John Walker's Electronic House


by on Sep.30, 2008, under Television

Oh happy day! My favourite show of last year, Chuck, is back. And it remains glorious.

It also remains critically ignored. Not a single Emmy nomination last year, while utter shit like Two And A Half Men appeared all over. But then in a year when the smug Mad Men beat Dexter, Damages and House for Best Drama, nothing should be too surprising. Anyhow, bitterness aside, join me in recognising the happiest writing and funniest performances on TV.

Season two opens with the most wonderful gag. The premise of the show… it’s unlikely. So Chuck, dangling from a high window as a thug demands to know who he is, is in a predicament. Explaining that all the secrets of all the governments have been accidentally downloaded into his brain and now he can identify every enemy agent, access all top secret data, and so on. The guy doesn’t believe him – it’s too silly an idea. The show knows it. The show doesn’t care.

The programme has a large capacity for spinning off unlikely spy stories, Chuck spotting something, or someone, which triggers the Intersect in his head and, with the FBI and CIA agents assigned to look after him, they fight crime. Well, Chuck hides from it and trips up. But there was always the weight of knowing that as soon as a replacement Intersect was created, it would mean FBI agent John Casey (Adam Baldwin – Jane from Firefly) has to kill him. It’s this theme that begins season two, with Casey’s conflict over killing Chuck playing the episode’s serious tones.

Chuck spends his regular life working in a Buy More – a perfect clone of Best Buy – a store so well realised by the show that it becomes hard to remember they’re not real. And that’s endemic throughout. So many programmes that attempt to be contemporary are of course the most embarrassing. But Chuck appears to have been made by people who’ve been outside. Which is bizarrely refreshing. Buy More’s tech team is called the Nerd Herd, and is staffed by people you believe have ever used a computer. In fact, it’s staffed by gamers, who reference real games from this decade. The latest episode has a wonderful callback to Morgan’s (Chuck’s best friend, and colleague at Buy More) plans for winning at multiplayer Call Of Duty 4. (Schematics on huge rolls of paper). Season one consistently namechecked the right games, in the right context.

There were so many fantastic jokes in just the one episode, from Casey’s target practise (a visual joke that can be done no justice in text) to Morgan’s amazingly delivered lines when he counsels Chuck. Yvonne Strahovski is brilliant again as Agent Walker, delivering some really stunning fight sequences. And Zachary Levi, Chuck, once more creates a character who is real, warm, frightened and brave.

NBC are clearly behind the show, trusting Levi as an anchor for their recent preview shows for the new season, and bringing it back post-strike without any cast changes or formula meddling. While it may once more be critically ignored because it’s a 42 minute comedy and critics are inexplicably confounded by this model, hopefully it will sit comfortably enough in the ratings to secure a full run. There’s nothing else that deserves to as much.

7 Comments for this entry

  • mathew

    You don’t like Mad Men?

  • Seniath

    Ah, another show I need to add to the list of “TV I Need To Watch”. I managed to shorten it an awful lot this summer, catching up on House, Heroes, Dexter and BSG. Still plenty to go, mind.

  • dartt

    Excellent, something to fill in the space left in my week by the absence of The Middle Man.

  • Iain "DDude" Dawson

    perfectly said. Chuck is an awesome show, that does the all right things in all the right ways.

  • Steve W

    While I agree with the criticisms you made of Mad Men when it first aired (the show’s insistence on shouting, “OMG LOOK! It’s the olden days!”) I stuck with it and after a few episodes it really found its feet and (mostly) dispensed with that nonsense. I recommend giving it another chance if you have the time.

    I chose Reaper over Chuck last year (better pilot). Big mistake; I gave up after five episodes and couldn’t be bothered catching up with Chuck. Another mistake? Maybe, but it’s close to being Armanded in a household that already has an episode of something or another for every night of the week.

  • botherer

    I too sided with Reaper based on the pilots. Chuck stacked up in my unwatched pile. But Reaper went so quickly to shit that I gave up on episode 3, and finally caught up on Chuck. Seriously Steve, it’s worth putting in your A roster.

  • Juliet

    Thanks for recommending Chuck in an earlier post – it really is brilliant and I’m hugely looking forward to getting hold of the next series.

    I quite liked Reaper, but only because of the characters, who were quite endearing. The plots were not the strong point.