You don’t have to read many articles, blogs, or commentaries out there to know this is a common attitude. I’d even go farther and say I believe it is the prevalent view among professional critics and media insiders. I’m sure it will shock no one that my response is “Hogwash!”
Let’s start with a couple definitions and disclaimers. I believe the most common definition of a ‘shipper is someone who focuses on a central relationship in any show, and considers it the determining factor in if they enjoy an episode or not. Basically, its the only thing they really watch the show for.
By that standard, I’m not sure if I’m a ‘shipper or not (I’m still waiting on an official ruling). I’m certainly a functional ‘shipper, I mean that’s where my sympathies lie every time. And I have no doubt, most of you who’ve been reading my posts, long ago decided I’m a hard core fanatic ‘shipper. But the thing is, I was drawn to the show by its light-hearted mix of action-adventure and humor. The episodes I like best have me laughing and cheering the explosions, gun fights, and Sarah Walker kicking the stuffing out of some villain of the week. But without apology, I require Chuck and Sarah to be in a happy spot before any of that other stuff matters at all. That’s made for a pretty bleak season for me.
I’m sure many of you have noticed, I’m a guy. I watch football, war movies and science fiction. My hobbies are strategy war games, building models, reading military history, and watching movies/TV. I also enjoy belching, farting, and scratching myself in places to embarrass my wife. I have a bit of a romantic side, although I did just get in trouble for forgetting Valentine’s Day (actually I would say, being very busy last week, and prioritizing it off my list; which I’m pretty sure is actually worse). But I do enjoy romantic comedies (um, as long as they’re actually funny), and I do always root for the featured couple to get together. I say all this, just to establish some context.
I’ve seen several versions of the complaint that ‘shippers are making such a big deal of the romance, that all the other details of the show are being ignored. The writers are being bombarded with questions about Chuck and Sarah (and Shaw and Hannah), while The Ring, Buy More, and Intersect 2.0 are barely mentioned. Some of you may remember a few months back I compared the central relationship to my glasses; well now I have a better one, right from TPTB. Chuck and Sarah are the heart of the show. So indulge me while I beat that metaphor into the ground. When a heart is healthy most of us pay little attention to it; its there and working, and we sure are glad its there and working, and we get on with our lives. But when the heart is diseased we have a problem. Suddenly we’re making extra visits to the doctor or hospital, we have to watch our diet, exorcise, and weight. It may become the dominant concern of our life; just so we can have a life to get back to. We probably don’t want it that way, but because of the problem, the extra concern is forced upon us.
To put it another way, it is only a problem because it is being applied in a negative way. When the romance is a happy fun diversion at the end of the episode; ‘shippers, and many casual fans go awww, go away from the episode with a warm and fuzzy feeling, and eagerly await the next installment. Many of us are happy and eager to discuss various plot elements and mega-trends of the story arcs. But with a negative application, the malfunctioning romance becomes the only thing many of us can focus on. If the writers really want to be appreciated for the quality and sophistication of their writing, they need their fans to be happy to pay attention to it.
Another “anti-‘shipper” comment I’ve seen a couple versions of is quit whining and go on a real date. hmmm. From what I’ve seen, most of us, who are most upset with this season, are older and married. I don’t think the level of concern with our protagonists happiness is directly correlated to our lack of real romantic experience (OK, let’s forget about a certain Valentine’s Day incident for now). I think the real issue is investment. There is no doubt different people get different things out of the shows they watch. Some of us have an easier time relating to characters than others do. Its usually a short trip from relating to investing; that is making the effort to emotionally relate to and care about the emotional well being of certain fictional characters. In every show I enjoy, I must find at least one character I’m willing to invest in or the show quickly becomes boring to me. That means a character must be someone I can like, respect, relate to on some level, and hope the best for at all times. One of the great strengths of Chuck has been a large number of characters I can invest in; Chuck and Sarah being almost equally engaging in this way. Neither character is perfect, perfect would be boring; but both are characters we can either see ourselves being, wish to be, or simply wish to be someone we know. I think its virtually impossible to invest in characters like Chuck and Sarah without wanting to see them be happy together.
Which kind of leads to my last point. I’m sure Ernie Davis will be cringing at this point; but I’m not so inclined to just sit back and let the writers tell their story their way. In a lifetime of watching and enjoying serial television, I’ve rarely felt compelled to take issue with the whole direction a show is taking (I’ve often given up on shows in the first season, this is about shows I’ve already decided I like). In April, May, and June of 2009; many of us filled pages and pages at the NBC forums with ideas of things we’d love to see in season 3 of Chuck. With few exceptions, all of our ideas were better than what we’ve seen on screen this year. It never occurred to me a show could have two such brilliant seasons, then tank so badly and so quickly. I don’t expect any writer to follow my suggestions or pander to me; but when no fans were thinking along the same lines the writers were, it perhaps should have been a little warning we weren’t going to be on the same page. For the rest of my thoughts on that subject, go back to my previous post (The Right to Complain).