Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fall 2007 TV: Chuck

Chuck (NBC)

It's hard to describe exactly why the comedic spy series Chuck didn't work very well for me. I liked the star, Zachary Levi, as Kipp on Less Than Perfect, and I like him even more here, as the hapless Chuck, the Buy More "Nerd Herd" employee who accidentally gets every government secret downloaded into his brain. His sidekick, the even nerdier Morgan (Joshua Gomez), is very funny, a real scene-stealer. The CIA operative sent to retrieve the lost information, Sarah, played by the ridiculously beautiful Yvonne Strzechowski [EDITED to note that in the opening credits, she's billed as "Yvonne Strahovski," which I guess is the phonetic approximation of "Strzechowski"], is sweet and charming (if not tremendously believable as a lethal fighting machine), and she and Chuck have a very nice chemistry together. I even enjoyed the interactions between Chuck and his pushy but loving sister (the also ridiculously beautiful Sarah Lancaster) and her dopey boyfriend, whom Chuck calls "Captain Awesome."

It's a funny enough show. The interactions between Chuck and Morgan and the other Nerd Herders are particular highlights. The comedy even works during a couple of action sequences, such as the ninja attack in Chuck's apartment, during which Morgan keeps injuring Chuck while trying to fight the intruder.

But there's just something about the tone of the show that doesn't quite click. Most of the action scenes are staged poorly, and not very exciting or inventive (despite the efforts at the top of the episode to replicate the parkour-style stunts in the last James Bond movie). The NSA agent played by Adam Baldwin is introduced killing a CIA agent, which makes subsequent efforts to inject levity into his character (as when he goes undercover as a Buy More employee at the close of the show) flop. The unique premise of the show quickly resolves itself in the most conventional of fashions: clearly, each week Chuck will get a flash from the information in his head, and the CIA and NSA will help and/or hinder him in solving whatever dilemma he's become aware of.

And Chuck suffers most when its titular character is offscreen. Levi carries the show, and every minute spent away from him, behind the scenes with the government agents and agencies, is a wasted minute (well, except for the scenes in which Strzechowski is in her underwear -- twice in the first episode. Bravo!).

It all adds up to an overall "offness" in the tone. There's a disconnect between the serious and comedic that never quite resolves itself satisfactorily. I'd like to lay the blame at the feet of the director, McG, the hackmeister responsible for unleashing the reprehensible Charlie's Angels movies on the public, and frankly, some of it is his fault. The frenetic but unsatisfying action shots, certain poorly realized comedy bits -- those all smack of classic McG. But it goes a bit deeper than that, to the point where I'm hard-pressed to say exactly how, or even if, the show can be fixed.

But I liked the lead characters, and the moments of comedy that do work, enough to mildly recommend the show, and to stick with it myself, at least for a few more weeks. I hope it finds a way to get better, but honestly, I suspect it's more likely to fall into a rut it can't climb back out of.

Rating: 6 out of 10

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