If you haven’t yet heard of a TV show called “Chuck,” do yourself a favour: get your hands on Seasons 1 and 2 and clear your schedule. There may have been more meaningful, better-written, or more insightful shows in the history of television, but I’m hard-pressed to find one that’s more fun to watch than “Chuck.”
The basic premise of the first season is that Chuck (Zachary Levi) is a nerd who lives with his sister (Sarah Lancaster) and still pines after the girl who dumped him in college so she could date his best friend, Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer). Chuck drops out of school and gets a job at the Nerd Herd stall in the local Buy More electronics store. Bryce’s life is only slightly more glamorous and exciting—he becomes a globe-trotting spy for the United States government. But soon Chuck’s life changes completely, as Bryce downloads the Intersect, a computer containing a database of all of the government’s super secret spy information, into his old friend’s brain. Two handlers are sent to make sure the Intersect doesn’t fall into the wrong hands: Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and John Casey (Adam Baldwin). Sarah is beautiful, Adam is scary, and Chuck finds that having a secret identity and saving the world isn’t as much fun as it sounds, but exactly as hard and fraught with peril as you might imagine.
Read no more if you’re convinced and want to enjoy the first two seasons without spoilers (which will be minimal).
Now that you’ve been duly warned: What makes “Chuck” so good?
First, creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak struck the right balance in tone: the show is heartfelt but not maudlin; silly and funny, but never treats its audience like idiots; requires quite a bit of suspension of disbelief, but is so fun you’re happy to go along for the ride. I think part of the formula is that they don’t take their show seriously but they take the emotions of their characters extremely seriously.
Second, Schwartz and Fedak have assembled a spectacular cast of actors: Zachary Levi oozes charm, and is extremely good at playing funny but making us feel his pain when, for example, Sarah (who he of course falls madly in love with) tells him she isn’t interested, and he knows she’s not lying because she’s under the effects of a truth serum (or is she?). Yvonne Strahovski is not only a beautiful woman, but she can act; so much so that she’s one of the reasons cited by TV critic Alan Sepinwall in his open letter to NBC telling them why they would regret canceling “Chuck” when that outcome seemed likely. Adam Baldwin (who I became a huge fan of due to his work as the opportunistic Jayne on “Firefly”) can say everything that needs to be said with nothing more than a grunt, and he gets (and pulls off) many of the show’s funniest one-liners. The supporting cast carries their weight too, with standouts being Ryan McPartlin, who plays Captain Awesome, Chuck’s sister’s awesome boyfriend; Joshua Gomez, who plays Morgan Grimes, Chuck’s other half in the strange bromance they share; and Scott Krinsky and Vik Sahay, who play the creepy-apart but creepier-together pair that is the musical duo Jeffster!
Another reason? It just gets better as it goes—there was a major development at the end of Season 2 that had the potential to ruin the show. It didn’t; Season 3 is as good, and in some ways better, than anything that’s come before.
More reasons? You’ll hear great music, including (in one episode toward the beginning of Season 2) the best use of the Rush song “Tom Sawyer” I’ve ever heard, and (at the end of Season 2) the best use of the Styx song “Mr. Roboto.” You’ll see great use of guest stars, including Scott Bakula, Chevy Chase, John Larroquette, and Tony Hale, to name a few. And there are enough homages to television shows and movies in every episode that a pop-culture-reference drinking-game would be very unwise. It’s just pure fun, from opening scene to closing credits.
Consider yourself Chucked—nothing to do now but get your hands on the DVDs and enjoy this special treat of a show. NBC is currently airing the third season, but “Chuck” is on hiatus until the Olympics are over, so you’ve got a bit of time to catch up before new episodes start airing again on March 1.