As I mentioned last time I wrote one of these pieces, I’ve been going through old series on Netflix, series I once saw and forgot or just wished to see again. Last time I spoke of Eureka and Warehouse13, two of the best series I have ever seen, in different genres and for different reasons. If you haven’t yet seen it, I readily recommend you do it. Eureka in particular is a work of art.
But as my time with Eureka drew to a close, I had to find another series to watch and my eye fell on another of my all-time favourites, this one a mix of science fiction and the Spy genre. You probably know which one I’m talking about but I’ll say the name: Chuck.
Chuck has an interesting premise. The eponymous character, Chuck Bartowski, receives an email from Bryce Larkin, the friend that got him expelled from Stanford University. When he opens the email, thousands of images flash before his eyes, imprinting the entire Intersect computer in his brain and making him the most valued asset in the American Intelligence community, as well as its best kept secret. To protect him—and use him in missions—the government assigns two agents, one NSA and the other CIA, John Casey and Sarah Walker respectively. Casey moves in close to his apartment and gets a job at the Buymore, where Chuck works in the Nerd Herd as head of tech-support, and Sarah works at the hotdog joint in front and introduces herself to Chuck’s family as his girlfriend.
The problem is, Chuck isn’t a spy nor does he want to be, at least not at first. He’s just a normal guy trying to live his somewhat depressing life. He hasn’t moved on since his expulsion from college, living with his sister and brother in law—aka Captain Awesome, because he’s simply awesome. But as he delves into the sexy business of spy-work and tries find the truth behind the Intersect and why Larkin sent it to him, he gets a feel for it and becomes just another member of the team.
There are many reasons to like Chuck, so I’ll probably go over them all.
Characters are fantastic. They all have distinct personalities, backstories, desires and fears and you see them all explored in the series at some point or another. Chuck is extremely likable and he acts as the bridge between the audience, the normal people, and the strangeness that goes on in his life. He wants more in life than working at the Buymore, but he wants it to be normal, without people trying to kill him and his family. He hates lying to his sister, but becomes very good at it with practice. His life turns around with the spy stuff but he never reaches Mary Sue levels, he’s never an idealised character. He has flaws, regrets and pains to ground him even in the face of some moments of glory. As a character points out, when referring to Chuck’s mission reports: “Sometimes he’s James Bond, and others, he’s a walking Jerry Lewis movie!”
Casey is an incredibly complex character, with a tragic background buried behind decades of badassery. He’s the guy who’s given it all for his country and missions, but missed out on family and friends and love. He’s not antisocial, nor is he oblivious to feelings and romance, but he refuses to show any emotion, keeping it all hidden behind a very thick wall of bad attitude and sarcasm. I you liked Adam Baldwin as Jayne in Firefly then you’ll love his portrayal of John Casey.
If you’ve played Mass Effect 2, you’ll recognise Yvonne Strahovski (Miranda) playing Sarah Walker. Even with all the secret organisations and strange people, Sarah’s still one of the most mysterious characters in the show. The series slowly doles out bits of her past, her fears, loss, and also how much of her emotions she bottles. Chuck manages to get her out of her shell, to make her feel safe around him enough to open up. It’s why their relationship always feels so real to me, because it builds slowly on trust and care.
Morgan Grimes is Chuck’s best friend, and usual partner in crime, and slowly, with effort and a bit of bad luck, he becomes a member of the spy team. And of all the characters, he perhaps shows the greatest growth, from a juvenile guy afraid of responsibilities and with no outlook to life, to the manager of the Buymore, a trusted member of the team and Casey’s close friend.
The Buymore is a collection of nutcases. Big Mike is big and hungry all the time. But he’s also caring and big bear of a father to all his employees, when he doesn’t have to put them in line.
Most of the laughs on the Buymore side come from Jeff and Lester. Jeff is out of his freaking mind, drugged up to the gills and creepy as hell. He’s a voyeur, a stalker and pretty much psychotic, but also strangely harmless. Lester on the other hand is a creep, a seriously messed up dude who enjoys other people’s misery. There is very little redeemable about these two characters but they’re not completely despicable, instead finding a balance between all the other crazies in the series.
The plot of the series almost completely revolves around the Intersect, the many people after it and the secrets it holds. There are secret organisation, splinter groups, dictators, Russian crimelords and so much more, but the intersect and his host are always at the centre. What is interesting is that it stays fresh, mostly because of the many layers of intrigue. By the time you realise what the criminals want with the Intersect or with Chuck or his family, you’re already near the end of the season. The writers keep things close to the vest, and the result is just fantastic.
This is just a fantastic series top to bottom, start to finish, and if you haven’t seen it, then maybe it’s time you do!