Here we go, the first Monday night on our trip through the best of Chuck as chosen by you, our readers. It’s only natural that the pilot, usually referred to now as Chuck Versus the Intersect, would be among them. With bigger budgets and more time to script, shoot and edit it is the job of any pilot to not only show networks the possibilities for a show, but to, if the show is picked up, hopefully capture an audience, so the pilot has its work cut out for it. Introduce us to the characters and the world they inhabit, make us care about their story, and set them off on a journey that can last from a single season to (thank goodness) five years, no problem.
Chuck Versus the Intersect was truly the best of Chuck in addition to the beginning of Chuck. The action, the humor, that hint of a budding romance, along with the uncertainty and the danger lurking just below the surface, it’s all there right from the beginning. Join us for our thoughts and memories of our introduction to Chuck.
Still can’t figure out why TCTB13TTENABRITCTBB14oS4R didn’t catch on.
Back in the mists of time, August 2009, I was working my way through The Wire on Netflix when I decided I needed something a bit lighter, something a bit more fun. In my recommendations there was this show called Chuck. I’d heard about it, and seen it in passing while channel surfing. My only thought at that point was why was the hot blonde wearing dirndl? I could guess the two guys were posing as employees at some sort of electronics store, but the Octoberfest angle was lost on me. Oh well, surf on. Picking it up in the middle would just ruin it for me. So when I saw that Chuck was liked by people who liked Firefly and Veronica Mars and Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls and had both Adam Baldwin (Firefly) and Sarah Lancaster (What About Brian), I decided to give it a shot.
I would say that the pilot totally hooked me on Chuck, but that wouldn’t quite be true. The pilot however did it’s job. It made me want to see what happened next, until I was hooked. The first night I watched that first DVD I was planning on the pilot, and then an early bedtime. That turned into pilot through Wookie, a late bedtime, and buying the DVD (at a BestBuy no less) on the way home from work the next day so I wouldn’t have to wait a whole two days for Netflix to send the next disk. I haven’t stopped watching Chuck since.
So what is it about the pilot, and by proxy Chuck, that has so many of us in love with this episode and this show? If I had to summarize in one word, fun. Chuck is fun to watch. Why? To say that all the elements of Chuck are there, as above the fold is almost a cheat; that’s, as alluded to, kind of the point of a pilot so let me break that part off. The pilot did it’s job in the first 6:15, just about the time the opening credits are ending. This is Schwedak at the top of their creative game. In that first 6:15 we are given the tone of the show, seemingly dark and foreboding instantly switching to farcical, then, the musical cue, Cobrastyle by The Teddybears, setting the mood and letting us all in on the whimsical and just plain fun nature of it all. We are introduced to Chuck an underachieving nerd, and his world, Echo Park where he lives with his overachieving sister. Almost immediately we change again back to the dark and foreboding (with a topping of humor to boot). Bryce is not an accountant, and the world he inhabits is a very different one. His world is one where super-spies go on suicide missions and carve their way through dozens of hapless guards to make good their escape. It is also one where (in a marvellous tweak at the spy-genre) the bullet comes from nowhere because guys like Casey shoot first, and then say freeze.
And then we’re back to Chuck and his sister, and our introduction is complete. Six minutes and fifteen seconds, and we’ve seen it all. Humor, amazingly choreographed fights, the family drama, Chuck’s nostalgia and longing for something lost… It is all there. Well almost. At the end of the first act, Chuck downloads the intersect, and the prologue is complete for the episode, but not quite yet for the series.
The second act. He has stepped to the threshold and now starts to see two worlds. He fully inhabits neither, yet lives in both. And there is someone important Chuck has yet to meet.
At this point Chuck sees computer stealing ninjas in his living room and Serbian demolitions experts in the LargeMart, but he doesn’t yet know what it means. He sees flashes, but without context he just knows that he knows something, not what it means. The demolitions experts and suburbans full of agents were always there, he just wasn’t aware. At this point Chuck is aware, but not awake. It is Sarah who really introduces Chuck to the spy world, with a bang.
I stumbled onto Chuck, kind of like Ernie did, only much later, like just a year ago. I started with the pilot and never stopped watching. The story was intriguing, and the mixed genre of comedy and action and spy stuff was appealing. What really hooked me though were the characters, the nerd thrown into the deep end of the spy pool and the spy who is taken with him, in spite of herself. She jumps in to save him, and they end up saving each other.
I really like Ernie’s insights about the window into two worlds. Though I didn’t really see it before, it’s obvious to me now that the episode is a continual contrast of Chuck’s (and “Chuck’s”) two worlds: the tame, almost boring, world that Chuck inhabits but doesn’t belong in … and the dangerous, invisible world that he doesn’t even know exists but was destined to be a part of.
The Intersect opened the portal between these two worlds, and the spy world invaded Chuck’s real world. Part of the invading force was one Sarah Walker. From the moment she walks into the Buymore, his world turns upside down, and his life will never be the same again.
Nowhere is the contrast of worlds more evident than in the characters themselves. Casey (who gives himself stars for killing CIA agents) is the spy world, the world Sarah inhabits, but doesn’t fully belong to. Chuck is the real world, the world she hasn’t inhabited in a very long time. In point of fact, she has never inhabited a world quite like Chuck’s.
Sarah is like Chuck, navigating two worlds, only in reverse. She inhabits the spy world, but we know from the beginning that part of her doesn’t belong there. The moment she walks into the Buymore, she is plunged into Chuck’s world, a world she’s barely aware of any more, but is drawn to. Her life will never be the same again.
As Casey talks with Graham and GB’s predecessor in the darkened ruin of the Intersect room in DC, Sarah walks into the Buymore in sunny Burbank with a predatory spy-gleam in her eye. She is unexpectedly captivated by our lanky nerd who fixes her phone without pretense and passes on her flirtations to help a ballerina. He is not what she expected … at all. He’s not even a spy, let alone a threat to national security. Her face says it all … charmed by the nerd and heart-warmed by the ballerina.
Their date preparations continue to draw the sharp contrast between their worlds. As Chuck decides how many buttons to button, Sarah selects her body armor, knives, and poison hair thingies. The spy answers the door with a gun at the small of her back and is captured — again — by the nerd with flowers and a goofy grin.
This spy is good … subtle in how she controls her evening with the would-be threat to national security. No doubt at all that she’s doing her job, but her mark is guileless and funny and … unlike anyone she’s ever met. In the end, he is a danger only to her own defenses, and she is charmed — again.
Their worlds continue to dance all around each other, appropriately, at the disco. While Chuck marvels at Sarah’s dance moves, the musically clueless spy eliminates 4 threats. With the addition of Casey and the bomb Chuck and Sarah’s worlds (and lives) become inextricably entwined.
In the end Chuck emerges as the unlikely hero, who runs toward the bomb, diffuses it with his wits, and stands up to Casey to protect his family and friends.
That was it for me. I loved these characters from the beginning: the awkward nerd and beautiful spy … both with an unwavering sense of doing the right thing. Despite his nerdish exterior, Chuck possesses uncommon character and a hero’s heart. Sarah recognizes his innocence and hidden qualities and steps up to protect him and fight for him. They hooked me then and continue to hold me now. For me, Chuck is all about them.
Oh, I remember what it was like, the first time I saw Chuck vs. The Intersect. Didn’t know the name of the episode, though. What I did know, then, was that I had seen something a little special. Funny? Yes, very. With action-packed sequences? Certainly. Good looking actresses? Um, how many ways can you say “They pegged the needle on the beauty meter?”
But that wasn’t it. It’s taken me a while to understand what was so special. It was Ellie’s gentle concern for her brother and his apparent lack of self-confidence. We’d find out more about that later. What was special, was Morgan, ever the buddy, jumping all over Chuck to pick up a phone and call “that girl”, the girl who left her card. Heh! He also jumped all over Chuck to celebrate the announcement of a mere date.
What was special, was the smile on Sarah’s face when Chuck found a clever way to save a ballerina’s day. It’s the same smile we saw in the Mexican restaurant when she said “I like you, Chuck.” And all he did was tell her a joke. Much later, he’d call it a stupid joke, and it was, but it was also special.
Everything I remember enjoying then in that pilot episode, and what I enjoy now, is gentle. Wasn’t this a show about spies? For all the trauma of a weird, mind-altering accident, a dead former room-mate and being trapped between two armed factions of the federal government warring over something Chuck didn’t understand, what impresses me most is the love we see between all the characters from the first. It seems so odd to call them characters, because they seem so much like family.
We got hints very early of something far deeper and darker than what was on the screen; the mysterious Bryce, connected to Chuck and apparently to Sarah. We think Sarah is capable of love, and maybe she loved Bryce. Then we see her coldly killing someone – we don’t know who – before she takes out the camera. We saw her angry, determined face telling Graham “I can fix it.” and saw Sarah very angry at the idea that Bryce may have become a rogue agent. We see important people, Graham and Beckman, plotting to use their new “asset”, and if they can’t do that, to kill him.
That’s not what we remember, though. What return to time and time again is a group hug, a smile, and Sarah saying “Talk to me, Chuck.”
Then she gently asked him to do one more thing. “I need you to trust me, Chuck.”
I remember catching the original previews for this new show during Sunday Night Football, and it looked like something I had to check out. Spy-themed, funny action/adventure; that’s a perfect start for a show for me. And this Pilot did not disappoint. I was laughing hard right from the start (“Morgan, you stay here…”), perfect stuff. And I completely get escaping from your own birthday party. This show, this episode was pitch perfect for me. I could relate to Chuck almost perfectly; as a self-professed nerd, I really LIKED this nerd portrayal. He was awkward, but intelligent, moral, and self-aware. Things that more typical TV nerds often are not. And I think I was as smitten with Sarah as Chuck was. As Chuck’s fearless defender and champion she was instantly one of the most appealing heroic characters I’d ever seen.
So I suppose my first revelation on re-watch was that I still love those episodes most that honor the feel and tone of the Pilot; and strongly dislike those episodes that violate one of those key elements of fun and humor, or my perception of the character of Chuck or Sarah.
My other major realization was that all three leads looked soooo young (was it really only four years ago?!). It also seems they’ve all gained a bit of weight, although for Chuck and Sarah that is purely good news.
Annnnd, that’s about it. I’ve watched this episode far more often than any other, that alone is testimony to its quality. And we’ve analyzed and discussed this so many times, and those who wrote above did such a good job; I think I’ll leave my contribution at this.
Ah the pilot, where it all begins. If you think about it (and think hard) Chuck is a fairytale much like Cinderella but instead of Cinderella, it’s really more Chuckrella. (Pardon the analogy manly men). Chuck is just going along in his life, an unfulfilling, almost suffocating existence waiting to find the font for his 10 year plan and in comes “something that changed [his] life” (Masquerade). That thing, more than the intersect, is Sarah. Though the golden slipper was something else altogether, Chuck from that moment on was never the same and we’re better for it.
Though to really get the essence of the episode, all one needs is to listen to the dialogue:
Chuck: Hi, phone trouble again?
Sarah: Yeah I’m not sure I’m able to receive calls because I never got one from you.
Ellie: Aces Charles, pure aces.
Chuck: A dad quote, I’m impressed.
Sarah: I did just come out of a long relationship so I may come with baggage.
Chuck: Well I could be your very own baggage handler.
Sarah: I like you Chuck. (And like her, we’re goners.)
Casey: That’s not an xbox and you’re not an x-man.
Sarah: I need you to do one more thing for me.
Chuck: (Chuck looks at Sarah) Yeah?
Sarah: Trust me, Chuck.
And so it begins, and with it our hearts. Though Truth was the first episode I ever saw, and Break Up was the one that hooked me, I have a special place for the pilot in my heart. A fine beginning for an epic journey.