Well it looks like its time to kick off the Chuck This, complete series re-watch. The plan is, to have a new post up every Sunday night for the next 91 weeks. My guess is, we may miss a few, and the schedule will slip some, but for now this is a 91 week plan. This will be a more casual project, in some ways, than our previous re-watch themes. The major topics have all been discussed many times, and I don’t know that anything new will actually be brought to light. But we will, each week, talk about favorite moments, memories, and perhaps some “big picture” thoughts now that we have the complete context for the entire series. This may mean some episodes will not get more than a few hundred words, while some may get quite lengthy. We will see.
So gather your family, friends, and housebroken pets and join with us in a full series re-watch, after the jump we start our first discussion on the Chuck Pilot.
I remember summer of 2007 as a pretty slow time for me and television. Just the year before, five shows I’d been watching all ended at about the same time. It was one of those rare times when I was actively looking for new shows.I was very excited when Burn Notice started that July. It was probably the most excited I’d been for a new show in a long time. When football season started in September I was quite intrigued by previews for a new NBC show. Chuck looked like a good combination of action and humor that always catches my eye. I still remember some of the catch phrases from those previews like “Whoh, computer emergency” and of course “Vicky Vale…”. So often with previews, I see good and bad and am unsure how enthused to be. But I had no such doubt with all the different spots I saw for Chuck, it looked like a Dave show. The moment the show started I was getting even more excited. I kid you not, I’ve done the escaping from my own party thing (yes, I’m an introvert nerd!). I was giggling at the dialogue (“there’s Captain Awesome”/”please don’t call him that””I’m working on a five year plan, just need to choose a font””I think he’s an accountant”[Bryce Larkin: not an accountant]).
So Burn Notice was my favorite show for about eight weeks before it was usurped. The Chuck Pilot was absolutely the most fun I ever remember having with a new show. Apart from the mix of action and humor that initially drew me in, I loved the characters. Especially Chuck and Sarah. Chuck was the sort of nerd I could relate to, or at least the sort of nerd I could hope to be. He was awkward and shy; but he was also intelligent, loyal, modest and moral. We also learned, to Chuck’s own surprise, he was quite brave and thought clearly under pressure. Again, he was the nerd I could want to be. And of course Sarah was a wonderful heroine. Obviously she wasn’t an open book in the way Chuck was; but she was fearless and deadly, and was willing and able to be Chuck’s guide and protector in his scary new world. Chuck and Sarah madethe show and I was very excited about the potential with these two leads. I wasn’t so sure what I thought of Casey or Morgan, but the other characters seemed to be a good mix of absurd, bizarre and/or likable.A few thoughts having just re-watched. First, this is easily the episode I’ve watched more than any other. I always like beginnings, especially once we get a ways in, and as such I’ve watched the Pilot many, many times. But it has been a little while. So first thought, gee they all looked so young! I also found the changes in sets interesting. I understand the Pilot was mostly shot on location, and the original Buy More was actually an empty Mervyn’s. Actual sets for the apartment and store were built once the show was picked up. There was also the single casting change with Wendy Makkena playing the General (never named, so maybe not Beckman, but she was wearing the same hair!). So the Pilot looks quite different in a lot of little details.
One of the great pleasures in watching again was feeling like it has held up well over the course of the series. Back story was revisited enough times that the events of the Pilot later felt far more involved than we initially knew, but I still don’t feel they ever broke continuity too badly. One interesting item; even though Casey was the one at the Intersect building who shot Bryce, Sarah actually seemed to know far more about the Intersect than Casey did. I still like the theory Bryce’s “Omaha” line (Chuck vs the Nemesis) indicates she had at least some passing association with the project earlier in her career. The “handler” discussion from the end of Chuck vs the Baby would seem to indicate this was her first mission as agent-in-charge; we also know of her reputation as Graham’s enforcer which may indicate a bit of experience with troubleshooting, and fixing busted missions. So we can perhaps conclude she was a promising and favored young agent, and this was to be her first big opportunity. Some of her discussions with Graham feel like he was an insufferable micro-manager.
But more than anything, this episode is just so much fun. Easily one of the very best Pilots I’ve ever seen. I really can’t think of another show I liked so much, so fast. My feelings and opinions would become deeper and stronger on certain things as the show ran, but this was truly a great start.
Ernie Waxes Nostalgic
So here we are, about to embark on a two-year project, a leisurely once a week re-watch of, as Chris Fedak says, The Chuck Show. It is, to me, an interesting bit of serendipity. About the time this comes out it’ll be just a week short of three years since I discovered Chuck, and my introduction to that show was anything but leisurely.
I believe I was aware that there was a show called Chuck. I was into Heroes and recorded it regularly, but I hadn’t bothered to check out Chuck. I do recall scanning past it and wondering what the hot blonde girl was doing wearing a dirndl in an electronics home theater room, but sad to say that wasn’t enough to lure me in, and since Heroes was starting to lose me in season 3 my discovery of Chuck had to wait yet another season.
I discovered Chuck after season 2, after the Subway campaign, after the decision to bring it back as a post Olympics replacement show, and after Comicon where fans exploded after Josh Schwartz hinted that Chuck and Sarah’s road to coupledom wasn’t going to be as simple as a post Barstow hookup.
I rented Chuck simply because it came up in my Netflix suggestions. I put in the first disk intending to check out the pilot then get to bed early, and ended up watching the entire disk. I was hopelessly hooked by Chuck Versus The Tango, but never did rent that second disk. I stopped off at a
Buy More Best Buy and bought the first season the next day, went through the first season over a weekend, then bought an iTunes season pass for season 2 since it wasn’t yet out on DVD. Season 2 took me about a week. Then something curious happened. I put that first disk back in, and started over. Immediately. I’d never done that with a TV show. I’d re-watched, but usually only after some time had passed. Even Firefly didn’t get an immediate full re-watch, just a few selected episodes in random order. I just wanted these people on my TV (or computer) constantly. I haven’t gone more than a few days without watching Chuck since.
Something started to happen as I re-watched. I started to see subtle themes, or deeper stories than were just on the surface, and there were marvelous visual and musical cues I’d missed at first. It dawned on me that perhaps some of what kept drawing me back was that there was a lot more to this show than just a fun comedy with a great love story unfolding. It was visually rich the music was great, it was more like I experienced the show than watched it. That lead to either one of the best or worst decision of my life. I went online looking for other fans of the show to see if they saw what I saw. Thus started what became a three-year journey in the Chuck fandom.
Like many here I started on the NBC boards and quickly struck up a rapport with the denizens of those boards. A few seemed to share a lot of my views, and all shared my enthusiasm. Discussions became epic, in length and depth and detail, and eventually I followed the link in Amy’s tagline over here and started to comment here too.
It was just Joe, Dave and Amy back then, and for some reason I’ll never understand (and that probably still confuses Dave) they asked me to join their merry band just before season 3 started. And that is the story of how I found my Chuck family, and my hobby (some would say obsession) for the next 3, now going on 5 years.
Oh yeah, the pilot… Can’t put it much better than Dave. The first thing that grabbed me was how much fun the show was and how they could be deadly serious at times, but still not take themselves too seriously. It was all there in the first few minutes of the pilot, from Chuck and Morgan’s antics to Bryce’s heroics and brutal death. These weren’t caricatures, from the beginning they had depth, and while they played on stereotypes, these characters were so much more than that. They had rich inner lives only hinted at initially, but hinted at right off the bat.
There was Chuck’s lost love, Sarah’s need to fix Bryce’s betrayal, the shock on her face as Sarah looks at a smiling Chuck at her doorstep, just after being ordered to be ready to kill him. Oh, and Sarah’s interesting past in that security camera flash. Don’t freak out Chuck. Eventually you’ll realize it was the best birthday ever.
I guess that is a good way to look at the pilot, both as a fan and for the show. Best Birthday Ever.
Upon re-watch a few things struck me. I kept wanting to insert a day, or know if the day had changed. The influence of Baby’s problematic timeline/retcon. I also kept thinking about “piece of cake” and if she was still thinking that the second time she approached Chuck (with, by the way, a pickup line so cheesy it would have been a deal breaker for anyone other than Sarah Walker).
So I thought of something we could highlight in this re-watch. The multi-season mini-arc. Mine for this episode, Pilot, Nacho Sampler, Baby. Think of those scenes that don’t quite fit not so much in terms of the plot or canon timelines, but as a window into the character’s thoughts and emotional state. The Sarah that stood before Graham, ready to start her next assignment in Baby had just had to turn her back on the closest thing she ever had to a home, and the closest she’d ever get to a “normal life” because of the corruption and deceit and greed that filled her world. She was no longer willing to be “handled”, or run by another agent. She didn’t trust her superiors, their motives, or their goals. From now on, Sarah was going to be her own kind of spy. But a spy was still very much who she was, and it placed her in the position of having to struggle with her choices and to actually think about right or wrong or the cost to innocents caught up through no fault of their own. We saw at the beginning of Baby she was clearly already having doubts about the spy world, and by the end she probably thought there was no other life available to her. In a way, watching Baby gives the pilot a whole new story under the story and a subtext that we didn’t really get for quite a while as the series ran. I found it only added to my enjoyment, even though that Sarah and that subtext was nowhere to be seen when the pilot was there, they managed to place it there retroactively.
I’ll just say it. GENIUS!
Believe it or not, I was all on board with bringing Ernie into the fold! I couldn’t have known how often we would disagree, but I have enjoyed the debate, and being forced to defend (and really think about!) my own opinions and attitudes. Although I’m not sure if Ernie has actually changed my mind on anything I liked or disliked, I know he has helped me to seriously examine the how and why of many of my reactions. And actually, many posters and commenters here at this site have helped enormously with that. I certainly know more clearly what works and doesn’t work for me than I ever have before!
Whoa! Computer emergency!
Ah, my turn! First, I realize that we have a large number of new readers, so I’ll leave the nostalgia to Ernie and Dave and concentrate on the why Chuck vs. The Intersect (which is the official title of the pilot episode) still seems so fresh and new to me.
But man, that’s hard. For many us, it’s like seeing an old friend, or, more to the point, an old sweetheart. No matter how long it’s been, the memories are fresh and return like a flood; certainly it’s been that way for me.
The rare and unusual thing (I personally think it’s the great thing) about this show and about this episode in particular is that there are still things to be discovered. Why not? Chuck was built that way. The pilot comes across as more deep, rich and perhaps even more honest after seeing Chuck vs. The Goodbye than it did before. I mean, A geek (uh, make that, a nerd) with a computer in his head and a loathsome bearded troll for a best friend? A super-hot super-spy and a stone-cold NSA assassin who are hot on his tail, and a former roommate-not-an-accountant who (we know now) drives the next three years of Chuck and Sarah’s story/lives, even though he “dies” before the first scene is over?
And it could have ridiculous. But before the episode is over, sometime after Chuck fixes Sarah’s phone and sometime before they talk on the beach, it becomes wonderful. Something about Chuck and Morgan sighing “Yeah…” together over Irene Demova, Chuck saying he had hoped Sarah Walker was a cannibal (because he’d never seen one before) and Sarah telling Chuck I may have to point my gun at you – don’t freak out!” is different from anything I had seen before. There’s danger and gentleness together. Somehow, there’s laughter and threats in the same scene. For the viewers, there’s fun, adventure, excitement, a little romance, a lot of cuteness and … did I say fun? You bet.
There are a lot of technical reasons why the pilot is so great a beginning, and like Dave said, we’ve discussed them. There are the fabulous comedic talents of Zac and Josh, the outstanding choice of music (and musical underpinning of Tim Jones), the excellent casting (shout out to Sarah Lancaster, Ryan McPartlin, Scott Krinski & Vik Sahay, Julia Ling, Mark Christopher Lawrence and even C.S. Lee!) a unique story concept and of course, the amazing chemistry between Zac and Yvonne. But talking about the technical aspects misses the point.
Chuck grabs the heart. As funny and as exciting as it is, it’s about friendship, family (group hug!), about what life can throw at you, and love. Boy, is it about love. Adventure shows and heroes are a dime a dozen on TV. So are “buddy shows” and comedies. But this show is all that and about an underachieving everyman finding the courage for just once in his life to grab at the brass ring. It’s about the shot we all want Chuck to take, because, whether we are 8 or 68, there’s something of ourselves in that story.
Maybe it was about the time we took a chance and failed, or about the time we took a chance and won. Or it’s about us today and tomorrow. Chuck (the character) asks us to take a risk like he did and to grab at the the next ring when the chance comes along. It’s never too late to try, after all, and it’s never too late to do the right thing even when the cost is terribly high.
Did I say Chuck is deep and rich? Certainly.
I always want to remember that the episode ended on the beach, with Sarah telling Chuck to do one last thing for her – “Trust me.” That’s not right. There’s a final scene, in the Buy More, where Big Mike tells Chuck to train the new employee – it’s John Casey, who just spent a day trying to kill him. There’s a new customer also, who’ll soon be working nearby, and Chuck flashes on her ring. She’s a stone-cold assassin herself, who’ll pretty much stop at nothing to complete her mission. Everything in Chuck’s life is changed now, and compared to them, Chuck is the weak sister. In a battle of wills (or any other kind of battle, for that matter), he doesn’t stand a chance.
Yet, of all the characters, Chuck is the one who’s unchanged at the 91st episode. Yes, he’s grown, but Chuck is still the same guy who told a sad child that “Real ballerina’s are tall.”. The same guy who whimpered in the Large Mart at a menacing figure pointed his finger at two super-spies and said “You – you need me.” Because they do. Chuck changes them. He has that effect on Morgan, Casey and especially on Sarah. And truth be told, he changed me, too.
Oops. I guess I got nostalgic anyway!
It’s Hard to Say Goodbye
That’s what Bryce said as he hit the Intersect transfer button. It was a theme of sorts for the series, and it’s certainly true of us here at ChuckThis. It’s hard to say goodbye, so we won’t for a while.
I stumbled into Chuck sort of like Ernie did, only a year later … right at the end of S3. A friend got me hooked on Castle, and I watched both seasons straight through. It was my new favorite show. Then I read an opinion about Castle that predicted that the leads might get together midway through season three like … wait for it … CHUCK. Chuck?? What’s Chuck? I looked it up, and it sounded interesting, so I found it and started watching with the Pilot. Like Dave, my current favorite show (in my case Castle) wore the crown for only a brief time before Chuck stole it. And I fully expect that Chuck will keep that particular crown.
After catching up with all three seasons, I found the blog, and I’ve been here ever since. Ernie contacted me about joining as an author, and I wasn’t at all sure what I would write or if I’d be able to add much to the site, but they took me in anyway and became my Chuck family. So here I am all moved in and not looking to leave anytime soon. Why? Because it’s hard to say goodbye.
Now, the Pilot. I’ll add only a little because Dave and Ernie and Joe have covered so much so eloquently.
Working on a five year plan. Well, since we just finished S5, I couldn’t help thinking that Chuck’s five year plan probably looked absolutely nothing like his next five years. Two things dropped into his life, things he never saw coming, things that were going to change him forever: the Intersect and Sarah Walker. And if we’re to believe his (almost) last words of the series, Sarah is the one who really changed his life. But no more than he changed hers.
I love all of the things about the show: the balance of genres, the ability to turn on a dime from danger to humor to heartwarming to bombs to family; the intangibles and noble themes that run through the show and are built into the characters, especially Chuck and Sarah. But oh how I love the fact that Schwedak let these characters grow. It makes them so much more real. And it kept me invested in them.
Thanks Ernie for commenting on the Baby factor. I love that backward glance at pre-Chuck Sarah and thinking about how it prepared her for her Burbank assignment. You describe her position perfectly. Add in Bryce’s betrayal, and Sarah is completely vulnerable to Chuck’s charm and very much in need of what he has to offer.
What else about the Pilot?
Sarah the fixer. That won’t change. Sarah is, and always will be, a fixer. Sometimes it’s hilarious (Wedding Planner and A-Team, for example), sometimes it’s heartwarming (Marlin), sometimes it’s dramatic and dangerous and romantic (Colonel and Phase 3). And you can add to the list, because Sarah is always fixing something. It’s part of her charm.
The date prep: the contrast of worlds is fantastic. It was our first CHUCK montage, and it remains a favorite. Ellie advises Chuck about the date, as Graham advises Sarah about the “date.” Sarah dons knives, poison hair sticks, and a kevlar vest … while Chuck chooses a shirt and tames his hair. Sarah packs heat, and he shows up with a bouquet and a goofy grin. When she opens the door, two worlds meet, and Chuck and Sarah come face to face with their future.
Sarah’s difficulty in keeping her professional distance from Chuck. (The real relationship was there from day 1.) She is a spy, a good one, and we see that. But Chuck begins getting behind her walls immediately: with the ballerina, when she meets him at the door, in the restaurant with his comment about his past girl friend. He is unlike anyone she’s ever known, and she is drawn to him. It’s that simple. We see it in her face, and later we hear it from her lips. She fell for him in the first 36 hours.
And that’s the core of what drew me in. It was always about their story. Their lives began to mix on the beach at sunrise. Five years later, on a bleach at sunset, the only story that still matters is Chuck and Sarah’s love story.