“Chuck vs. the Final Exam”
March 22nd, 2010
At its best, Chuck is a show where the stakes of a traditional spy show feel extraordinarily real: the whole point of the premise is that the things that happen in the show’s universe are dangerous and larger than life, but our protagonist is a regular guy who has a computer in his head that makes him a far more important asset than he was born to be. The show’s second season, where it reached the peak of its creative success, captured Chuck Bartowski coming to terms with the idea that being a spy might be what he was meant to be, and that there was the potential for the world of espionage to become “real” in a way he had never imagined.
But something went wrong at the start of the third season, to the point where I would argue that the show has diverged from the “real” not only in terms of believability (which isn’t new, considering the suspension of disbelief necessary in many of the spy stories) but also in terms of character. And while some would point to the Intersect 2.0 as a dehumanizing factor or the forced separation of Chuck and Sarah against the wishes of die-hard fans as reasons that the show is becoming less grounded, I would argue that it is something more substantial than that.
“Chuck vs. the Final Exam” is supposed to feel as if the stakes are higher than ever, even arguing that if Chuck fails this series of tests he will return to his normal life. However, it doesn’t feel like the stakes are higher than ever – things felt much more real, much more life-changing, when Chuck was reconciling family and country, when he was fighting for something beyond getting to be a “real spy.” The problem with this episode, and much of the third season, is that the struggle between who Chuck is and who Chuck is on the path to becoming has been said instead of shown, implied rather than demonstrated. And so rather than the show confidently or subtly introducing this tension, the show has thrown out the “real” Chuck and moved quickly and efficiently towards something that, while interesting, just isn’t as engaging.
It’s a move that would be necessary to cram this story into thirteen episodes, which may well be the root of my frustration with the show’s current trajectory.
November 5th, 2009
I think that 30 Rock would be far funnier if it wasn’t so annoying.
This likely seems like a derogatory statement, but it’s really not: I thought “Audition Day” was the most enjoyable episode of the season yet, but yet I wouldn’t necessarily say it was that great, which reflects on both the quality of the season so far and the reality of this type of episode. It’s effectively a grab bag of comedy, as by the end of the episode you have plenty of jokes that you remember fondly, and callbacks to previous episodes that make you reminisce, and even some new jokes that really connect. However, while you’re happy with what you’ve received in those arenas, there’s also a bunch of other crap that didn’t connect comically, and that served only to promote business networking tools.
When there’s no real central premise to hold an episode like this one together, you’re left feeling like something was missing even as you gush over the genius of Brian Williams, which is pretty much where I stand with 30 Rock right now. I laughed, I commented on its cleverness, and yet still in the end I can’t help but be annoyed with elements of the episode that didn’t quite work. It’s particularly frustrating in that I actually think “Audition Day” was a pretty solid and funny episode, but there’s just something about the show that’s taking a shotgun approach to comedy that I’m just not responding well to.
At least we’ll always have Moonvest.
Beware, Beware the Hiatus ‘Til March
Chuck Returns…in 2010
When Chuck was officially renewed a few days ago, I didn’t end up writing a piece about it: it wasn’t that the show wasn’t deserving of praise, or that I wasn’t excited by the announcement, but unlike the Dollhouse renewal it felt like a foregone conclusion, with every secret source and major news outlet reporting that it was about dotting the Is and crossing the Ts more than any serious finagling on behalf of the parties involved.
And sure enough, the New York Times today officially confirms that Chuck has been renewed by NBC, with the various catches reporter earlier in the week: a smaller budget, a shortened 13-episode order, and in a new twist the fact that one of the characters will actually work for Subway, a nod to the “eat at Subway” campaign that helped to save the show. However, the real twist is where the show is being positioned: Chuck will return in March, in its old timeslot of Mondays at 8pm, nearly eleven months after its second season finale, once the 2010 Vancouver olympics are done and over with.
It’s a decision that makes sense on some level, and certainly is better than getting no new episodes at all, but it also gives NBC a built-in excuse to not go any further with the series, even in its newly ad-supported form. But, like its titular hero, Chuck isn’t going to be a show to die easily, and even with the odds being stacked against it it’s hard not to celebrate an unlikely, but well deserved, Season Three.
Save Chuck: A Movement with a Message
April 25th, 2009
As some of you may know, I found myself caught up in the whirlwind that was the Save Jericho campaign, where fans went nuts and sent nuts, bringing their canceled show back from the dead. Since that show’s success, there have been numerous campaigns to save other shows, and to be honest I haven’t really got behind any of them. I got behind Jericho because it was a true grassroots movement, an example of the power of the internet, of fans, and of expanding the definition of success from traditional ratings measurements; to be honest, the show never really captured me, but the fact that it captured others so strongly was something worth fighting for.
But I can honestly say that this is the first time that I am entering, albeit late thanks to my vacation, a fan campaign primarily because I love the show involved. Chuck was an engaging series last year, but this year it has elevated itself to an entirely new level: this is not the most intelligent show on television, or the funniest, or the most dramatic, but its ability to combine all of these elements into a single package has created a series that myself and hopefully many, many others view as worthy of our time and energy. Saving Chuck is not just some sort of experiment, but something that is necessary for my faith in NBC as a network, and network television as a medium for high-calibre entertainment, to remain intact.
What I want to discuss is how the campaign is operating, and how there are three keys to its success that have given it a real chance of succeeding: I write this, two days before the show’s season finale, without the intention of placing a (Series?) in that post title, or even considering that possibility, and I honestly feel as if this goes beyond wishful thinking. Based on every piece of evidence before us, the campaign to Save Chuck has all of the momentum to overcome the obstacles facing it and send a message to NBC and all other networks that we’re not ready to let a great show go so easily.