Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Chuck: A case of the sequels?

Starring: Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Adam Baldwin, Joshua Gomes
Category: TV
Two episodes into the new fall season and there are signs of trouble on the TV series Chuck. The cracks began showing in the last episode of Season 1, as if the writers were running out of ideas or going around in 'the circle' (more on that later). 
Chuck is really a balancing act between two 'realities'. The first is the hyper, over-the-top world spies where action and gadgets is the name of the game. Panels open to reveal hidden switches and impossible technologies are the norm. Slightly cartoony because people get shot and die without spilling as much as an ounce of blood. Then there is the second reality, the one where we are all familiar with. People go to work, face real problems at work and at home, pay the mortgage and if they are lucky, find love. Yes, even that reality is amp-ed up a bit but it still is familiar. Chuck's attraction is that he is the guy stuck in-between both realities. What makes it more endearing is that despite the seductiveness of the SpyWorld, he very much wants to remain in the RealWorld. Chuck is appealing because he is fallable, susceptible to everything we are yet he represents the best of us. Loyalty, innoscence, curiostiy, decency.
What made Season 1 so successful was that it explored both world from a perspective skewered torward Chuck's. Chuck grew from episode to episode, sometime in directions we didn't expect to go but ultimately reaching where we liked to see him or liked it when we finally did see. Each episode peeled back the layers of the characters, making them familiar and showing them as characters we can relate to. We began disliking Bryce, Chuck's best friend in college who framed him as a cheater and stole his girl, only to discover the truth was that Bryce was protecting his friend. We saw how Chuck fell for Sarah and she eventually fell for him, whether she intended or wanted to or not. We finally saw why Casey is so emotionally constipated. While all the while catching the bad guys.
Which bring us to 'the circle'. This is what I call the dreaded path treaded by most middle-of-the-road sitcom comedy writers. These writers are forced to treat the series they are writing for as a box of toys and they are the children. You can play with anything you want as long as you put it back in it's place after your are done. Most of the times. Sometimes, you can't just pick up any toy, only those laid out to you. This is all to ensure that a number of episodes are written as standalone, that they can be moved either to the back or front of the series without causing a ripple in the overall storyline. Sometimes this circle is larger than a single episode but it still represents a path taken by the writers again and again. Formulaic is another good description.