Tonight's a good night to watch 'Chuck'
Scott Bakula and Chevy Chase guest star, as 'Chuck' begins the push to its season finale
I know I'm preaching to the choir here, Dear Readers.
I don't need to tell you that NBC's "Chuck" is the most purely entertaining show currently airing on network television.
I also don't need to remind you that Monday (April 6) night's episode -- "Chuck vs the Dream Job" -- marks the beginning of multi-episode arcs for Scott Bakula and Chevy Chase and that Scott Bakula and Chevy Chase are inherently awesome.
I'm only repeating what you already know when I say that "Chuck" hasn't been renewed for a third season yet and that if NBC's bottom line is ratings-based -- something Jeff Zucker has adamantly denied -- the show's future is murky at best.
I shouldn't even have to say that if you have a Nielsen box or know somebody with a Nielsen box or have access to specialized computer software capable of hacking into Nielsen boxes, now would be a good time to do your part for "Chuck." [Yes, that last part was a joke. the Nielsen measurement system may not actually use computers at all, hence a measurement accuracy somewhat below that of butterfly ballots from Florida.]
And yes, having seen tonight's "Chuck," I feel inclined to join the Internet clamor flogging this particular dead horse: It's always a good night to watch "Chuck," but this Monday's episode is a particularly opportune time.
[Thoughts on Monday's episode (only minor spoilers...) and my opinion on the "Chuck" renewal limbo after the break...]
Last week's episode ended with Sarah and Chuck standing in front of an Airstream 100 miles east of Barstow awaiting the revelation of the long-absent Daddy Bartowski.
As fans of the show (and viewers of NBC's promos) know, Bakula plays said father, providing a great opportunity to recall the versatility of the "Quantum Leap" star. Bakula's Steve is a twitchy ball of paranoid insecurities and, as he sees the pain his abrupt departure caused his children, he's also awash with regret.
"Chuck" has always been primarily either a comedy-with-action or an action-show-with-comedy, but it's used its myriad guest stars as a way to adjust the thematic mix. While Monday's episode doesn't lack for humor, Bakula's introduction primary serves as a catalyst for emotional moments that allow the cast to stretch.
Zachary Levi and Sarah Lancaster, whose brother-sister dynamic has often had room for sentiment, do a great job of playing off both the betrayal they feel toward their dad, but also the desperate need to get the approval of a long-absent parent.
But Levi and Lancaster have always had dramatic chops. In Monday's episode, I was even more impressed with Ryan McPartlin, whose Devon has now had two meaty episodes in a row. I don't think of McPartlin as being the show's most versatile co-star, but he has scenes of vulnerability that are utterly stripped of any hint of Captain Awesome-ness.
Chase enters the mix as computer mogul Ted Roark and the "Chuck" team has no trouble tailoring the character to the Emmy winner's most defining attribute, his ego. He is, after all, Chevy Chase. And you're not. NBC's promo team has already cavalierly spoiled the semi-twist about Chase's character, but he's instantly likably unlikable.
"Chuck vs The Dream Job" is a mythology-heavy episode, which also means that it's a little light on Buy More antics, take that as you will. It's also light on Sarah/Chuck relationship details. There are, however, major revelations about the Intersect and Orion, plus important advancements in Chuck's attempts to recover the life that's been taken from him. Recent episodes have seen Chuck become increasingly proactive about getting the Intersect out of his head and that's a trend that continues.
After a couple stand-alone episodes bridging out of the Jonathan Cake arc, Monday's "Chuck" begins the process of building momentum as we move toward the season finale.
Want to know my opinion on the chances that "Chuck" will be back next season?
Yes, NBC's Jay Leno Masterplan is a mistake and yes, it's a slap in the face of the industry's creative community. But try this as a positive after-effect: If NBC's programming window for weekdays has been reduced by a third, that perhaps that makes NBC place greater value on putting original episodes in those remain slots? I mean, if you only have two hours of new shows per night, you can't use that time for repeats, right? I think that will lead to NBC picking up a number of shows for limited, cable-style seasons of 10 or 13 episodes, so that the network is able to constantly keep the hours between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. fresh before turning things over to Jay.
My guess, without any sort of insider knowledge or evidence to back this up, is that "Chuck" should be well-positioned for, at the very least, some sort of 13-episode midseason slot. Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak have introduced more serialized elements into the storytelling this season and folks say that Fedak is particularly involved in fleshing out the show's greater mythology. Bringing "Chuck" back for a carefully arced 13 episodes would probably be positive for the show and it would also be a boon for NBC, which is bound to need some good faith from the critical community next year once audiences make it clear that Leno is better as an 11:30 soporific, rather than as a legitimate lead-in to local news.
It helps that "Chuck" skews young and performs well on all of the various off-network viewing platforms. It also helps that the show's creative team has proven to be perfectly willing to use the series as a vehicle for product placements, often extended plugs. We all know Ben Silverman likes shows that allow him to spread costs around and bring in money through alternative streams, so why would he jettison a series where the characters all love their iPhones, where they're eager to play any new video game on the market and where a Subway $5 Footlong is considered acceptable bachelor party grub. Let's just say that if the key to "Chuck" staying on the air is for Sarah to take a new cover job at Applebees or for Captain Awesome to espouse the virtues of the BowFlex or for Chuck to begin washing his hair with Garnier Fructis Fortifying Cream Conditioner, that's a sort of tiny creative sacrifice I'd guess the "Chuck" team would embrace.
So I'm cautiously optimistic, especially when I'm not looking at the Fast National ratings on Tuesday morning.
That doesn't mean, though, that you shouldn't watch. And that you shouldn't tell your friends to watch. I have no objections to making the rest of this spring into an extended "Save Our Show" campaign for "Chuck."
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