HitFix Interview: Chris Fedak talks up the 'cataclysmic' 'Chuck' finale
"Chuck" is coming off a penultimate episode -- "Chuck Versus the Colonel" -- that may have been the finest hour yet for the NBC action-comedy. The show is just days away from a Monday (April 27) night finale that truly is, to use Fedak's word, "cataclysmic." The show is wrapping up a second season of wacky antics, shocking twists, memorable guest stars and, alas, less-than-stellar ratings.
That's why, as Fedak and I talked on Wednesday, various corners of the Internet have been mobilizing to attempt just about anything to let NBC know that a third season of "Chuck" would go a long way toward quieting the discontent caused by those looming, endless hours of Jay Leno.
Nerds? Subway viewing parties? Petitions? Riots in the streets?
In our lengthy interview, Fedak discusses last week's killer episode, the show's hopes for renewal and whether or not the finale will actually make people set their living rooms on fire.
[Interview after the break... As a warning, "Chuck Versus the Colonel" is discussed in detail. There are very few tangible spoilers about the finale, but our definitions of "spoiler" may differ...]
HitFix: So let's get right into it. It's Wednesday, April 22. How're we feeling about renewal today?
Chris Fedak: You know, we're positive. We're hopeful that the show will be renewed. The network and the studio are both big fans of the show and they've been supportive throughout the entire process, though both seasons of the show. But it's still important that our fans out there on the web and in the world get the word out on the show. It's still up in the air. As of this point in time, we still don't know. So it's still important for the fans of the show get out there and to watch it, to get friends and family to watch it, whatever you can do to get people excited about the show and keep the drum-beat going in regard to "Chuck" being renewed and just how excited they are about the show.
HitFix: Are there better or worse ways for fans to be watching? Is it better to watch it on air? On Hulu? On iTunes?
CF: However you watch the show... Listen, just watching the show is important. I think watching the show on NBC, that's the classic metric for how a network makes its decisions, so getting your friends and family to watch the show on network is, of course, a fantastic way to watch, but there are many different options. Our "Chuck" fans are a savvy bunch, so there's Hulu and there are the people who have their DVRs as well. From my perspective, whatever it takes to watch the show is fantastic. To watch it live? That's how I watch it. I watch it in the most immediate way possible. I'm a big proponent of that. The most important thing is watching it and telling your friends and family to just get into the show. Even our season finale, I think that somebody could come to it fresh and really see it and enjoy it. Our season finale is such a launching pad for Season Three that even a new fan can really enjoy the show next Monday.
HitFix: When you talk to network types, do you get the impression that they're paying attention to the various non-live ways people are watching the show?
CF: Oh yeah. Absolutely. From our conversations with the studio and the network, they're very savvy to the different numbers, to the different metrics for defining the success of the show. They know about that. They're definitely aware.
HitFix: I've seen a number of people online talking about how this Monday's episode, "Chuck Versus the Colonel," would have made a perfect season or, heaven forbid, series finale. Is that a concern?
CF: You know, we're really slaves to the Idea when it comes to the "Chuck" writing staff. When we were working on "Chuck Versus the Colonel," that fear was there, even in the writers' room, that would the episode feel like the season finale one week early. We'd broken the season in such a way that we knew that the last episode would be truly our biggest episode. And it is. It's a cataclysmic bit of action-comedy. I think that "Chuck Versus the Colonel" was huge episode, but we designed it in a way that we knew we were going to give you an even bigger finale. The twists and turns of that episode lead perfectly into our finale.
HitFix: So you've said that if the finale is actually a series finale, it's going to cause people to set their living rooms on fire. Care to clarify?
CF: First off, nobody should set their living room on fire. That's a terrible, terrible idea. What our finale does... My favorite endings are the ones that launch a new story. It's like the end of "Casablanca" notion that Rick is going off to have further adventures. This finale is essentially like the first episode to Season Three. It's hard for me to imagine the show not coming back, because the "Chuck" writers are so excited about writing Season Three and telling this big, over-arching story. It's an exciting ending, a game-changing ending, but I still think that people should not set their living rooms on fire.
HitFix: That's how you want to bottom-line it?
CF: Yeah. Personally I don't think that people should set their living rooms on fire, that there shouldn't be chaos across America, but it could possibly happen. We could have FEMA-type disaster on our hands.
HitFix: So what do you want to tease about the finale?
CF: In some ways, the whole season is like a tease for the finale. When we were working on the finale, I co-wrote it with Ali Adler, and we kinda knew from the get-go that this season would be heading towards a wedding. So Ali, she was obsessed with the wedding component of the story, just making it perfect and funny and the perfect comic "Chuck" and then I was a little bit obsessed with how to destroy a wedding. I would say that for fans of the show, you'll get all the great fun that you expect from "Chuck" episode, but we're gonna up the ante on all aspects, from action to comedy and then leading into the big game-changing last act of the episode.
HitFix: And that game-changer, how long have you known that's what you were building toward?
CF: Josh [Schwartz] and I started talking about it last season and I think we kind of imagined it being our finale last season, but we were still discussing it. It's always been something that's been in the back of our mind, something that the more and more we thought about it, the more we thought, "That's an awesome way" to end the season.
HitFix: Let's go back to Monday's episode, to "Chuck Versus the Colonel." With all of the characters who could have learned Chuck's identity first, why was Captain Awesome the right choice?
CF: Let me think about that for a second... [Long pause.] It's tricky, because it folds into some story points we want to get into in the future and I don't want to spoil... Here's the thing: Of all the people in Chuck's life, the person who has it completely together is Captain Awesome, is Devon Woodcomb, played by Ryan McPartlin. And Ryan just captures that idea of a guy who's figured it all out and I think for us writers, the idea of Captain Awesome realizing, having his mind blown, having this huge Things Aren't Actually The Way They Appear to Be moment, and how that plays with idea of everything being so perfect and awesome, it's such a rich ground and such a rich way for us to have fun with his character, that the world is a little more complex -- sometimes more Awesome and sometimes less Awesome -- than he thinks it is.
HitFix: Then moving on to the episode's enhanced intimacy between Chuck and Sarah... In the writers' room, were there factions that were pushing for that coupling sooner and others who wanted it later?
CF: I don't think there's any faction that was pushing for them being together more quickly. A lot of the art of telling this type of story is the fact that there is a natural reason, an organic reason, that they can't be together and that being that Sarah is assigned to protect Chuck and that if she falls in love with him and if those emotions overwhelm her, then she can't do her job and then Chuck's life will be in danger. From that perspective, the writers on the show, we're very protective of that. We also knew that at the heart of the show, at the heart of "Chuck," is a romance, a romance between these two people who can't be together. We knew we were heading toward this place and it seemed like such a great opportunity here in "Colonel" to finally give them a chance, this bubble, this moment in time where they can be almost like regular people, two people in love. We'll have to see what happens next week.
HitFix: Well at the end of the episode, everything looks so happy for them. I assume it's just smooth sailing from here?
CF: Everything is totally fantastic and happy and there'll be no drama in the next episode. [He laughs.]
HixFix: And Morgan's Benihana dream?
CF: It comes from the twisted mind of one Matthew Miller, the writer of that episode. One of the things is that we love our Buy More characters and we've always enjoyed getting behind the curtain with each one of them. They work at the Buy More and everybody has a dream. We knew that Jeff and Lester had Jeffster! We know that Big Mike dreams about fishing. We know that Emmett is obsessed with control and being the all-powerful BuyMore manager. And Morgan? What was this guy's dream? What does he think about? What would his perfect future be? And when Matt said '"Benihana chef," it was like "That's very funny and also very Morgan."
HitFix: Does Chuck even really work at the Buy More anymore?
CF: Yes. He still works at the Buy More.
HitFix: But does he does he do anything there anymore? These past two weeks, with all of the professional intrigue at the Buy More, he's missed every second of it. Surely somebody should be looking more closely at his work hours?
CF: What we imagine is that when Chuck is not in the store, he's off on an off-site install and that the CIA creates fake receipts and purchase orders for Chuck so that he can cover when he returns to the Buy More. So yes, he misses a lot of drama at the store, but he's got a network of spies protecting his cover.
HitFix: Has Chuck been getting any sort of financial compensation from the government over the past two years?
CF: That question will be addressed in our next episode.
HitFix: Changing gears a bit. Last season was your first season on a TV show. How has your process been different the second time through?
CF: Since last season was my first time working on a television show, the entire thing was just a giant learning curve. Last season we did 13 episodes of television and this year we did 22 episodes, so it's been essentially a giant master class in television. What's been great is that Josh has been there all along and he's just a master of craft taking me through the process. And we've been lucky to have a great team of writers to work with and producers and the entire cast and crew. We have a fantastic team. It's been a great experience and I'm just very lucky. I've managed to work on a television show from the idea with Josh to work on Episode 22 of Season Two and I just looking forward to making more episodes.
HitFix: Josh has always credited you with being the man with the interest in the mythology of the show. Has that pushed you even more to the forefront this season?
CF: Sure. I think all the writers, we all get into the mythology. We're always yelling and screaming at each other about how the story should work and how the intricacies of the backstory should play out emotionally as well as plotwise. I feel like when it comes to the specifics of the plot, yeah, I do get out there and talk about the spy side of the show and the Fulcrum of it all, but it's fun working on both sides of things. It's fun working on the comedy and the romance of it all too.
HitFix: Has it been easier this season balancing the mythology-driven episodes with the more stand-alone hours?
CF: We realized around Episode Six of last season that people were very interested in the mythology of the show. That was a realization for us, that people wanted to know more. They want to know more about Sarah's backstory, about why Bryce sent Chuck the Intersect, about why Chuck in the first place. We realized we needed to feed more of that mythology into the show in the first place, to parse it out and just make the mythology more present in the show. Once we made that realization, Season Two came more into focus for us. We realized we were going to start the season with how Chuck could get the Intersect refreshed and how Bryce would re-enter his life. And then we realized we wanted to get into Sarah's backstory and realize how she became a spy. So the structure of the season, and bring Jill back and knowing that Chuck's dad would play an important part, it all kind of came into focus based on the fact that people wanted to hear more about the mythology. Originally, we thought it would be more a mission-of-the-week, but people are just expecting more mythology from their television shows, which is neat for us, because we can spend more time with our characters.
HitFix: Has NBC ever tried to push in a more stand-alone direction?
CF: There's never been a push one way or the other, to say that we need to make them more procedural and more stand-alone, as opposed to focusing on the mythology as well. The truth is that they love our characters as well and when we did our Sarah Walker flashback story or our Casey flashback story, they dug those episodes. The thing about is that we also make a point, even in those episodes, that there's still a story. We still do a mission each week. We still have a bad guy. Even if somebody's coming fresh to the show, you can still see one complete story. We don't do simply connective episodes.
HitFix: Much as been made this season of the sheer number of product placements on "Chuck." How have you felt about that sort of integration?
CF: Well, it helps make the show possible. It's organic to the show in the sense that our guys work inside a Buy More store, so it has to be filled with products... Sometimes when you watch a show, people will go into a show and everything will be just cereal or coconuts, it'll have to be generic and I think that the realism of our show has been helped by having real products and real things inside the Buy More. On the other front, the integration just helps make the show possible. It means I can do more explosions, hire more guest cast and just do things that are really hard to do on television. I think people are expecting a feature-quality product each week and integration helps us do that.
HitFix: Does it change the creative process when you're trying to work in, say, a Subway plug?
CF: I can say this. When we were working on our 3-D episode, there was the Subway challenge that Morgan set up for Jeff and Jerome Bettis to try to conquer. We had actually had an expert on set, a Subway sandwich expert, to make certain that the sandwich looked fantastic. It was one of my favorite moments of the year, the director going, "Actors? Lights? Camera? Is the sandwich ready?"
HitFix: So Schwartz has recommended sending Nerds to NBC if fans want to show their support. Is that what you guys want to throw your support behind?
CF: Absolutely. I think that's a great idea if people want to send Nerds to NBC. There's also talk of buying Subway sandwiches on Monday night as a sign of support for the show. It's like I said to your first question, the best thing to do is to get people to watch the show. I think that Nerds are simple. It's a good, clean message.
"Chuck Versus the Ring," the show's second season finale, airs on Monday, April 27 at 8 p.m. on NBC. Tell your friends.