Review: Chuck Season 1

Content Guide

Sex & Nudity – The series contains sexual innuendo and scantily clad women but no actual nudity or sex scenes.

Violence & Gore – Gunfights, hand to hand combat and even explosions are common, but visual blood and gore is rare.

Alcohol/Drug use – Social drinking isn’t uncommon. Drug use is typically only related to counterintelligence items like the truth serum, Pentothal.

Profanity – Moderate language for prime time TV

 

Pilot

 Charles Bartowski, or “Chuck”

Summary

Charles “Chuck” Bartowski, portrayed by Zachary Levi (Flynn Rider / Eugene Fitzherbert from Disney’s Tangled) is a geek working at a Buy More,a parody of Best Buy, with no foreseeable future. In the premier episode “Chuck Versus the Intersect,” his old college roommate, Bryce Larkin, emails him the titular secret computer program that the Central Intelligent Agency and National Security Agency use to share secrets of national security with each other. Bryce Larkin manages to destroy the only other copy of the program, known as the intersect, and after Chuck opens the email and the intersect is downloaded into his brain, the CIA and NSA are forced to work together and with Chuck. In the backstory, Bryce got Chuck kicked out of Stanford, derailing what Bartowski expected to be a successful life into the lackluster career he currently holds at Buy More. Until he receives the email that changes his life, Charles Bartowski is drudging through life with little motivation to do much of anything.

After discovering the Intersect has been uploaded into the brain of a civilian, the government swoops in but, not how one would expect. The CIA sends agent Sarah Walker,portrayed by Yvonne  Strahovski (Miranda Lawson from the Mass Effect video game series and CIA agent Kate Morgan from 24: Live Another Day), to pose as Chuck’s girlfriend who works at the German hotdog store “Weinerlicious” in the same shopping complex as Buy More. The NSA sends Colonel John Casey, portrayed by Adam Baldwin (Jayne Cobb in Firefly/Serenity), who starts working at

Buy More and moves in next door to Bartowksi, his Sister Elle and her boyfriend Devon (or, as Chuck calls him Captain Awesome). Walker and Casey struggle with each other, a microcosm of their agencies being forced to work together and struggling to do so. The two also provide the typical TV tropes of Sarah Walker being the protagonist’s love interest and John Casey being a combination of the tough guy and the straight man.

In each episode, always titled “Chuck Versus the…,” Chuck juggles a threat to national security along with a personal dilemma, usually with work or his family. Bartowksi’s best friend, Morgan Grimes, works at Buy More’s Nerd Herd— a parody of Best Buy’s Geek Squad—alongside Charles and Chuck wants more out of life, Morgan looks up to his friend as the guy that has everything. Other coworkers who mainly provide additional comic relief include Lester Patel and Jeffrey Barnes, a duo of buffoonery that stumbles around the store finding trouble constantly, and Anna Wu, a flirtatious, scantily clad Asian girl who eventually dates Morgan Grimes. Because of the CIA and NSA allowing Chuck to continue his normal life, with their agents watching him constantly, much of the show takes place inside of Buy More. The Buy More setting, the Nerd Herd and his co-workers further accentuate Charles Bartowski’s nerdiness, often using popular geeky allusions to Sci-Fi, computers, gaming, and comics.

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 Chuck and his best friend Morgan Grimes

Below is a brief synopsis of a few of the episodes from the first season:

In “Chuck Versus the Intersect,” Chuck and the rest of the cast are introduced. Bartowski’s old college roommate Bryce Larkin sends the intersect via email to Chuck and his life changes forever  after agents from the CIA and NSA show up.

In “Chuck Versus the Wookiee,” Chuck and Sarah Walker work with a DEA undercover agent, Carina, who has worked with Sarah in the past. Carina relentlessly attempts to seduce Chuck, revealing at the end of the episode that she is used to getting what Sarah wants even if Sarah herself doesn’t realize yet that she wants Chuck.

In “Chuck Versus the Sandworm,” Bartowski bumps into another asset to the United States Government with whom he almost immediately empathizes. The asset—a gadget wiz named Laszlo—ends up being less magnanimous than Charles however, and becomes an antagonist that Chuck and co. have to thwart. Morgan continues his antics at Buy More until he has a man-to-man talk with Captain Awesome.

In “Chuck Versus the Truth,” Sarah Walker’s cover as Chuck’s girlfriend is challenged as Bartowski finds a new love interest. At the same time, an interrogation specialist collides with the group, at first poisoning Charles’s sister Elle and then Chuck, Sarah, and Casey. All four are forced to tell the truth no matter how uncomfortable the result.

In “Chuck Versus the Alma Mater,” Charles returns to Stanford, the elite college he had been kicked out of. In helping the professor that was a key figure in his expulsion, along with Bryce Larkin, Chuck discovers the professer works with the CIA. After helping the professor, Chuck learns that Larkin approached the former about having Bartowski expelled to prevent him from being enlisted in the CIA for fear that it would ruin him, a revelation that alters Chuck’s disposition in the show.

In “Chuck Versus the Imported Hard Salami,” Sarah Walker discovers that Bryce Larkin, the CIA rogue agent that destroyed the physical intersect and sent Chuck the email that downloaded the only other intersect into his brain, is still alive. Sarah and Bryce share a romantic history that was briefly shown in the title episode “Chuck Versus the Intersect,” and his being alive introduces multiple transformations to the show and its characters.

Bryce’s return is revealed in “Chuck Versus the Nemesis.” Larkin introduces the antagonistic organization Fulcrum, who we hear little about, or from, until the season finale, “Chuck Versus the Marlin.” Bryce tries to convince Chuck that he is good and persuades Bartowski to convince Sarah and the CIA as well.

In the season finale, “Chuck Versus the Marlin,” Chuck discovers a bug at Buy More that neither the CIA or NSA know about and both agencies determine whether or not to bring Chuck into protective custody, cutting him off from his personal life entirely. Sarah Walker and John Casey deal with the reality that they won’t be able to protect Chuck forever, and both are confronted with their own feelings for the nerd they were sent to protect at the beginning of the series.

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CIA Special Agent Sarah Walker

Review

The entire premise of the show is silly, and intentionally so. No one in their right mind would expect the United States Government to leave all of their secrets implanted into a civilians brain, out in the accessible Buy More of Burbank, California, but it sure does make for a fun show. Whether it is combating silly terrorist clichés or the antics of the Nerd Herd—essentially a group of poindexters unwilling to grow up—Chuck’s escapades are always a combination of geek humor, gun fights, fast cars (the Nerd Herder notwithstanding)  and martial arts for an entertaining show. Chuck is a martini of the ingredients of a spy thriller and a geeky comedy, both nervously shaken and vigorously stirred.

Charles Bartowksi is pretty easy to identify with, regardless of the level of geekiness that viewers may or may not possess. Most all of us have, at one point or another, felt awkward or embarrassed by our geekiness, and Chuck’s own uncomfortable moments make him all the more endearing. One of my favorite scenes in the first season of the series was in “Chuck Versus the Nemesis,” when Bryce Larkin insists that Charles speak in Klingon in order to ensure that is the real Chuck and not a look alike. Chuck’s response is almost as painfully awkward as having your mother clean your face with her own saliva in front of your friends. “Come on there are people watching!” To see this nerd get the girl, even if it is a ruse, and be thrust into the world of intrigue makes Bartowski not only charming but also exciting. If you can accept the premise of the show being silly, the show is really enjoyable.

When I’ve tried to explain the show Chuck to friends who were not familiar with the concept I described it as 24 with the exception of the cast being replaced by the characters in The Big Bang Theory. 24 is not too new but The Big Bang Theory is, and as an avid fan of all three, I think describing Chuck as a blend of the two got the point across.

The first season of Chuck wasn’t spectacular ratings wise, even though critical reception was enthusiastic, and when NBC renewed the show for a second season, it was walking a thin line. After the second season saw lower ratings NBC, decided not to order a third season, and the real interesting story about Charles Bartowski began. Fans of the show specifically targeted existing sponsors, the network and potentially future sponsors, and eventually NBC announced that they would order a third season. Fans were elated, for myself seeing Chuck come back to life after Firefly never did (Adam Baldwin’s characters of Jayne Cobb and John Casey are not that much different) was really gratifying. The third season was even more on the line for a season renewal than the second, but luckily, Chuck saw five seasons before ending for good. Even the fifth season might not be the end all for Chuck—Zachary Levi and series co-creator Josh Schwartz both have hinted at the possibility of a “Chuck Vs the….” movie one day. Let’s hope that, whatever the title might be, we get to see that movie!

John Casey-buymore

 NSA Special Agent Colonel John Casey

Christian Perspective

One of the biggest Christian insights into the persona of Charles Bartowski is the real life faith of actor Zachary Levi. Levi said in an interview with RELEVANT magazine, “My job on my set, I believe, is to first just love people and gain that trust with people where they know that I really do love them and care about their well-being, so that when they are running into problems, they will hopefully, at some point, come to me and ask me, ‘What is your peace all about? What is your comfort all about? Where do you get your love? Where do you get your talents?’ And I can turn to them and say without blinking, ‘Jesus Christ.'” That Interview was long before the premiere of Chuck, back when Zachary Levi played Kipp Steadman in the ABC sitcom Less Than Perfect. However, Zachary’s eternal optimism, credited to his Christianity by Levi himself, is evident in Charles Bartowski.

Chuck is almost a Pollyanna in the eponymous series, constantly seeing the best in others. Whether it is his friends from Buy More, his new friends from the CIA and NSA, or even the villains he is up against, Bartowski seems to see good where no one else does. “Chuck Versus the Sandworm” is a perfect example of the latter, where he has empathy for a childhood prodigy whom he feels is being used by the United States Government. Chuck’s optimism is a great example of 1 Corinthians 13:7, a chapter that we usually read and think of as only attributes of God but also great attributes we should have followers of Christ.

The one thing about the series that I always take umbrage with is the way Sarah Walker, and many, many other female characters, were overly sexualized on screen. Of course there is a degree of sexualization that is going to happen, unfortunately, but there were multiple scenes in the first season of Chuck where I literally shook my head in sadness. Had they been able to get away from the need to show Sarah and others half naked (which they did in the later seasons) this show would have had very few gripes from my end.

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The Bottom Line

 

 

9.5

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Cody Hahn

Lover of Jesus. Husband. Daddy. Geek.

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