Television is a vast wasteland, according to Newton Minow.

Believe it or not...

Posted: 20 September 2007 | posted by David J. Loehr |

High on the Cliche-O-Meter for this fall are geeks and guys named Chuck. One show combines the two, conveniently named Chuck. And as I watched, I started to think of another geek. A guy named Ralph.

What I saw: Chuck.
Where it's at: NBC, Mondays @ 8pm
Who made it: Josh Schwartz, late of the O.C.
Glib deconstruction: Thinking outside the big box.
What I thought: I liked it with the red suit, too.
What I'll do: Stack it up on the TiVo, see how it goes.

As much as I enjoyed the pilot episode--and I did enjoy it--after all the expositional chases and showdowns and alliances were out of the way, I realized that this was basically The Greatest American Hero, version 2.0. Instead of a high school teacher, we have a self-proclaimed "professional nerd" working at a big box store. Instead of a cranky Robert Culp with the FBI, we have a cranky Adam Baldwin from the NSA. Instead of a stable, sensible brunette girlfriend, we have a stable, sensible brunette sister. Think of it as an upgrade.

I know, it's reductive, there are only seven plots, et cetera. There's a little more going on here, starting with the sharper sense of humor. And Zachary Levi as Chuck is often delightful, right down to the heartbreaking smile of joy when he thinks he's doing well on a real live date. And then, plot happens, and that red suit from the '80's comes back to me. Why?

Because the characters and their relationships are far more interesting than the action side of the plot, or even the gimmick behind the series. Not only that, but the actual story is barely there. Granted, it's a pilot episode and has to be front-loaded with premise and more premise with a side of premise, but I can see how it would be easy to skate along with thin "save the world, stare at the cheerleader" plots as an excuse to make snarky jokes. It was the barely-there, by-the-numbers plots that lost me with Hero, and I was a lot younger then.

Everyone wants to be Joss Whedon nowadays. (And why not? The man can write, period.) The trick of it is, Whedon's plots don't just zig when they should zag. They zing-thwack-kapow when they should zag. (And the man can write comics, too.) That's why Buffy worked. That's why Firefly worked. Clearly, the writers behind Chuck can write sweet and snark in the Whedon style. If they can master that whole plot-till-you-drop style of storytelling, all the better. (Even then, Whedon manages to blend the two almost seamlessly. Did I mention the man can write? Exclamation mark!)

But I'll try it again, maybe in bulk, thanks to the wonder of TiVo. If nothing else, I have to respect the cojones involved in creating a show set at a big box store named "Buy More" next to "Large Mart" while still needing real, unironic advertisers to help pay for the show.