak episode in many ways, signals the start of the period where Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz are making a move to take control of their destiny. While the story of Chuck stepping further into the world of being a spy, in the process reflecting back on his own experience as an asset in his earliest days with the agency, is a bit on-the-nose thematically speaking, the episode lays the groundwork for the show’s biggest secret to be revealed.

Whether they actually go through with it is a completely different question, but the setup is under way, and it raises some questions of how the show plans on ending its third season, and whether the show will have the narrative drive to move onto a fourth.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. First Class”

“Chuck vs. First Class”

January 25th, 2009

One of the things that Chuck has always been good at is effectively telling the same stories without actually, you know, telling the same stories.

The show has always been about a hapless spy who oscillates between, to quote Daniel Shaw, “Bond and a Jerry Lewis Movie,” and whether or not Chuck is capable of handling himself has always been a point of tension. And yet after slightly more than two seasons, I still enjoy that dynamic, and feel as if the show has maintained the charm of Chuck’s incompetence without feeling as if he has made no progress. While Chuck has grown progressively more competent with time, including with his recent developments made possibly via the Intersect 2.0, his response has more or less been the same, and it’s allowed the character to grow without fundamentally changing.

So when “Chuck vs. First Class” starts with Shaw announcing that Chuck would be going on his first solo mission, I had to wonder whether the show was interested in upending the balance of these efforts, and whether Chuck’s success (since we knew he’d be successful) would lead to a newfound self-confidence or even cockiness.

However, the episode manages to offer a series of events that are absolutely familiar and yet which surround emotions and responses that reflect a growing emotional complexity in Chuck that shows maturity without taking away what makes the show work so well.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. Operation Awesome”

“Chuck vs. Operation Awesome”

January 18th, 2010

Chuck, like any person with a secret identity or someone who lives a double life, is constantly forced to balance his friends and family from his normal life with his work for the CIA. And early in the show’s third season, the show has made this point especially clear with the integration of his brother-in-law Devon into the show’s espionage, which really highlighted how much more effective Chuck is because of the fact that he has a personal connection with particular missions. When he’s saving himself he overthinks and gets flustered, but when he’s saving someone he loves he is focused and capable of accessing the intersect and saving the day.

“Chuck vs. Operation Awesome” is positioned as the second part of last week’s investigation of these types of questions, and while there’s some leaps taken by the show’s writing staff in terms of getting the action rolling, the episode confirms how important those themes are going to be for the remainder of the season. Showing a tight narrative drive inspired, one presumes, by the initial short episode order (which was extended from 13 to 19 after these episodes were already finished and the season had been plotted out), the show intelligently positions a new character as a mediation on the same themes that matter most to its regular characters, and uses an exciting episode to introduce him into the fold.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Angel of Death”

“Chuck vs. the Angel of Death”

January 11th, 2010

The unique two-night, three episode premiere has been a ratings success: the two hours last night scored the show’s best non-3D ratings since Season One, and while tonight will see a drop against intense competition from House, The Bachelor and How I Met Your Mother the show is still off to a good start.

However, creatively, the schedule is both blessing and curse: it allows the show to present a diverse set of circumstances rather than trying to start the show on a single episode which fails to capture the show’s wide-ranging quality, but it also means that certain thematic elements feel as if they’re being beaten into our skulls. “Chuck vs. the Angel of Death” is a spotlight episode for Ryan McPartlin and Sarah Lancaster, but it also reminds us that Sarah and Chuck’s “Will they, won’t they” relationship isn’t going away.

In the short term, the latter point may seem problematic, but the constant onstant reminders of Chuck and Sarah’s relationship would be more annoying spread out over several weeks, and right now the show isn’t being overrun by them: instead, the show is using it as a subtle complication of their working relationship, which takes a fun and adventurous story finally living up to Captain Awesome’s partial knowledge of Chuck’s vocation and having some fun with Casey (and Adam Baldwin’s history of revolution-inspired nicknames) in the process.

And so long as “fun” outweighs Chuck and Sarah’s relationship at the end of the day, the show is in great shape going forward.

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Season Premiere: Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Pink Slip”/”Chuck vs. the Three Words”

“Chuck vs. the Pink Slip”/”Chuck vs. the Three Words”

January 10th, 2010

“Trust me, Chuck – it’s all going to work out fine.”

The title of every episode of Chuck implies a conflict. It tells us that Chuck is in a constant state of opposition, and that this show is defined by the adversarial life Chuck lives, trapped between the job the supercomputer in his head forces him to do and the life he would be leading if it were not for that supercomputer. Much of the show’s best material, both comic and dramatic, comes when world collide, when the Castle invades the Buy More and when Ellie and Awesome become acquainted with Sarah and Casey.

And yet, so much of what makes the show work from a creative standpoint is that these elements aren’t in conflict at all. Although it may be tough for Chuck to reconcile these elements, keeping secrets from the people he loves most, the show has always been at its best when these worlds seamlessly become one and the show reflects the beautiful concert of spy and nerd, of friend and friendly foe (Casey), of real family and work family. And what holds it all together is that these are characters who have relationships, who relate to one another in ways that feel funny when they need to be funny, meaningful when they need to be meaningful, and difficult when they need to be difficult. This is a show that wouldn’t work were it not for these characters feeling part of the same world: a world with conflict, yes, but a world which never feels defined by that conflict, episode titles aside.

I say all of this both to celebrate the return of Chuck, and to recognize that the season’s key theme seems to be the characters themselves coming to term with the role that emotional connection plays in this universe. While some feared the show’s game-changing twist would fundamentally change the series’ DNA, it has instead done quite the opposite: the series’ DNA has stayed quite the same, and what’s changed is how aware the characters are of the ties that bind them together which go beyond job descriptions. In “Chuck vs. the Pink Slip” and “Chuck vs. the Three Words,” we discover that for Chuck to tap into all of the knowledge he has available, and for Sarah to discover what she wants to do with her life, all they need to do is realize that the very thing that they believe to be a source of conflict between them may be the one thing which solves their problems.

Which perhaps, in the process, solves the show’s biggest problem, at least for now, and gets Season 3 off to a rollicking start.

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Stop Reading this Headline and Make Plans to Watch Chuck Season 3 Instead

Chuck Season Three Preview

January 10th, 2010

Chuck is awesome.

Its third season premieres tonight.

You should watch it.

…oh, that’s not enough detail?

Ask Alan. Or Todd. Or Dan. Or James.

They already saw it.

I didn’t.

So what am I going to do?

I’m going to WATCH IT.

9pm. NBC (CityTV in Canada). Tonight. Two hours.

Then again tomorrow at 8pm (although not on CityTV).

Do you know what it’s going to be?

That’s right – awesome.

[I’ll be back later tonight with my full review of the two-hour premiere – Myles]

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FOE4 Musings: Chuck vs. Fan Management vs. Fan Facilitation

Chuck vs. Fan Management vs. Fan Facilitation

November 20th, 2009

Currently ongoing at MIT, the Futures of Entertainment 4 Conference is a gathering of academics, industry leaders, and interested parties for a discussion of how “the creation of transmedia storyworlds, understanding how to appeal to migratory audiences, and the production of digital extensions for traditional materials are becoming the bread and butter of working in the media.” And while I’m not at the conference myself, through the joys of the #FoE4 Hashtag on Twitter and some extensive liveblogging it’s as if I am, which is a wonderful feeling for an academic who is isolated from these types of major conferences by geography and funding both.

However, as regular readers of Cultural Learnings know, I rarely engage in wholly academic discussions in this setting, and in terms of this conference I’m particularly interested in the convergence between the discussions being held at the conference and my own experience looking at both television and the culture that surrounds it. In particular, this morning’s panel (moderated by friend of the blog Jason Mittell) on transmedia storytelling from the perspective of the producers (both in terms of third party companies who work on tie-in websites, etc., and those who are in charge of organizing those efforts) raised an important question that perhaps Henry Jenkins put best in a tweet:

There’s obviously an ideological difference between the two terms, one designed to control and the other designed to empower, and in an example like NBC’s Chuck (which, as announced yesterday, is returning in January) we can use these terms to describe the challenge facing the show’s relaunch.. The successful fan campaign which “saved” the show and earned it a third season was facilitated indirectly, as fans created their own transmedia experience by taking product placement and turning it into their own mini-marketing campaign.

And, as a result, NBC is in a position where Fan Facilitation and Fan Management start to blur, as the existence of an existing fan base more often inspires networks to attempt to control and manipulate that group rather than understanding the intelligence implied in their earlier behaviour and using that to their advantage, risking turning them away and squandering the potential they offer.

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