Eye For Film >> Movies >> Chuck: Season One (2007) Film Review
Chuck: Season One
Reviewed by: Stephen Carty
Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) is an underachieving IT nerd who works at an electronics retailer and reminisces about happier days before his roommate Bryce (Matthew Bomer) got him kicked out of Stanford University and stole his girlfriend. Out of the blue, Chuck opens an email from Bryce - now a rogue CIA agent - which subliminally downloads the collective sum of all the US government's secrets into his head. In order to keep tabs on him, the government has beautiful agent Sarah Kent (Yvonne Strahovski) pose as his girlfriend while NSA operative Major John Casey (Adam Baldwin) goes undercover at Chuck's store. At the same time as keeping this secret from this caring sister (Sarah Lancaster) and best friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez), Chuck tries to adjust to his new life, romance Sarah and attempting promotion at work.
If I'm completely honest, I really liked The O.C. Although the last two seasons sank into the over-the-top soap-opera that most assumed it was anyway, the first two sparkled thanks to the creator, writer and executive producer, Josh Schwartz, whose pop-culture peppered writing and quirky characters (including an on-screen version of himself; Seth) showed he definitely had game. For his latest project, Chuck, he was pitched the idea by newcomer and University buddy, Chris Fedak which then interested former executive producer on The O.C, McG. Given that Schwartz described it as a hybrid of Alias and The Office (two of my favourite shows) while lead Zachary Levi compared it to a combination of The Bourne Supremacy and The 40 Year Old Virgin (great trilogy and one of the best romantic comedies in decades) it at least deserved a watch.
Sadly, it doesn’t live up to either description. Though I can see where both Schwartz and Levi are coming from with their comparisons, the show feels more like a mix of disappointing programmes Jake 2.0 (nerd works for the government after getting a brain upgrade) and Reaper (underachiever works in big generic store, hiding higher calling). While Chuck certainly isn’t awful television and gets better as the series progresses (Chuck Versus The Alma Mater is great), it never had me scrambling for the next episode. Much like Chuck’s “animal shapes” hair, it frequently goes in a direction that it shouldn’t.
Ultimately, this is down to the ineffective blend of action and comedy. While Fedak originally wanted to do a serious thriller, fellow showrunner Josh Schwartz thought the premise had more potential to be funny. Unfortunately, neither is achieved as, aside from Bryce’s surprisingly incredible escape in the Pilot (filmed by McG) and a few titters from Baldwin, Chuck rarely manages to generate any tension and even fewer laughs. Though the action comedy genre is very difficult to get right, I expected a chortle from the man who created one-man guffaw-fest Seth Cohen.
However, on the positive side, the cast are a delight. In the lead, Levi is extremely likeable and switches between sarcastic nice guy to out-of-his depth supergeek without seeming over the top. Though presumably intended as another Seth Cohen-type (and therefore, a Josh Schwartz type) he is actually more like The American Office's John Krasinski in terms of looks, natural charm and charisma. Elsewhere, Strahovski looks great as the love interest (gotta love the pigtails), cult-favourite Baldwin is effective in an ‘about time I got a major role’ type of way and Lancaster doesn’t get much to do aside from being the most caring sister in the universe. As for Gomez, he can’t escape the clingy-best friend material and his beard should warrant its own acknowledgement in the cool main titles.
Presumably hoping to get the fanboy vote, Chuck is also packed with nods to geekdom. Though this will bypass the average viewer, there are enough direct references (like Star Wars, Star Trek, various James Bond movies) and subtle-hat tips (including Lost, Firefly, The O.C.) to keep even the most eagle-eyed TV enthusiast on his remote-grasping toes. Hell there’s even a Tron poster and music taken directly from The Bourne Identity. It’s cool, Jason won’t mind as he’ll probably forget about it anyway.
Nevertheless, when all is said and done, it’s hard to get excited about the up and coming second series of Chuck. By trying to be both funny and action-packed, series one doesn’t effectively achieve either and, as a result, is not nearly as memorable as showrunning team Schwartz and Fedak were presumably aiming to be. With fan buzz fairly positive after the extended preview for next season, let’s just hope that it’s a case of ‘Chuck versus the significant improvement’ and not ‘Chuck versus the cancellation’.Reviewed on: 23 Dec 2008