The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Chuck: An Everyman Hero for Generation Y

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

ImageLast year, when NBC’s series Chuck was in danger of cancellation, I wondered: why isn’t everyone watching this show?  After all, it’s the kind of show that has something for everyone: action (Chuck is a reluctant spy who often ends up in ass-kicking battles), science fiction (his entry into the spy world occurred when he inadvertently had a super-secret government computer, called the Intersect, downloaded into his brain), romance (Chuck has a rampant—and not entirely unrequited—crush on his CIA handler, Sarah), and most of all, humor.  This is a show that spoofs 50 years of the spy genre, does so with wit and intelligence, and still manages to give you a hero you can root for.

Yet for the entirety of its run, Chuck has been on the verge of cancellation.  Only an eleventh-hour agreement for Subway to become the major sponsor of the show saved it last May.  Yet that leaves the show in an awkward position: a veteran show that has yet to find a wide audience, has been off the air for almost nine months, and is still stuck in the death match that is the Monday 8 p.m. timeslot.  Plus, it’s on NBC, which—I think we can all admit—has made some pretty questionable programming decisions of late.

So this is my goal:  convince everyone I know to watch Chuck.  Oh, I know I won’t succeed in most cases.  But if I can convince even a few people to watch and revel in the awesomeness of this show, I will have made the world a happier place.

All right—now that I’ve outlined my reasons for this article, you might be wondering: why should you watch Chuck?

Chuck as the Gen-Y Everyman, Part 1: When the show began, Chuck Bartowski was this incredibly intelligent guy who was working at a Buy More (think Best Buy).  Years earlier, he had been kicked out of college after being accused of cheating, and his life had never recovered from this setback.  He lived with his sister and her fiancé.  His best friend, Morgan, was the Vinnie to his disillusioned Doogie: annoying but endearing, and inclined to sneak into Chuck’s house at all hours of the night.  Even with intelligence to spare, Chuck was going nowhere fast.  Despite the encouragement of his sister (who is a doctor, natch), he had no idea what to do with his life, how to get out of the rut he had dug himself into.

Chuck’s dilemma is something a lot of twenty-somethings go through; hell, who hasn’t felt like that at some point in their twenties?  (I know I have!)  When Chuck is recruited by the government, he initially looks at this as a curse, an impediment to his “normal” life.  But as he settles into the role of spy, he begins to see that—in a very roundabout, unexpected way—he has found his path.  That’s why last season’s climax—when Chuck has the opportunity to leave the spy world behind, and he chooses instead to download the new, improved Intersect into his head—is so profound.  For the first time in the series, Chuck chose his fate with his eyes open.  And that gives hope to all the rest of us aimless twenty-somethings who haven’t quite found our way yet.

ImageChuck as the Gen-Y Everyman, Part 2: I think one of the reasons I like Chuck so much is because I relate to the title character so strongly.  And I think why I relate to the title character so strongly is because he is like everyone I’ve ever known.  He likes comic books and Star Wars.  He has a Tron poster on his wall.  His best friend bought a Delorean (and how cool is that?).  In short, Chuck is a geek—just like me.

Yes, Chuck is a geek to the core.  But it’s his geeky nature that makes him so relatable.  Chuck’s entry into the spy world is the ultimate wish fulfillment: a guy who loves superheroes becoming one himself.

Let’s just face it, we’ve all got our geeky qualities.  My friends might look at me a little strangely when I sing along to any 80s song that comes on the radio or make random references to movies that came out 30 years before I was born, they understand that I’m just embracing my inner geek.  And why shouldn’t I?  Chuck is a show for the geek in all of us.  (Frequent geek references and inclusions also make their way into the show.  My favorite was the casting of former Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula as Chuck’s absentee father.  When Chuck’s sister confronts him about his disappearance, unleashing years’ worth of vitriol, Mr. Bartowski has only two words, “Oh boy.”  HA!)  We can root for Chuck because Chuck is one of us.

Chuck as Comfort-Food Television: There is a mythology to Chuck.  Chuck’s friend Bryce got him kicked out of college, but it was only because Bryce had already been recruited into the government and was trying to protect Chuck from the same fate.  Chuck’s ex-girlfriend, Jill, told Chuck when she broke up with him that she had slept with Bryce, but it turned out that it wasn’t true, and that she had actually been recruited by Fulcrum—rogue spies who are trying to create their own Intersect.   And then there’s Chuck’s father: he designed the Intersect, and then he went into hiding.  Chuck tracked him down, and then Fulcrum captured him, and he was forced to design another, stronger Intersect—which Chuck later downloaded into his own brain.  Or something like that.

But how much do these nuances really matter when you’re watching the show?  Not much, in actuality.  Chuck is not the kind of show you have to watch and re-watch obsessively, a la Lost.  Instead, Chuck is the television equivalent of comfort food: simple stuff that goes down easily.  That’s not to say Chuck is an unintelligent show; on the contrary, much of the humor derives from the geeky and the downright obscure (see my comment about Scott Bakula’s guest appearance above).   Even if you don’t understand everything that’s going on, there’s still a lot to enjoy here.  So you have a choice: you can watch the show fanatically and follow its evolution and mythology (a very geeky thing to do—how true to the spirit of Chuck!), or you can watch it on a more surface level and enjoy the fun characters, the absurd situations, and the quirky humor.

ImageChuck as Eye Candy: I’ll admit it: I have a little bit of a crush on Zachary Levi (a.k.a. Chuck).  He’s got that cute, aww shucks-demeanor down to an art form.  He’s got these great eyes that sparkle with intelligence and sensitivity.  And I seriously just want to run my fingers through his hair.  As Chuck’s confidence in himself and his abilities have grown, so has his attractiveness.  The Chuck we left behind last May was one hell of a female fantasy: a nice guy with the self-assurance not to be pushed around by anyone.

And if the strong, silent type is more your thing, there’s Adam Baldwin as John Casey, one of Chuck’s handlers.  Casey is the ultimate super-spy, taciturn and deadly, yet with flashes of compassion that betray his humanity.  His persona contrasts fantastically with Chuck’s more affable demeanor, and the interplay between them creates some of the best comedy in the series.  Not to mention that it’s always great watching Casey in his cover job: sales associate at Buy More.

But I think the real eye candy of the series is Yvonne Strahovski’s Sarah Walker, Chuck’s other handler.  She’s drop-dead gorgeous, with long legs, blond hair, and a body that Marilyn Monroe would have envied.  Yet she’s also quick-witted, compassionate, and occasionally sweet—so much so that even us jealous females can’t hate her (well, not too much).  And in contrast with the icy bombshell archetype that she often plays into, she’s just as into Chuck as he is into her—though she’s more reluctant to admit it.  And seriously, how can you hold those femme fatale looks against a girl who’s into a guy like Chuck?  How do you not have a crush on her?  If I ever was inclined in that direction, I certainly would.

Chuck as Something-For-Everyone: For my money, Chuck is one of the most versatile shows on television right now.  It’s the kind of show you could watch with your grandmother without worrying that it would be too violent or profane.  It’s the kind of show a couple could watch together and both enjoy.  It’s the kind of show parents can watch with their kids—though the parents and kids might laugh in different places.  It’s the kind of show you can watch with a bunch of friends, shaking the walls with riotous laughter.  It’s the kind of show you can watch by yourself on a cold weekend when you would rather stay in bed than go outside.

So why are you still sitting there?  Go watch Chuck, and escape into the world of the reluctant super spy.