Chuck Season 1. Review by Tom McMeekin

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Chuck is like an ultra-modern Get Smart or the Pink Panther series (both of which have also received frequent updates with varying success). It's an action-comedy-spoof about spies. The show is about computer tech Chuck Bartowski, who is forced into the world of espionage when the nation's secrets are downloaded into his head.

The series stars Zachary Levi as the title character, Adam Baldwin (of Firefly, no relation to the famous brothers) as John Casey, and Yvonne Strahovski as Sarah Walker. This team of Chuck and his handlers has enormous chemistry. The interplay between them, and the other spies they encounter, is always entertaining. The show also reminds me of Alias, in the sense you don't really know which characters are good and which are evil for certain. They seem to change their allegiances every time they turn around, and they never truly trust each other.

Sarah Lancaster (Everwood and What About Brian) plays Chuck's sister Ellie. At first I felt she was wasted on this show since it's necessary to the plot that she often remains on the periphery. Her character's boyfriend, nicknamed Captain Awesome, is funny as the butt of jokes but also took a while to show much depth. However, they are used more creatively as the season progresses.

I'm not always a fan of the character Morgan (Joshua Gomez, Invasion), either. He and some of the other Buy More employees on the show are sometimes annoying or unlikable (with the exception of the golden performance from Julia Ling as Anna), and the subplots dealing with intra-store politics seem forced and silly. Yes, it's humorous that the spies need to maintain day jobs and real lives as a cover, but if the characters on the sidelines are never going to be let in on the secret then they will constantly seem oblivious. Eventually they need to start wondering where the spies run off to in the middle of the work day, and why so many strange things happen, or they're just going to seem like idiots. Thus, the other spies and the guest stars who are only on the show for one or two episodes fare better.

It's a large "buy" the audience must make to believe Chuck becomes a living computer after simply seeing images flash across a screen. I expected some explanation in the pilot but none came. However, the rest of the plot is actually very easy to digest and follows the logic of the spy genre well. In retrospect, it may be better that the show chooses to keep some of this mystery.

Even later in the series, when they revisit the story of how Chuck was kicked out of Stanford and how the computer's files were downloaded into his brain (both thanks to his former friend Bryce), just enough of the secret is told to keep the story interesting. This could have been a jump-the-shark moment for the series, but instead it pulls it off wonderfully.

The show only grazes the alternative reality genre itself, since most of the technology shown probably does exist, just not in the hands of the average consumer, but its appeal to fans lies in its references to geekdom. Chuck and Morgan's Halloween costume is a sandworm from Dune, and a master remote control for the store's TVs becomes an homage to The Lord of the Rings' "one ring to rule them all" line.

Chuck usually hits just the right mix of funny, thrilling, and sweet. If it can get its development of secondary characters to become as focused as its tone, it will be even better.

The show has been picked up by NBC for a second season in 2008-2009.


Tom McMeekin is a writer and artist from Pennsylvania and a recent graduate of Clarion University. His Web site is TomMcMeekin.com. For more from Tom, check out his ARWZ Blog