With the winter hiatus taking Chuck off the table for next few weeks, it’s giving me a chance to think about how I feel the season, and series as a whole, has been progressing.
I’ve been a loyal fan of Chuck since it’s debut, and there are a number of things I enjoy about this highly entertaining show. The romance between Chuck and Sarah has been largely enjoyable, if not occasionally frustrating. Yvonne Strahovski’s Sarah makes for the baddest lady spy since Sydney Bristow, Joshua Gomez’s Morgan with his courage and tenacity despite his lack of prowess is endearing, and of course Adam Baldwin’s Casey growls his way straight to my heart every week. Overall, the series is good deal of fun to watch and features some great actors making the most of some throughly absorbing characters.
But even the best of shows can have it’s irritating aspects.
While I have other items to lament, such as the infuriating lack of Beckman in the BuyMore, the until-recently exclusion of Ellie and Awesome from any major storylines, and how thoroughly DONE I am with anything having to do with the increasingly disgusting Jeff, Lester and the BuyMore squad, my primary beef with the show is that after a couple of seasons of calling Chuck a spy…he’s really not.
This opinion is likely to make me unpopular with other Chuck fans, but please don’t get me wrong. I love Chuck Bartowski, and especially the exceptionally charming Zachary Levi. I do believe that Chuck has the brains, the will and the potential to become an autonomous spy in his own right, and it’s only out of my love for the show and the character that I express my observation.
Chuck has had the intersect 2.0 for a while now, but even with the massive abilities it provides him, his initial emotional reactions to most threatening situations continue to seem resoundingly cowardly. He still freaks out when someone pulls a knife or a gun, even though he may still manage to call upon the intersect skills arsenal and take out the bad guy. With that bag of tricks in his back pocket, where’s his confidence? Neither Casey nor Sarah bat an eye at the sight of an opponent’s weapon. Even Morgan has more chutzpah than Chuck does, and he’s been at this less time and with no skills whatsoever.
Occasionally a glimmer of confidence peeks through, but when it does it’s tied strictly to his possession of the Intersect. Without it, he’s essentially a sitting duck. As recently as the last episode, Chuck was crying to Sarah for help because he only learned the one move in the “strip kick” class he and Morgan had attended.
What kind of a spy are you if you have to call upon your girlfriend for help?
Sarah was well aware that, especially without the Intersect at hand, Chuck can’t take care of himself, which is why she blurted out for all to hear in Chuck Vs. The Fear of Death that he isn’t a spy. She was worried she’d lose him, because she knew he can’t handle life-threatening scenarios without the Intersect.
Even General Beckman understands this, and sidelines Chuck every time the Intersect is out of whack, referring to him merely as an asset at the end of Chuck Vs. Phase Three. Chuck’s surprise that the CIA still had a place for him without the Intersect should serve as additional proof that a true spy he is not. If he had the proper skills to appropriately handle missions on his own, would there be any question as to his position?
Hey, here’s a thought – train Chuck so that the Intersect abilities are merely an asset and not his sole means of protection!
In non-combat situations, Chuck Bartowski as Charles Carmichael has absolutely no poker face whatsoever. Consider as an example the scene in Chuck Versus the Aisle of Terror when Chuck is meeting with Wheelwright as Mama Bartowski approaches them. Chuck’s wide-eyed response would have been a dead giveaway to anyone with a brain that he knew her, and it’s totally unbelievable that Wheelwright failed to pick up on it. A real spy would be able to keep his composure in a similar situation. Plus, to date he’s spent the better part of his missions either pining for Sarah or concerned with whether or not he’s going to lose her.
Something else that bothers me is how Chuck tends to get this pseudo-suave near-sneer and cheesy-spy air about him whenever he’s posing as Charles Carmichael. That may be how Sean Connery played James Bond in the 60s, Chuck, but this is 2010.
If you’re going to be a spy – act like one.
I get that this is essentially a comedy series about a newbie spy, and that Chuck’s reactions are meant to be largely played for laughs, but even Maxwell Smart had better field demeanor.
Now that I’ve run my point into the ground, here’s what I’d like to see happen:
– Bring Chuck’s non-Intersect skills on par with Sarah and Casey’s. Perhaps the use of the Intersect’s abilities can somehow affect his muscle memory, allowing him the ability to respond without necessarily having to tap into the Intersect every time?
– Give Chuck stronger confidence. You’ve got the girl Chuck, she’s not going anywhere. The CIA has put their trust in you. Time to act like the spy you think that you are.
– Make Chuck more fearless. Time to say bye-bye to Chuck’s fraidy-cat nature, and embolden him to take on challenges without freaking out. If Morgan can step up, so should you.
– Make Chuck more believable under cover. Lose the sneer Chuck. Control your facial expressions when something surprises you. You’re under cover, not playing dress up.
Should a seemingly-more-likely fifth season come around, I’d like to see a more mature, confident, fearless and competent spy in Chuck Bartowski. The character deserves to finally grow up.
Follow Jeffrey Kirkpatrick on Twitter: @TVOnMyTerms
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Well written, it's not often that you get an article based on chuck's flaws that doesn't end with pages and pages of backlash, and i think this is one of them.
Your ideas are really insightful and really reflect that you are a true fan, in it for the long run.
Maybe the fact that chuck still has so much growing to do is a good thing in terms of there still being a lot material to sustain coming seasons. Though I do hope if we get more seasons, the journey will shift towards learning about sarah's backstory a bit more, perhaps that what a season arch should be about seeings are we know next to nothing about her.
When I started reading this post, the fangirl part of me protested, saying "That's against the very nature of his character! His biggest thing is that he's not Casey and Sarah and he's trying to be a different kind of spy!" And it's true, to an extent, but the biggest problem the show has is it's addiction to the status quo – their need to keep everything the same at all times.
While I'm sure we can all argue that they've shaken up the show's dynamic quite a few times (Intersect 2.0, Morgan and Ellie finding out the secret, Chuck and Sarah getting together), it's all sort of moot if the very core character can't go anywhere else. I'm not saying he hasn't grown at all, because he clearly has. We've seen him go from the little boy working in the Buy More in the first season to the sort-of spy he is now and that's awesome, that's amazing, good job team.
But there's still some things missing. And I'm not saying that he has to completely change who he is to fully embrace being a spy. He can still be the Chuck we all fell in love with, he just needs to know that there's a time and a place for goofy, nerdy, sweet and wonderful Chuck, and there's a time and place for professional spy Chuck.
I think, so far, the best example of this characterization is Sarah. She may not think so, but she is the master of balancing those two personalities – Sarah the girlfriend and Sarah the spy. Alone, with Chuck and everyone, she is allowing herself to be more warm and open, caring and trustworthy. Sarah the spy knows how, when and what to do to get stuff done – and when to leave it all in the field. Chuck would learn a lot from her.
Chuck's problem is that he sees everything in extremes. Compromising himself in that regard would, in his eyes, ruin his very nature and it's not true. I really think the biggest thing holding them back is his aversion to guns and killing (which really doesn't make sense in the nature of the show – Casey and Sarah can kill FOR him but he won't?) and while I admit they're making baby step progress with that after last season, at some point he has to realize that the only way to get rid of these particular type of bad guy is to kill them – especially in self-defense. We've even seen Sarah handle the idea of him killing someone in a graceful manner after her distaste when he actually didn't do it.
Do I even want to touch on how I think that the Buy More is what's truly holding the show back? This comment is long enough.
I think at this point, the writers really have to ask themselves, when is Chuck going to man up and go full spy? Probably at the very end of the show, but we need to see some believable progress, not the teasing and then resets they've given us.
I think the biggest problem is Chuck's competence and confidence seems to largely fluctuation depending on how it fits the plot. There's episodes where Chuck has been VERY good on his own merits, even before he got Intersect 2.0. And actually, there IS one area of spyhood where Chuck has consistently proven an equal of Casey and Sarah. Ironically, it's one he hates the most: Chuck is proving himself to be a crack shot (we've only ever seen him flash ONCE on gunplay, and that's for the acrobatic trick shooting he used in Operation Awesome). There's also an over-reliance on the same set of skills in the 2.0. It's almost exclusively used for fighting, and the writers haven't REALLY taken advantage of it for goofy skills like the guitar in the Season 3 opener.
Thanks for the kind and eloquent responses!!
Too late. Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak (especially Fedak) have ruined the show with a hairbrained idea so left of centre, most real fans will be switching off (Only the fanatics and casual watchers will stay). Morgan as an intersect and Chuck as a…who knows what but not Chuck. Fedak might have forgotten just who has lined his pockets over the paste few years, because like George Lucas before him, he's pulled one over the fans. As per Lucas "I have a great idea for a new script and direction for the prequels (in this case new series)…How do i do it…Got it…ignore the fans, I know whats best…Lets do that". I wont watch series 5 as Fedak (who apparently knows what the fans want more the the fans, or more correctly, couldn't give a rats because fans shouldn't spoil the story he wants) has decided the direction for the show; and its all downhill from here.