Gone But Not Forgotten: Chuck
It’s taken me a while to come to grips with the fact that I’m a nerd. It’s not always the best niche to find yourself in when you’re in high school. So when I saw the ads for Chuck, I was thrilled on a number of levels. First, I remembered the lead actor, Zachary Levi, from another sitcom called Less Than Perfect. Second, his character Chuck Bartowski works in retail, and ever since Clerks came out, I love finding anything that shows what a retail worker goes through. And the theme song is by one of my favorite bands, Cake. Sold!
Chuck is your basic every-nerd, spending his nights playing Call of Duty and his days working an underpaying job that he’s way overqualified for. Change Call of Duty to Sid Meier’s Civilization and Chuck is me. Everyone wants to see themselves represented in the media, and that’s no different for nerd culture. At the time, we weren’t really well represented. We were the comic relief, the weirdo that everybody laughed at, much like those high school years. But for a nerd to be the hero of the show, that, my friends, was innovation.
In the show, Chuck’s life takes a drastic turn from the ordinary when, on his birthday, he opens an email from his old college roommate, Bryce Larkin (Matt Bomer), who had stolen his girlfriend and got him kicked out of Stanford for cheating on a test. When he opens the email, he’s bombarded by thousands of images, overlapping in a constant stream, only visible for maybe a fraction of a second. Bryce had stolen a government program called The Intersect that embeds secrets in those images, and viewing them makes Chuck an extremely valuable asset.
The supporting actors are well cast. The friendship between Chuck and his BFF Morgan Grimes, played by Joshua Gomez, was so natural you could tell this was not just an on-camera thing. The rest of the cast includes his love interest and CIA handler Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski), his NSA handler and general badass John Casey (Adam Baldwin), his crazy coworkers Jeff Barnes (Scott Krinsky) and Lester Patel (Vik Sahay), his sister Ellie Bartowski (Sarah Lancaster), and her boyfriend then husband Devon “Captain Awesome” Woodcomb (Ryan McPartlin). Each and every relationship feels powerfully real. There is never a sense that these people are acting, although you really hope Krinsky and Sahay are, except when they are rocking your face off in their cover band Jeffster. In addition, Chuck had some amazing guest stars: Linda Hamilton, Scott Bakula, Timothy Dalton, Lauren Cohan before she became Maggie on The Walking Dead, Mark Hamill, Bo Derek, the list goes on.
Perhaps the best part is that Chuck manages to escape his humdrum life. He travels the world stopping bad guys with his Intersect-enabled kung-fu, disabling bombs with apple juice and porn, and through it all, stays the same. Chuck’s a proud nerd, and if he can do it, why can’t everyone? I’m not sure if we’d have the many nerd-centric shows on TV or the internet today without Chuck and Big Bang Theory, which debuted the same year. But we aren’t all astrophysicists, and that’s where Chuck excels, raising the profile of the common nerd and showing us we aren’t alone in this world.
And Chuck was not alone. From the beginning, Chuck was on the bubble. Despite what has since blossomed into an incredibly passionate following, every single year of its life, Chuck was in danger of being cancelled. Fans went ballistic. They bombarded Subway, who became a sponsor of the show, because one of the characters, store manager Big Mike (played by Mark Christopher Lawrence) loved his chicken teriyaki sandwiches. They helped the show stay on the air for five seasons, ending with a somewhat controversial finale that, in my opinion, perfectly bookends the series and needs no further explanation (although I’m probably in the minority here). It, unfortunately, fell just nine episodes shy of the coveted 100 episode goal for syndication, but in that short time it managed to create an undyingly loyal family among fans who support not just the actors from the show in every endeavor, but each other. Chuck is no longer just a show, it’s become a way of life.
Chuck was removed from Netflix streaming late last year just like Psych (also when I was in mid-binge), but it’s still available on DVD.com and from iTunes. Zachary Levi went on to take over the role of Fandral in Thor: The Dark World, be nominated for a Tony award in the delightful She Loves Me (the first Broadway show to be live-streamed), and recreate his character Flynn Ryder/Eugene Fitzherbert in the Disney Channel‘s Tangled: The Series. Yvonne Strahovski landed roles in Dexter, 24: Live Another Day, and the incredible The Handmaid’s Tale that is currently airing on Hulu. And we, the common nerds that found our place in the world, thanks to a little show about a guy at a Buy More, will follow them all wherever they go.
You can also read about another Gone But Not Forgotten show, Psych, here. Next up is one you may not have heard of, Sports Night, which you can read about here. You can also read about another series, Pushing Daisies.