Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Peps' TV Series Wrap-up: Chuck


And so I say goodbye to Chuck.

The final episode for the fifth season, as well as the entire series, aired January 27.  It's over.  There's no more denial for me.

And now I have to write about it. 

When I started blogging again, I knew that at some point I would have to write a wrap-up blog post for the end of a TV series.

I just never thought that the first one would be about Chuck.

It's like breaking up with the best boyfriend ever. 

So... here I am, still trying to get over the fact that it's over and attempting to make a coherent post about a TV series that I already miss terribly.  I don't think I can avoid writing about major plot points or endings from seasons old and new, so for those who haven't watched it... Why haven't you?  Anyway, major spoilers ahead.  And yeah, this is going to be long.

season 1 promo poster
I followed the show ever since its inception in 2007.  The Tonight Show with Jay Leno featured a segment showing Zachary Levi making the rounds on people's apartments, carrying a life-size cutout of himself and asking residents to watch the show on its premiere.  I found the promotional stunt to be cute enough to warrant watching the first episode and I was officially hooked.

Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) is a seeming underachiever who is a part of the Nerd Herd team at Buy More, where he has worked ever since he got kicked out of Stanford University for supposedly cheating.  One day, he is surprised to find an email from Bryce Larkin (Matt Bomer), his former best friend and the reason for his eviction from college, which effectively ruined his life plans.  He opens the email and inadvertently downloads the Intersect, a merged database of the CIA and NSA, into his brain.  His life is turned upside down as the government tries to retrieve the Intersect by sending out agents Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) from the CIA and John Casey (Adam Baldwin) from the NSA.  Sarah and Casey end up becoming Chuck's handlers when they learn that he had literally become the Intersect.  Chuck balances his normal life and his life as a top secret asset, which he keeps from his best friend Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez), his sister Ellie Bartowski, Ellie's boyfriend Devon Woodcomb aka Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin), and his coworkers at the Buy More.

In the course of the next five years, Chuck hates then learns to value the Intersect, falls in love with Sarah, finds confidence in himself, and becomes a great, albeit unconventional, spy.  Conspiracies abound, dastardly enemies make an appearance or manipulate from the background, and danger lurk in every corner.  Then you throw in people finding out about Chuck's spy life, weddings, reunions, and two final episodes that made me cry.  A lot. 

There are many reasons why Chuck made for great TV.  It featured a great concept, great writing, and most of all, a great cast that had great chemistry.  Chuck garnered a dedicated and passionate following that only a few shows enjoy.

Subway product endorsement scene
Which is why it was frustrating that it was always tagged as on the bubble every time NBC had to decide on the shows that will be getting another season the following fall.  I don't know if that was because the concept was too geeky, the lack of marketing since the second season, heavy competition in the time slot, or that Americans just didn't know good television.  Every year leading to May, entertainment specialty publications and shows would ask fans which on the bubble TV series they wanted to save, with Chuck ending up at the top of many lists.  Even with the nerd love, there was always uncertainty if Chuck and the gang would ever come back in September.  It got to the point where Subway had to make a significant investment just to keep the show on air.  And for that, I valued every scene showing blatant product placement of the sandwich chain.

Eventually, the fall season premiere to the spring renewal uncertainty cycle had to stop.  When it was announced on summer of 2011 that Chuck got picked up for a fifth season, creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak also announced that it would be the last.

I don't think I ever quite recovered from that.  I spent a lot of time denying it.  I was appreciative of the fact that Chuck would get a proper send-off, which some shows never got (hello, Firefly).  But it was still too sad.

season 5 promo poster
When season 5 premiered in October of last year, I made a decision to wait until the finale aired and I would marathon all thirteen episodes.  When January 27 rolled in, I started watching the last season of one of my favorite TV series of all time.  By the time I finished, I was exhausted.  The previous seasons of Chuck usually featured one season arc with a major villain.  What the final season dished out, however, was at least three major villains and a plethora of plot lines that beautifully tied together by the time "Chuck Versus Sarah" and "Chuck Versus the Goodbye" rolled in.  Even if we didn't like that it was ending, the finale that everyone involved in Chuck dished out would be the greatest gift that we could get as fans.

I don't usually set expectations when it comes to watching anything, but despite my trepidation at the fact that the show was ending, I looked forward to see what kind of send off they would give Chuck.  The only benefit that came out of the previously mentioned uncertainty with season renewal year in and year out, is that the cast and crew worked on every season as if it was the last.  They didn't skimp on plot development that other shows would have taken years to unfold.  Big questions were asked and you expected big answers to be given by the time the season finale rolled.  Every succeeding season featured a bigger and badder villain who was defeated by May.  And at every season's end, you see the characters growing or evolving.  So yes, I was definitely interested to see how it would all end.

After watching the final episodes, I was, as expected, satisfied with the ending they gave Chuck.

But I'm still not happy about the show ending its run.

And yes, those two are completely different things.

Before I rant about that at length, I've broken down the things that I loved about the show.  Yes, that includes the ending.  *sigh*

the cast of Chuck
The Cast
As a viewer, you learn to recognize if the cast actually like each other behind the scenes, which usually translates to wonderful chemistry on screen (hello, Community).  This was true for the cast of Chuck, as evidenced by how well the relationships of the different characters played out on screen.  Chuck and his love for Sarah, which would eventually be reciprocated.  The loyalty between best friends Chuck and Morgan.  Chuck's close relationship with his sister, Ellie.  The spy trifecta that is Chuck, Sarah and Casey, which would eventually become a foursome (I don't know what comes after trifecta) when Morgan joins them.  The unlikely friendship between Morgan and Casey, which was complicated when Morgan dated Casey's daughter, Alex McHugh (Mekenna Melvin).  Morgan and his future stepfather, Big Mike (Mark Christopher Lawrence), who shared too much about his sex life with Morgan's mom.  And the diabolical friendship of Jeff Barnes (Scott Krinsky) and Lester Patel (Vic Sahay), who made up the musical duo Jeffster and always caused trouble for others or themselves.

Of the many characters in the show, I would like to commend the great work by two of the cast members.  Kudos to Adam Baldwin who mastered the wordless grunt as the best response to everything, whether to express disdain, anger, warning or reluctant agreement.  You know the man is good when you knew exactly what "Grrr" meant in a scene.

The other commendation is for Yvonne Strahovski, who was not just convincing as a beautiful yet dangerous spy, but was someone who gamely tried anything for the show, whether it was to speak in different languages or accents, to enact the most difficult fight scenes out of everyone in the cast, or to wear a variety of skimpy and fan-service targeted costumes.  While many appreciate her dressed up as a famous bikini clad character from Star Wars and have probably paraded in enough lingerie to fill up a catalog, the most famous costume she endured wearing was the Weinerlicious uniform.  While I'm not part of the target demographic for such costumes, I will forever appreciate her dedication. 

Zachary Levi as Chuck Bartowski
The Nerd 
And there's Chuck himself.  Much of the show's success was dependent on how well Zachary Levi would do as the titular character.  The end result was one of the most adorable characters on television.  And while his character eventually became more confident, suave and capable (notice the difference between the season 1 and season 5 posters above), he was still Chuck at the end of the day.  He was still loyal to his loved ones.  He still refused to carry a gun with actual bullets, preferring to stick to his trusty tranquilizer dart gun.  He was still apt to believe that there is good in everyone, unless they try to hurt the important people in his life.  He was still a nerd.  No one stopped rooting for Chuck, because he deserved it all.  Ellie was right in saying that at the end of the day, all the Intersect ever did for Chuck was made him aware of what he was capable of.

Chuck and Sarah
The Nerd Love
One of the biggest driving factors of the show is the love story between Chuck and Sarah.  Fans knew that the show would play the will they or won't they card.  Knowing that the TV industry likes to draw out the won't they part, because the will they scenario have caused the death of a lot of TV series, we expected that they would do the same for Chuck.  Much to our surprise, despite a couple of false starts, the show gave the audience the admission of love in season 3, a wedding in season 4, and the talk about moving to a house with a red door and having kids in season 5.

Sure, everyone knew they would end up together.  Why wouldn't they?  They're perfect for each other.  But the road to their happy ending did end up with a few (major) bumps along the way.  The Intersect.  Bryce Larkin.  Daniel Shaw.  Sarah's hesitation, despite a couple of nearly there moments, which lasted two and a half seasons.  Alexei Volkoff.  And the deadly combination of a bad version of the Intersect and Nicholas Quinn.  To quote Casey... "Grrr".

They take it all in stride, with each one assuring the other that everything would be okay.  Even the whopper of a twist in the last three episodes didn't derail Chuck's dedication and love for Sarah.  And I don't think any of the fans believed it could be any other ending either.  This nerd will always get his girl.  And the girl returned the love so much that she fought her way through Thailand to find him, earning her the nickname "giant blonde she-male".

Dune sandworm Halloween costume
The Nerdiness
There are TV series that attempt to come off as pop culture savvy, but only a few can actually pull it off (hello, The Big Bang Theory and Community).  Chuck is one of those few shows.  It helped that you know Zachary Levi and Joshua Gomez knew what they were talking about when they discussed stuff to geek out on.  Video game references abound, and characters always talked about doing a marathon of Star Wars or Indiana Jones.  Only the good parts, mind you.  My favorite nerdy pop culture reference in the show.... Chuck and Morgan attending a Halloween party as a Dune sandworm.  This isn't just a regular worm or sandworm that they dressed up as, people.  It's a DUNE SANDWORM.  They produce spice and they destroy harvesters and they're scary and you can learn to ride them if you're a Fremen and.... I digress. 

Pudi and Brown from Community
The Guest Stars
For a show that always seemed to struggle with ratings and season renewal, Chuck didn't seem to have the same difficulty when it came to getting big name guest stars.  TVLine recently posted an article featuring a gallery of the great guest stars that appeared throughout the show's five season run.  My picks were Scott Bakula as Chuck's dad Stephen Bartowski; Linda Hamilton as Chuck's mom Mary Elizabeth Bartowski; Summer Glau as a Greta; and Carrie-Anne Moss as Gertrude Verbanski.  My hands down favorite guesting on Chuck, though, would be the very short appearance of Danny Pudi as Vali Chandrasekaren and the succeeding cameo by Yvette Brown.  Yay for Community cast appearances!!

Brandon Routh as Daniel Shaw
The Villain
Now, on to my favorite guest star villains.  Chevy Chase as Ted Roark, Timothy Dalton as Alexei Volkoff and Mark Sheppard as The Director of The Ring were all effectively evil in their own ways.  Season 5 featured a plethora of villains, including Angus Macfadyen as Nicholas Quinn, who I will forever hate because of what he did to Sarah that led to the heartbreaking "Chuck Versus Sarah".  But THE VILLAIN on Chuck would always be Daniel Shaw, played by Brandon Routh.  When he first made an appearance during the third season, I thought he was just the hunky eye candy who would provide conflict in the then unresolved romance between Chuck and Sarah.  He wasn't evil when he started, but after finding out about Sarah's connection to his past, the result was a character so coldly capable of evil and inflicting pain in every way possible.  His short return in season 5 just reinforced my belief that he was the best villain the series ever had.  Never mind Superman Returns, this is Brandon Routh's best performance to date.

The Ending
While there were many outstanding episodes throughout the entire series that I could detail and turn this blog post into a two week reading affair, I felt it was apt to talk about the end.  For me, "Chuck Versus Sarah" and "Chuck Versus the Goodbye" are two necessary parts of a whole, even if the former was difficult to watch.

Yvonne Strahovski was always great as Sarah, but I had renewed appreciation for her in "Chuck Versus Sarah".  After the dastardly Nicholas Quinn kidnapped Sarah at the end "Chuck Versus the Bullet Train", he wiped away her memories of the past five years and manipulated her into believing Chuck was the enemy.  Sarah reverted to her old spy self.  She was cold, deadly and a lot scary.  Fans' hearts broke along with Chuck's at the realization that his wife might never get her memories back.  It was difficult to watch the scene when Chuck tried to convince Sarah that they were really in love and she told him that it was all an act because of her mission.  I cried every time Zachary Levi did.  I had to explain to Marvin why I was crying so hard while watching a TV series episode.  Actually, I wasn't just producing tears.  I was sobbing.  I don't think I've ever watched anything that provoked this much empathy out of me.  That includes One Liter of Tears, Hachiko and Koizora, where main characters actually die.

By the time "Chuck Versus the Goodbye" started, I was hoping very, very hard for a happy ending.  I felt so bad, I was willing to settle for a semblance of a happy ending.

Chuck and Sarah team up to track down Quinn before he assembled the pieces that will allow him to upload the Intersect without the memory wiping flaw.  The episode was chock full of familiar settings, such as the restaurant where they had their first date from the pilot and a Weinerlicious branch.  Sarah unconsciously responds to certain details or places, giving Chuck hope that she could get her memories back.  Finally, they track down Quinn as he gets the final piece.  Lives were endangered.  They had to rely on Jeffster to help save the day by buying them time.  The bad guy was defeated.  And to save the lives of people, Chuck and Sarah sacrificed the opportunity for her to get her memories back. 

In the end, everyone got their closure.  And for all of them, the closure was a new beginning.

The Buy More is sold and under the new management of Subway.

Jeff and Lester goes to Germany, where they will be famous as Jeffster.

Ellie and Devon move with Clara to Chicago, in order to pursue big career opportunities.

Morgan and Alex move in together.

Casey leaves to be with Gertrude.

Sarah decides to leave to find herself again.  Chuck finds her at the beach where they sat at the end of the first episode of the series.  Chuck tells her their story and about Morgan's theory that a magical kiss will bring her memories back.  They kiss.  And well....

Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak leave it to the fans to guess whether Sarah got her memories back or not.

Whether she did or not... I'm sure they got that house with the red door eventually.

the end

Happy viewing, Nerds.

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