Chuck is like a big bag of Cheetos: you know it doesn’t have much in the way of socially redeeming qualities, but damn it’s delish. And while there’s some actual meat in this televised version of cheesy snack food, it mostly exists to provide a great dose of pure pleasure into the cerebral cortex. And in that sense, the season premiere of Chuck hit the spot.
What sets Chuck apart from most shows on television is its light touch: unlike too many shows, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. That being said, it takes the characters quite seriously. This might sound like a contradiction, but I think of it in the way that Phish’s Trey Anastasio once described the difference between rock and roll and music. Rock and roll, he argued, was bullsh$t. But music? Music was the most important thing in the world. And what’s important in Chuck is not the fantastical premise (even Chuck himself mocked it at the outset) but those that inhabit that premise.
As such, what the show does very well is the most important thing: giving us characters with whom we relate. Sarah and John’s complication affection for Chuck grounds what could be stereotypical characters into something the average Joe who can’t karate chop Michael Clarke Duncan can latch onto. And while Chuck is too dorky to truly be an everyman, it did this gamer’s heart good to see Call of Duty play a major part in Chuck’s tomfoolery of Colt.
As for the plot: did anyone actually think Intersect 2.0 would work? That being said, I enjoyed not only the twist on the device (the reappearance of Fulcrum!) but the subtle suggestion that the government seized upon Chuck’s accident and sought to replicate it, ostensibly with people who scored similarly to Chuck in Stanford. That touch of mythology makes this television viewer happy. Television need not always be as continuity-heavy as Lost or Heroes, but having an ongoing story upon which to hang the stand-alone spy-capades is a worthwhile way for the show to progress.
Season 2 should bring Fulcrum into the mix more often, providing both a host of new mystery but also the return of Bryce Larkin, a figure for too important to the show’s mythology to ignore for too long. (Plus, have you ever seen that actor in anything since? Exactly. He’s not busy. I’m pretty sure he’ll be up for a cameo or twelve.) In order for Chuck to truly move forward, he needs to come to grips with his past, and only through Bryce’s reinsertion into his life can that truly happen.
Lastly: interesting how John Casey was prepared to shoot Chuck at episode’s end. It’s a smart move, in that if he’d broken ranks now he would have nowhere to go as a character. Instead, we no have an agent conflicted about killing Chuck but prepared to do so if the order comes down. This distinction gives necessary tension to future episodes and either 1) allows for a greater payoff down the road when he refuses the order, or 2) provides a huge narrative shift should he shoot but not kill Chuck. One of those two things will occur in the season finale, you can bank on that.
All in all, a solid if not spectacular hour of television. It didn’t break the mold, but reestablished itself comfortably in the pattern established last season. Given NBC’s apparent excitement over the first six episodes of the season, let’s hope the next few show us a few new twists and turns.