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The Nerd Herder Who Loved Me
on March 22, 2008
NBC's CHUCK is such a welcome surprise and one of the best and funniest TV shows I've seen in a while, something which normally is an omen for immediate cancellation (but, thankfully, NBC picked it up for the full season). CHUCK achieves that heady mix of humor, action, espionage, and even a dash of romance (or pining, to be more exact). And it'll have you rooting for the nerd hero Chuck Bartowski, the physically hapless but nonetheless invaluable new member of the U.S. secret agent fraternity. Whereas, before, Chuck was someone who for thrills lived life vicariously thru video games and films, he's all of a sudden forced to cope with experiencing the very intense real thing.
Several SPOILERS follow.
The 411 on the premise and plot: A rogue CIA agent, just before being killed, downloads a wealth of top secret government files into the brain of his old college roommate Chuck Bartowski, a seemingly disastrous choice at first blush. Chuck is a social misfit, a computer geek who toils at the Nerd Herd electronics department of the Buy More supermarket. His support system consists of his best bud Morgan, who's even more of a loser than Chuck, and Chuck's lovely, protective sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), who is perpetually concerned for him and his lack of a social life. That Chuck lives with Ellie and her laid back boyfriend, Captain Awesome, doesn't exactly win him points with the cool set. But, for Chuck, things are about to change.
Chuck meets Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski), who seems to really like him. But Sarah is really a CIA agent sent to wrest the stolen intel from him. Finding out that the top secret data is imbedded in his noggin, she is then assigned to keep tabs on him. To do so, Sarah works at Wienerlicious and poses as Chuck's chica. Meanwhile, the NSA trots out its top operative, the no-nonsense John Casey (the awesome Adam Baldwin), who as cover hires on as a Buy More sales clerk.
Nowadays, danger and intrigue lurk at every corner for Chuck Bartowski, who finds himself leading a double life and is now sometimes referred to as the Intersect (mostly by Casey). He speedily proves his value when the data in his brain enables him to put two and two together and uncover an assassination attempt. Soon, he's tangling with ninjas, shadowy agents, terrorists, and bombs - and that's just in the first episode. Further shows would unveil even greater peril and more mystery. Seeds of distrust are sown as Chuck also struggles with the constant hedging and fabrication brought on by his CIA and NSA minders. More importantly, despite obstacles put up by his nemesis, the evil Asian dude Harold Tang (okay, he's not really evil...but he's bald), Chuck's trying out for the assistant manager gig at the Buy More. Good luck, Chuck.
CHUCK is a consistently funny, funny show doubling as a straight-up spy thriller. There are plenty of slick, potent action sequences, but the heart of the series is the comic fish-out-of-water premise of the geek caught in serious cloak-and-dagger environs. The show provides a steady dosage of nerd/slacker humor which always has me smiling for the duration of the episodes. And, instead of Chuck suddenly developing kung fu skills, the series makes sure that Chuck remains inept and a bit cowardly (Chuck would prefer to refer to it as being "prudent"). Zachary Levi as Chuck is wonderfully straight-faced yet has that comic timing down pat. He's very sympathetic as a guy whose big heart is shyly on his sleeve.
Which leads us to another focal point of the show: Chuck's tentative relationship with the beautiful Sarah, who as a spy is forever on her guard and who's still grieving over her recent past with a fellow agent. But there's a connection between her and our favorite Nerd Herder, as Sarah realizes that Chuck really is a most decent dude. But only time will tell if it pans out. Australian Yvonne Strahovski is well cast as the lethal and accomplished secret agent, who can kick enemy agent heinie even a she dances sensuously with a clueless partner (yes, that would be Chuck). Yet Strahovski, when called for, can lend a torn, vulnerable air to her calculating superspy (check out "Chuck versus the Nemesis" to see just how conflicted she becomes). And, holy ministrone, she's hot! On the other hand, I don't think the looming Adam Baldwin is hot, but he's one of my favorite dudes to watch on TV. Fans of Joss Whedon will remember Baldwin from his memorable recurring roles in ANGEL and FIREFLY. Here, he makes for an intimidating sales clerk and government spy.
I am currently in solid geek heaven with CHUCK. Here's hoping NBC continues to support this show for a busload of seasons. Here's to Chuck (and friends) waging war against irate Buy More patrons, staving off calculating co-workers, and also fending off some of the most diabolical enemies of America, mom, and apple pie. And all that while shouldering the stigma of a dead-end job. Way to go, Chuck!