Chuck Vs. The Pseudo-Spy Sneer

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


  1. aussiechuckster December 7, 2010
  2. jordan jay December 7, 2010
  3. Anonymous December 7, 2010
  4. TVOnMyTerms December 7, 2010
  5. SDC August 5, 2011

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