What I’m Watching – ChuckPosted: April 25, 2009
(The first in what I hope will be a multi-part series to get me writing here again)
Chuck is a bad show. Not a horrible unwatchable show but a bad one none the less. In fact admitting that I’ve watched this show in passing – much less every episode of the its two season run – will get me a great deal of mocking from some quarters. But I enjoy the show – a great bit – none the less.
In many ways, Chuck has a lot in common with Ugly Betty – another bad but highly watchable show. Both are relentlessly silly, have a premise that collapses under any thought, and are escapist fiction for their target audiences. Put another way, Chuck is the male equivalent of Ugly Betty. Both shows feature improbable premises – a girl gets one of the top jobs in the fashion industry out of nowhere and a boy gets all of our national security secrets downloaded into his brain. Both shows main characters are ciphers for their target audience – Betty is “ugly” but good hearted and a hard worker while Chuck is a nerdy video gamer in a dead end job but could do so much more. In both shows the main characters get to live in a dream world – Betty gets to work in high fashion and Chuck gets to hang out with a hot chick and blow shit up. Both shows deal heavily in stereotypes – Betty of the fashion world and Chuck of the nerd/geek/dork/whatever community.
My point in all that is that Chuck fits firmly in the wish fulfillment school of entertainment. Many a geeky guy dreams of hanging out with a hot girl, saving the world, and blowing things up with the guy from Firefly. It does not seek to challenge its audience in any way – and it that ambition it certainly succeeds. It also seeks to be relentlessly entertaining and to keep its audience coming back each week – and it that ambition it mostly succeeds as well.
At its best moments Chuck is like a well-written superhero comic – it “serious” enough that you invest yourself in the plot, characters, and conflict but not serious enough to draw attention to the utterly goofy premise underlying everything. You end an episode with a smile on your face, fully entertained. At its worst moments – and there are several – everything feels forced and the whole enterprise patently insult to your intellence – sort of like watching Stargate. Shows like Chuck walk a fine line between fun and stupidity – Chuck is mostly on the side of the angels but can’t hit them all out of the park.
Personally, I feel that a show like Chuck would be more acceptable to many if it was a cartoon. Its premise and many of its plots are cartoonish – almost in the extreme. The show would be able to do more with its action sequences and would probaly be able to get away more with some of the ridiculousness it attempts to pass off if it was animated. But as a sort of living cartoon it almost works. Almost.
Chuck’s largest problem is its treatment of the character of Sarah – which comes from it roots as a show about male wish fulliment. Many plot points in the show – especially in the first season – seem to envolve getting Sarah in some state of undress – the fewer layers the better. And you know, if you can get her wet and barely dressed – things are all the better for it. This is the most deeply frustrating and retrograde aspect of the series. I can forgive many of the writers’ storytelling sins – even its association with McG (!) – except for this. In fact your can usually measure an episode’s quality by amount of explotation the writers make of Yvonne Strahovski’s body.
Summing this up: Chuck is a bad yet entertaining show. That entertainment is sometimes ruined by it retrograde treatment of its main female character. It has Adam Baldwin in it. It is well worth watching – most of the time.