At the recommendation of several friends, I have watched half of the first season of the hit television sitcom Chuck, starring Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski.
Now I certainly grant at least two possibilities that might undermine what follows. Those two possibilities are: 1. My sample size is much too small and creates an inaccurate picture of the series as a whole. 2. I’m just getting old and cranky.
But I just can’t get into Chuck, and in fact, thus far, all I can do is cheerfully object to it’s popularity. And here are my top five reasons:
5. It’s annoying not to know what general genre of television sitcom I am in. Is this a comedy, an action thriller, a soap opera, a mystery, or what? Do I take you seriously when you say there is a bomb or are you going to make a joke about it and take off all your clothes in order to change before going back to your hot dog stand? Was I supposed to care?
4. There are two reasons for doing a little bit of everything (comedy, romance, action-adventure-mystery, documentary): one reason is that you have a good story to tell, and good stories do frequently include elements of every genre. Another reason is that you don’t have a good story to tell and you are trying to cover that up with explosions and undressing women and cheap one-liners. As you can tell, I tend to feel that there is more of the latter going on than the former.
3. I resent shows that try to manipulate me. I want a good story, character development, intelligent humor, whatever to win me, but I do not like feeling manipulated. And I feel utterly manipulated when I watch Chuck. Some goofy jokes, a few explosions, a little hand to hand combat, sexy ninja girls fighting each other and fending off the bad guys, a little bit of romantic suspense to up the sexual frustration of the hero, and viola, you have Chuck. There are hooks for everyone. But I don’t feel the love, I feel used.
2. And this leads more specifically to a particularly annoying manipulation ploy. I understand that living in modern day America there will be a certain amount of skin that just comes with the territory. And I have no patience for the prudish fanaticism of some who would prefer all women to go around in burlap sacks. But there is a big difference between a bit of Jane Austen cleavage and the moving scenery down at Hooters. Faithful guys rule their minds and eyes, give God thanks for beautiful women, love their wives, and spend goodish amounts of time counting clouds, looking at the ground or finding nondescript bits of the forehead to talk to. It’s what good guys do, and it’s cool. Even though we could wish for a safer world, we’re guys and we fight dragons. But I just can’t get into a show trying to cross Jack Bauer with Baywatch. And frankly, I wonder how many Christian husbands are getting little, subtle jollies from the spectacle, while insisting all along that it’s just a funny-suspense-action-adventure-fantasy-scifi-thriller-drama-documentary-horror-comedy show.
1. OK, so really most of these objections blur together, and this is probably a summary statement more than anything, but the number one reason why I just can’t get into Chuck is because I don’t believe in Chuck. I don’t believe the characters; I don’t believe they really care. I don’t believe the world they’re in. Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize that there is a fantasy/scifi element to the story. The title character Chuck has a microchip thingy in his brain that is filled with all the CIA records and when he sees certain people or objects it causes him to “flash” through all the archives and help the two *real* CIA agents solve the mysteries. Maybe that’s even a cool idea for a show. But I don’t believe the writers of the show are really intelligent enough to make that story fly. I suspect that they have had a few good ideas that they are now busy trying to decorate and repackage a few hundred times with short skirts and explosions and one-liners.
Again, I fully admit that this analysis may be severely inadequate given my limited sampling of the show. In fact, given the show’s popularity, I hope I’m wrong. But at this point I don’t plan to keep watching. I admit that I have laughed a number of times at some of the antics that take place between Chuck and his short, oblivious, sex infatuated co-worker, Morgan. But where a few points are scored with the humor, I’m unable to care or believe the rest of the story going on. And when the producers quickly flash to another female chest after a particularly choppy bit of dialogue, I can only feel manipulated, conned, and consequently nonplussed.
For all their weaknesses, I’m still more impressed with The Office and The Simpsons.
Le Noir Faineant says
I think the skin objection is most applicable to the first half of season one. Shows often do this in order to get the male audience interested in the show, and then they tone it down once the proverbial hook is set.
Tyler Antkowiak says
As someone who watched the first three seasons and finally bailed after the first few episodes of the fourth, my biggest complaint was lack of ingenuity. The show runs on a very predictable loop of episodes, recycling the manufactured drama between Chuck, his family, and the CIA. Chuck, regularly lies to "protect the people he loves" and this is actually the narrative engine for most of the story arks (skin, crackpot science, and 80's pop culture references are the narrative engine for each episode.) I don't want my protagonist to be perfect, but at least let him get creative with his mistakes, rather than recycling the same four episode cycle of lying, getting caught, and saving the person you lied to so they can't be angry.