MUST WATCH SFF Television Show: Chuck

  • by Gitabushi

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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.

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Adventure Time is “new pulp”

I haven’t written about Adventure Time yet, have I? Dang. At first I was tempted to say “Adventure Time is pulp,” but of course that doesn’t adhere to the real, literal definition of the term.

Despite the admirable and vigorous impetus possessed by some yeomen of the nascent Pulp Revolution (that is, the collective of writers, bloggers, readers, critics, fans, et al. who have rediscovered the old greats of the original pulp stories, and now strive to bring about a revival of sorts or else an inspired new era of science fiction/fantasy), I personally do not believe in trying to redefine that which already has a very rigid and clear meaning. As Cirsova and John Smith (above) point out, “pulp” is quite actually a type of story published in a pulp magazine between 1896 and somewhere abouts in the 1950s. As Rawle (above) also pointed out, we must not redefine pulp  as “stuff we like.” That’s like saying “I love hard science fiction, ergo any scifi stories I like are hard science fiction.”

But as I was saying, Adventure Time is not pulp. It is quite pulpy, though. Whatever we’re calling that which evokes the spirit and ethos of the old pulp stories and seems to draw inspiration from the old greats – that’s what Adventure Time is. “New pulp?” Whatever.

Interestingly, this is another thing of classification “stuff that Kaiju got me into.” Before being reluctantly persuaded to watch, Adventure Time looked like a goofy kid’s show to me. Perhaps worse and quite evidently unfairly, it made me think of Hot Topic and Cat Dog.

 

Even upon my first viewing, I wasn’t initially sold. Kaiju and I were hanging out, and he says “Hey let’s watch Adventure Time.”

I was skeptical.

“Dude, shut up, you’ll like it.”

I yielded, skeptically, as is my wont.

The first episode was about a kingdom of candy people with a bubblegum princess. Ugh. But wait, then there were zombies. And though Jake the Dog was a little off-putting at first (John DiMaggio at that point was Bender the Robot in my mind), I quickly grew to like him. I mean a loyal, brave, shape-shifting mutant dog creature? That’s ok in my book. And Finn the Human was pretty cool too. Yes, he has a weird hat. But he also wields swords and sees it as his mission to defend the weak, defeat evil, and essentially just be a badass hero. Yes!

As I watched more episodes on my own time, the world of Ooo began to unfurl. And it was massive. This is a land filled with monsters, mad wizards, all manner of strange mutants and weird creatures, talking animals, aliens, robots, dungeons and magic.

Despite the easy fun of most episodes, the cartoon’s presentation and style are complex and layered. The animation is inspired by the old Max Fleischer cartoons and Felix the Cat. Inspirations for the story and the world itself are varied and impressive. Creator Pendleton Ward has described the show as a dark comedy, because he loves the feeling of being happy and scared at the same time. He works to combine a bleak kind of humor with beautiful “Miyazaki”-style moments (he’s cited My Neighbor Totoro as an inspiration for this type of beauty).

Executive producer Fred Seibert has named Dungeons and Dragons and video games as inspirations, and that shows. There are characters and settings and situations that now strike me as weird, almost Vancian imaginings.

 

Although (like a lot of anime) there are some less satisfying “filler” episodes scattered about, Adventure Time does a masterful job developing its characters and advancing its general story while at the same time capturing the spirit of serialized adventure. Some of the funnest episodes are those in which Finn and Jake just fight monsters and/or explore dungeons. “Dungeon Train” was a great episode for this, as was “The Enchiridion!

My favorite AT stories are probably the more melancholy ones, though. There are storylines in which Finn deals with being the (presumed) only human left in the world; with seeking out his father; and in dealing with young love and heartbreak. We also get to learn more (often heartbreaking tales) about ancillary characters like the Ice King, who, though on the surface is a crazed, silly, perverted old mage, actually has a sad, moving, noble past. The way this show is able to blend and transition between comedy, beauty, and gut-wrenching poignancy brings to mind Futurama at its best.

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We are also occasionally treated to glimpses of characters at different times and places, sometimes Ooo beyond the lifetimes of our protagonists. The haunting song of Lemonhope comes to mind:

 

There’s so much to love about Adventure Time that it’s difficult to really do it justice in one simple blog post. But one more admirable element I’d like to note is the way the show glories in heroics. While plot elements can get really dark at times, Finn and Jake never waver or shy away from their roles. Even when things seem hopeless, they fight. And they’re good guys; it’s that simple. As gray and nuanced as our entertainment can be these days, it’s heartening to have a show where the good guys are just good.

So if you like genre bending (I’d probably call it post-apocalyptic scifi fantasy), action and adventure, dark comedy, fun, heroic heroes, and emotionally-layered animation…do yourself a favor and check it out.

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Oh, and just try to tell me that Ron Perlman as the Lich isn’t the greatest. “You are strong, child. But I am beyond strength.”

 

-Bushi

bushi

Walking Dead, Season 7: Far-Right Tutorial

  • by Gitabushi

There are plenty of spoilers in the following piece.  If you aren’t caught up on the story, well, at some point you have to take responsibility for being weeks behind.  There has been plenty of time for everyone to catch up on the storyline, so I’m not even going to try to avoid spoilers.  I’ll put it below the jump, however.  And the spoilers will be minor, I think.

Continue reading “Walking Dead, Season 7: Far-Right Tutorial”

A Merry Twilight Zone Episode

Ah, the holiday season. Back in the days before one could watch a Christmas Story for 24 hours straight on TBS, there was a veritable cornucopia of Christmas fare available for holiday consumption.

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Of course there are the older classics like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and March of the Wooden Soldiers. You’ve got your slew of Rankin and Bass animations, a Charlie Brown Christmas, Muppet and Disney stories, and a million Frosty and Rudolph permutations. There are the Home Alone films, those ones with Arnold and Tim Allen, and all the Scrooge movies (the Bill Murray version being perhaps the best of the bunch). The Nightmare Before Christmas, Christmas Vacation, White Christmas, Bad Santa, Ellllfffffff…..

Oh, and let’s not forget that one movie that some people think is a Christmas movie because the story incidentally takes place around Christmas time.

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Wait, that’s not…

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Hold on…

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Let me just…

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There we go.

As I was saying, also beloved is the tradition of the TV show Christmas special. Do they still call them that, or are they now “holiday specials?” Regardless, I recently checked out a very special episode of the Twilight Zone (available to watch if you subscribe to Netflix) – “Night of the Meek.”

The 11th episode of the second season of the oft creepy TV classic has a bit of a heavy start to it and ends up being rather heart-warming.

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The episode is short enough that I’d rather not spoil its plot, but suffice it to say that there’s something refreshing about the obviously flawed but goodhearted and honest protagonist. He drinks to drown out not his own plight, the but sorrows of the world around him. What, then, will happen when he’s given the chance to bring some Christmas cheer to the unfortunates around him?

If I had to offer a criticism, it’s that like so many other Christmas shows and films, there’s no Christ here. Sure, Santa Clause holds a prominent place in Christian custom, but he’s not the reason for the season. Still, I’d say a positive Christian message about selflessness and charity is a good second-place prize.

I highly recommend checking out “Night of the Meek” if you’ve got 25 minutes; you won’t regret it. Or you could go watch a Christmas Story again.

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-Bushi

bushi

Badass Womanly Women in SFF

A popular grievance of the Left is a lack of “inclusion” by either the Powers That Be or the population in general. As if we happy associates of the white, Christian Patriarchy have the time to step away from counting our piles of gold coins and smoking fine cigars long enough to actively knock the undesirables (or deplorables, if you will) down to the base of the ladder where they belong. This idea is usually born either by recently enlightened members of the aggrieved class or else sufficiently apologetic, self-appointed proxies. Self-righteous pensters have been decrying a lack of diversity in X for quite some time now.

Though it wasn’t the (original) central issue, there was plenty of talk focused on this topic during the whole Gamergate affair. Plenty of people pointed out that there are many prominent female video game characters – something easily ascertainable to those who have actually played video games or done some cursory research.

What about women in other media?

We’ve been told how great it is that we’re now finally getting some diversity in TV and film. With strong women like Rey in the Force Awakens and the Ghostbusters reboot, who needs traditional gender roles? Indeed, who needs men?

This dreck has been percolating for a while now. Is there a pushback coming?

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For the greater American culture, I’m not so certain. The pendulum swings both ways for sure, but it’s not easy to predict the full range of the cultural fulcrum. In a more limited arena, at any rate, the battle rages on.

To counter the cries of discrimination, I’ve noted several bloggers and online literary critics highlighting female excellence within the scifi-fantasy arena – pertaining both to writers and characters. Leigh Brackett and Margaret St. Clair are familiar names to Appendix N scholars or those fans on the farther side of the SFF Generation Gap. CJ Cherryh, Ursula Le Guin, Madeleine L’engle, Anne Rice, Anne McCaffrey, and Katherine Kurtz are some other big names who have been around for decades. Hell, JK Rowling is one of the best selling authors of all time, with Agatha Christie (a different genre, but still) topping the chart in a tie with William friggin Shakespeare. There are many more to name.

In light of this topic coming to the fore, I’ve been thinking about “strong” female characters. And you know, the recent brand is boring. The Left advances the ideas that gender is fluid and non-binary, and that traditional gender roles are outdated and discriminatory. And we wind up with bland characters like Rey, who wear formless potato sacks and can do everything better than men. She is woman, hear her roar.

JC Wright has written extensively on the subject of the strong female character. Physically and psychically, men and women have different strengths and weaknesses. While social crusaders may not personally like or accept this fact, minding it goes a long way toward developing well-written characters.

I’d like to briefly highlight a number of female characters I’ve identified who serve to exemplify this point. Note that these characters range in time of origin and in source medium. We can even draw from back in the Dark Ages when the women’s voices were suppressed and they were forcibly excluded from literature.

The Blood of Heroes (1989), Kidda

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In a post-apocalyptic world, a roving team of juggers hop from town to town playing the Sport (one part football, one part gladiatorial bout) as they make their way to the capital city, where they will fight to join the League. Along the way they pick up the scrappy Kidda – a small but quick woman who becomes their quik (the runner who tries to carry a dog skull to the opposite team’s end of the field without being savaged by the enemy defenders). Rather than brutishly pummeling the much larger men, Kidda had to rely on her natural agility, speed, and size to make it in the brutal game.

 

Star Trek Voyager (1995-2001), Captain Janeway

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Star Trek Voyager gets a lot of flack, and many Trekkies seem to consider it the worst or one of the worst series. I’ll have to write a defense sometime, because it’s actually my favorite of the bunch. Janeway is Exhibit A for me. She exhibited the best qualities of Kirk and Picard. She was a skilled diplomat, leader, and scientist, and yet she was quick to kick ass and take names when shit hit the fan. I found Janeway’s femininity striking. Although she did have some romantic subplots that never went anywhere, Janeway was extremely maternalistic. When it came to protecting her crew, she was a mother bear. She was no physical powerhouse, but she repeatedly displayed great courage and emotional strength.

 

Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)Six, Eight (Boomer and Athena), President Roslin

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There were a number of great female characters in the reincarnation of Battlestar. Of course Grace Parker was engaging as both Boomer and Athena, and Six as Caprica and other roles. Roslin was written a little unevenly, but she usually made a fine leader, relying on her forceful personality, wiles, and resilience. I’d contrast these characters with Starbuck, who was crafted to be a brawling hottie but more often came across as obnoxious and destructive.

 

Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), Ripley

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Ripley was another maternal female character, at her best when she was protecting Newt. She wasn’t always the strongest, but she was intelligent, resourceful, and determined, as was perhaps best displayed in the iconic Aliens scene in which she takes on the mother alien with the work loader mech.

 

Flash Gordon (1934-) – Dale Arden, Princess Aura

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Flash Gordon was published as a comic strip in 1934 and has been serialized in a number of different media throughout the years. Two major recurring characters are Dale Arden (his companion from Earth and main love interest) and Princess Aura (daughter of Ming the Merciless). Although on the surface they may look like typical princesses in need of rescue, they’re both strong and independent characters. I haven’t personally read the comic strip, but in the 1980s film Aura saves Flash’s life and Dale effects her own escape. They’re both capable, brave, and beautiful (I know, scandalous for me to say!) without having to usurp the role of the male heroes.

 

Willow (1988)  Sorsha, Queen Bavmorda, Fin Raziel

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Ok, so Willow’s Sorsha wasn’t the most well-fleshed-out of characters. She went from basically being an ice cold bitch to eventually deciding to join the good guys against her mom. I guess the ladies just can’t resist the Madmartigen D.

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Oh well. At any rate, she was a decently depicted female warrior type – this is what you get when you’re not dealing with abnormal behemoths like GRRM’s Brienne. She can fight; she can stab some old robed men plenty well. But when she’s dealing with a skilled, larger male like Mad M, she’s no match. I guess this is hinted at by her prominent quiver of arrows, though I don’t think she ever has a bow or makes use of any of them.

We’ve also got Fin Raziel, the great magical old dame Willow must seek out because she’s a powerful mage and he’s just a two-bit magician. If woman are going to have equal opportunity, we also need some prominent strong female villains, and so we’ve got Bavmorda, who is probably the strongest magic user in the film. She’s vicious, cruel, self-serving, and good at being bad.

Willow is particularly notable because it gave us the old woman magic battle years before we got the old man magic battle on screen. Revolutionary!

 

The Wizard of Oz (1900), Dorothy

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The story that spurred perhaps one of our most classic, iconic films, and the protagonist is a little girl. She may not have been roundhousing flying monkies or pummeling the wicked witch, but Dorothy’s kindness and charisma aided her in recruiting many friends throughout her journey (especially if you include the other books in the series). Her quest to return home required a fair amount of courage, as well, which you may notice is a recurring virtue on this list.

Again, this is just a small sample of female characters from a variety of SFF. And they were arguably all well done and strong despite not competing with men where men excel and/or just being good at everything.

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-Bushi

bushi