Before there was Limitless, the Bradly Cooper vehicle about a brain boosting drug, there was Chuck. The hero trope has been around since before the Greeks spoke of Olympus, someone special, better, and with the will to fight to make the world a better place. In some of the earliest stories, this came in the form of overwhelming strength, as in a Samson or Hercules, or extreme prowess, as in the Samurai mythos or even Robin Hood. As we have entered more of an information age, intelligence, both intellectual and emotional, have come to the forefront when it comes to superpowers. Perhaps Neo of The Matrix films could be considered in this sense, having the intelligence and perception to see through the veil of “reality” and tap into the source code underneath. I’ve already mentioned the Limitless franchise (the TV show was pretty damn good) and another obvious entry into this category is the Scarlett Johansson movie, Lucy. But, in 2007, an unassuming little action/comedy came along called, Chuck.
Since this was never the most popular of shows, I’m going to assume that the majority of viewers haven’t seen this one, so here it goes. The titular character, Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi of Shazam and voice acting for several of the Tangled films), is a directionless 20 something, working as an IT guy for a big box electronics store. The show presents Chuck’s “best friend” as Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez of Invasion and Without a Trace), a fellow employee at the unimaginatively named Buy More store, but, honestly, I see little in their relationship that I would call friendship. I’ll talk more about this, but let’s table it for now while I go on with the rest of the show. Chuck lives with his sister, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster of Saved by the Bell: New Class and Everwood), and her fiance, Devon, AKA “Captain Awesome” (Ryan McPartlin of Sequestered and L.A.’s Finest), both of them doctors.
The premise of the show begins when a former classmate of Chuck’s, Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer of Doom Patrol and White Collar), a CIA agent, emails something called the Intersect to Chuck. Upon opening the email, Intersect, the merged database of both the CIA and NSA, downloads itself into Chuck’s brain. Bryce then destroys the computer that the Intersect had been in, making Chuck the only known repository of the secrets of two of America’s biggest intelligence agencies. Unfortunately, Agent Larkin dies in the process. Given the resources of the NSA and CIA, they have little trouble tracking down Chuck and send two agents to deal with him. The CIA sends the obligatory (not that the CIA is obligated to send a hot, female agent, but that a show of this nature is obliged to have a hot, female lead) hot, female lead, Agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski of Dexter and A Handmaid’s Tale), while the NSA sends the farcically intimidating , Major John Casey (Adam Baldwin of Firefly and The Last Ship). These two are allies in that they both must protect the asset that Chuck has become, but adversaries in that they are from two separate entities that each have a vested interest in Chuck.
So, what sort of asset is Chuck? Not much, at first, him being portrayed early on as the bumbling everyman that has had greatness thrust upon him. He’s mainly a repository for knowledge. He’ll be in a situation, then something will trigger these “flashes”, times when the Intersect is activated by some clue in the environment and a quick cut montage of images will be played to indicate these classified details that enter his mind. This Intersect will allow Chuck to defuse bombs, recognize international terrorists, etc. Other than this ability, he is a liability in the field, flanked by the more experienced agents Walker and Casey, Chuck displays no coolness under pressure, no fighting prowess, no more abilities than hiding under a table and somehow not being hit by the swarms of bullets flying around him. This will gradually change over the course of the series, when the Intersect seems to be able to imbue him with an almost inhuman ability at spy craft. Depending on the situation, viewers will see Chuck become a master martial artist, an expert marksman, he’ll even get the ability to play musical instruments and speak a foreign language. The whole thing can get somewhat deus ex machina at times, but given that the show never really takes itself that seriously, it’s not that disruptive to the narrative.
The high point of the show for me is the romance that develops between Chuck and Sarah. It’s obvious from the start, and no different than what a hundred other shows like it have done, but Strahovski does such a great job with Sarah’s character, it just feels natural. And, yes, I’m giving her most of the credit. Levi is great, but his investment in the Sarah/Chuck flirtation seemed minimal. The low point of the show is Chuck’s “best friend” Morgan. This character is about as appealing as a cold sore. I’m not sure what the producers envisioned for this character, but over the course of the show, we see him constantly perv on Chuck’s sister, sneak into Chuck’s room without anyone’s knowledge or permission, shirk work duties that would help Chuck, blow Chuck’s mission on several occasions and just generally be an annoyance to everyone. Possibly this was meant to be comic relief, but the guy seems like absolute slime to me. Now that I’m thinking about it, there’s a number of elements about the show that bother me. Why were Chuck and his sister (along with her fiancé) living together. Sure it’s Burbank and it’s expensive, but they were both doctors. Even if they were residents, together they easily could have afforded their own place. Did they just pity Chuck? Also, having the intelligence agents work nonsensical cover jobs to keep an eye on Chuck was ridiculous. Again, I feel this was to add one more comedic element to the show, but, damn, did it get old quick.
So, while I did enjoy the show, it was by no means perfect. And I’m certainly not alone in that, given that the show teetered on the renewal roster for almost its entire run. As early as season 2, NBC considered canceling Chuck, due to it’s consistently low ratings, but fans launched a “Save Chuck” campaign to bring a season three into existence. There was the standard letter writing and push for renewal on social media, but then they got creative by teaming up with Subway. Yes, the restaurant chain; please note that this was all before the Jared Fogle arrest, which occurred in 2015. As Chuck’s run continued, constantly plagued with the threat of cancellation, fans would team up with a number of unlikely organizations to save their beloved show, such as the American Heart Association. It ran for 5 seasons, which isn’t bad, as shows go. And Agent Bartowski has not been forgotten. There are still Chuck fan websites out there and even Chuck themed fan art. Wildstorm publishing, affiliated with DC Comics, I believe, put out a Chuck comic book, and the cast of Chuck has definitely been doing the Comicon circuit. Their fan base has been so enduring that a Kickstarter for a Chuck movie started up earlier this year. I think these fans know that the world needs a show like Chuck. Sure there’s action, comedy and romance, but it’s all done with such an element of wholesomeness, of innocence, that’s it’s an oasis of entertainment protected from the maelstrom of drama, spite and violence that plagues most of television these days. After I’m done watching the endless parade of bipartisan bickering, the constant reminders of how we are destroying the Earth and the ever looming threat of war, I want a bit of fun escapism. After a year like this one, we need Chuck more than ever.