Monday, September 24, 2007

Fall '07 TV Watch: Chuck

This moving picture box fad has really taken off, with everybody and their mother putting up some TV criticism blog, and the Television Without Pity website expanding dramatically. TWoP has also suffered a corresponding dramatic fall in quality — like if I wanted to know what happened on last week's "Weeds" without any snarky commentary, I'd just watch "Weeds." Message to Sars and Wing Chun: I know you still think you're coasting on the fact that you watched "Dawson's Creek," only you were doing it ironically, but get over yourselves already. If you can't find anything to make fun of in "Weeds," what are you going to do with actual comedies? The only funny parts of the recaps for "The Office" are the jokes copied verbatim from "The Office."

Sadly, they'll have to do. I don't have the time to recap every episode of every show on television because not enough of you are clicking on my affiliate marketing links (more precisely, none of you) so I have to do a non-television related job.

I don't think I've been watching that much NBC over the summer, so I'm not sure why I feel like Chuck has bludgeoned into submission with the most annoying ads this side of HeadOn. I'm a little surprised to say that I like Chuck — not the show Chuck, just the protagonist Chuck. Pretty impressive comic acting job by Zachary Levi then; even Masi Oka took more than a few episodes to grow on me last season. (That sentence doesn't sound right.) Look, let's just say that creator Josh Schwartz, who's also behind The O.C. and this season's eye-candy teen drama Gossip Girl, understands nerds about as well as he understands that public defenders, even in Orange County, don't earn nearly enough to live among California's high society, and also that they generally don't adopt their troubled teen clients. I'm just saying.

Despite Schwartz's best efforts to cram every single geek, nerd, dork, and doofus stereotype from the mid-eighties into Chuck, Levi tends (okay, sometimes tends) to transcend the material and also transcend his irritating, horny, and naturally greasy best friend Morgan, played by Joshua Gomez with significantly less subtlety. Gomez is more or less Fogell from Superbad, but what's funny for a high school kid with a litany of hidden insecurities is incredibly irritating when it's played for laughs by a grown-up with facial hair and zero self-awareness. I'd seriously rather watch the HeadOn commercial than listen to Gomez forcing a line. Hint: if you're watching the pilot, you can mute the TV whenever he's in a scene and you won't miss anything.

The rest of the cast does the sort of perfunctory job you expect from people playing the straight man in a spy-comedy series. Yvonne Strzechowski is extremely watchable and gratuitously in her underwear for a couple of scenes; Adam Baldwin continues to remind me of an animatronic in the Hall of Presidents. Whatever. Levi absolutely owns the show; it thrives when Chuck knows that he's good at being a nerd, like the scenes when he's talking with Sarah on their date or the brief scene when he's running through the hotel fountain instead of around it, and it dies a painful sputtering death when he gets into dense Urkel territory.

As you know from the commercials, Chuck accidentally downloads a bunch of government secrets... INTO HIS BRAIN!!!! Huh? In a pilot that's half exposition, no one's even going to take a stab at explaining that one. Naturally, evil government types try to capture and/or help him, and I would just like to say about the U.S. government. First, please invest in a damn firewall, so our nuclear secrets don't accidentally get sent to some kid browsing the net for porn? And second, is being an anonymous secret agent in an anonymous suit and tie a civil service job or something? Every show, there's always just like one person in the CIA who's competent at their job and a bunch of nincompoops waiting to get their asses kicked. As a matter of national security, we need a training course for new recruits, because one day, our agent who knows what the hell they're doing is going to come down with the flu, and the next thing you know, we're all speaking Russian and our nation's capital is Putingrad.

I bet you're wondering how this plot can become even more absurd. Well, our agents Blonde Chick No Longer in Her Underwear and Poor Man's Duane "The Rock" Johnson (...or is The Rock the poor man's Adam Baldwin? I don't know.) have to track down Chuck because.... I know what you're thinking. They need to track him down because he has all these secrets in his head and they need to make sure he doesn't share them with, like, Iran. Cause that makes sense, right? Well, that's not exactly the reason — you see, he has the only copy of all these secrets in his head. That's right, our government was too lazy to go to Best Buy and purchase a memory stick so they could back up only our most important national secrets. What if someone spilled coffee on the Ultra-Secret Computer, or the hard disk crashed after one too many games of Minesweeper? God, you should always have a backup! But now, if our government wants to know where an Serbian evildoer planted a bomb, they need to ask Chuck.

Chuck becomes an unlikely spy and has to go into all these dangerous situations that he's comically unprepared for. It's not particularly clear why, since he's not all that useful, aside from being a human reference desk, and if Blonde Chick and Poor Man's The Rock need to know something, well... it's not like he doesn't have a phone or anything. But then we wouldn't have a show; instead we'd have a somewhat amusing misfit nerd who I'd actually want to watch.

I'll keep up with Chuck, although I said that when Jake 2.0 came out and I gave up on that after two episodes. That's a pretty bad omen for Chuck, since they're exactly the same show. And The Lone Gunmen before that. What I'd really like to see is Chuck without the supporting cast and the show going into full-on quirky mode. The pilot's directed by this guy McG, who also directed the first Charlie's Angels movie and therefore doesn't want anybody knowing his real name. He's an artistic coward, making both a half-assed action show and a half-assed comedy. Someone like Bryan Fuller or Joss Whedon could probably get the balance right and make the show fun to watch instead of a crapshoot between lame setpieces. The final verdict on Chuck is: if they changed everything about the show, it would be good.


crisco said...

i loved this! we don't know each other, but your comments (even if i don't agree) are backed up by such reason...

very nice