tl;dr: “Chuck” is quite simply the best television show in recent history. Maybe in television history, but that is a little more subjective.
Okay, let’s get into it: I hate incomplete stories. Hate hate hate hate.
I know stories are fiction. But once I suspend my disbelief to start to enjoy a story, I want it to end. In the interest of extending this introduction, let me point out that I hated the ending of Wayne’s World, because giving multiple possible endings left me feeling like it didn’t actually end at all. And I hated reading The Princess Bride, too, because of the book ending subverting the typical fairy tale storybook tropes. Bah. Bah, I say!
But I understand that the television business is a rough world. You have a great premise, but you can’t pay writers until you have a contract. So you often don’t know for sure how closely the actual filming will stay with the originally-planned storyline, even during the first season. And since subsequent seasons aren’t a sure thing unless the series gets renewed, future storylines aren’t even planned out, and maybe not even considered.
One way to keep your television series on the air is to, just like in writing, raise the stakes.
You already have the premise. People are hooked. Now start complicating things. They are invested in the characters, so put the characters through hell. Set up cliffhangers, particularly about the most popular characters. Leave your audience begging for resolution.
But don’t make it so complicated your audience gives up and ratings plummet.
You can add more and more spinning plates. Kick the resolution down the road. Tomorrow will take care of itself.
The problem with this short-term thinking? Sometimes stories never get finished. When things get too complicated, there is no satisfying way to wrap up all the issues, the audience leaves, and the show gets cancelled. It happened with the X-Files (I’m *so* happy I never started with that). It happened, to an extent, with Lost. It is happening with Game of Thrones, although George R. R. Martin has apparently given an outline to the showrunners so they can finish the story that he can’t seem to.
These sorts of things leave me unsatisfied.
The way to resolve it is to have story arcs. Each episode should be self-contained, for the most part, with an arc that completes at the end of the episode. The season should also have a story arc that wraps up the issues introduced at the beginning of the season and were developed throughout that year. And then you have an overall series arc, bookended with a resolution.
“Chuck” did those things. It might have been by accident; I certainly don’t think “Chuck” was able to hire writers significantly better than anyone else in Hollywood. It might have been because they were always hovering at the brink of cancellation, so they felt less at liberty to introduce elements that couldn’t be resolved within one season.
In any case, “Chuck” is a true rarity in American television: a story-based show with nested arcs that actually wraps things up tightly.
The show starts with Chuck having failed at life, having been thrown out of Stanford, dumped by his girl, working at a Big Box store that is beneath his abilities, and lonely. It ends with him accomplished, having developed his many different talents and abilities, retained his humanity despite difficult circumstances, and with the love of his life by his side.
It even bookends locations, (sorta). It doesn’t end at the same location it begins, but the final scene of the last show is at the same location as the final scene of the first show, and for similar reasons. It was actually masterfully done.
The fact that “Chuck” completes the story is reason enough to watch it. Writers should study it for structure, characterization, foreshadowing, etc.
But that isn’t all “Chuck” is.
It is a science fiction story: a guy has a supercomputer downloaded into his brain. It’s a comedy: there are some great laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a love story. It’s one of the better assembly-cast works out there: the side characters add so much depth and interest to the story, to include Casey, Morgan, Jeffster, Captain Awesome, and others. It’s a character-growth story: all the characters grow and develop throughout the series.
Another reason to watch is just all the little Easter Eggs and references to past works. There are references to Dune, Spies Like Us, The Terminator, Die Hard, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Charade, and more.
And the Guest Stars! Scott Bakula, Linda Hamilton, Brandon Routh, Summer Glau, Kristin Kreuk, Dolph Lundgren, Richard Chamberlain, Tony Hale, Chevy Chase, Robert Englund, Carrie-Anne Moss, Reginald VelJohnson (in a Die-Hard-ish episode), Bruce Boxleitner, Christopher Lloyd, Morgan Fairchild, Robin Givens, Rachel Bilson, Gary Cole, Nicole Richie, Armand Assante, John Larroquette, Steve Austin, James Hong, “Louis Litt” from “Suits”, Robert Patrick, Fred Willard, Craig Kilborn, Cheryl Ladd, Michael Clarke Duncan, Andy Richter, Mark Hamill…
Okay, now even I’m getting bored of the list.
I was also impressed by how the show surprised me at times. Chuck was a bumbling dork in the first few episodes, but even very early on, the writers were actually able to have some surprisingly good problem resolutions, where Chuck did something intelligent and innovative to solve a problem that didn’t involve his Intersect ability, but merely his native cleverness. The resolution in the circumstances I’m thinking of were foreshadowed earlier in the episode, but perfectly set up: they seemed like throwaway humor points, yet Chuck was able to apply them perfectly to win the day. Little moments of skillful writing like that go a long way to earning my Willful Suspension of Disbelief at other moments.
And it does need your Willful Suspension of Disbelief. It isn’t a perfect show, and it isn’t a perfect series. It’s merely the best one humanity has ever produced to date. But that still isn’t perfect.
Still, I urge you to stream it, or better yet, purchase the entire collection from Amazon. It’s worth it. It’s a great show.
Don’t believe me? Read this review:
Chuck is the most entertaining show on TV. It’s shot well and the writing is smart and quick. The acting is superb from the extras to the main characters.The story is dramatic and visionary where the character dynamics can be turned on a dime. Love and romance, an agent searching for a good fight, an average guy tossed into the world of espionage; this show has it all.
You will laugh and cry, rejoice and be frustrated because of character depth and great acting. All the characters are lovable and relatable.
NBC has found a hero in Chuck, who as a typical guy, inspires us to be better. The creed of the show is to take care of your family and friends. Simply Chuck calls to do right even in tough times.
It’s certainly a show that will keep you on your toes throughout. Without a doubt this is the best show I’ve ever seen.
At first I was skeptical but after two or three episodes I was hooked because its funny and exciting with a great story to it. I implore you to take a chance on Chuck, trust me its worth it. Regardless of anything else there is nothing else on TV like it.
And no, that wasn’t me that wrote it. But it captures the show perfectly.