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Despite strike, ‘Chuck’ carries on

Mark Witte | Monday, February 4, 2008

NBC’s new secret-agent comedy “Chuck,” concluded its first season on Jan. 24. Unlike many major network shows that have been suspended or terminated due to the writer’s strike, “Chuck” finished out its 13-episode season with back-to-back episodes, which included the agony of long-lost lovers, daring hotel window escapes, clever who-dun-it mystery and an action-packed ending.

But it has been quite a journey for Chuck Bartowski.

“Chuck” debuted on Sept. 24, 2007 in NBC’s 8 p.m. time slot. “The O.C” creator, Josh Schwartz, helped write and produce NBC’s new show this season along with the help of rookie Chris Fedak, who Schwartz credits for the show’s original conception.

We first met Chuck (Zachary Levi) behind the Nerd Herd counter at the Buy More, the show’s version of Best Buy, working as an electronics specialist. At his side stood close friend and salesman Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez). Together they constituted the most socially awkward pair in all of Los Angeles.

Enter the intersect.

Chuck’s status as a typical “Joe” was not to last long. In the show’s pilot episode, he receives a life-changing email from rogue CIA agent and former college roommate Bryce Larkin, who actually gets gunned down while waiting for the send/receive process to complete. The contents of the email flip Chuck’s world upside-down.

When Chuck opens the message on his computer, all of the U.S. government’s top secrets, encoded into one long reel of somewhat disturbing images, pop up on the screen and imprint themselves into the back of the mesmerized Chuck’s brain. Needless to say, when Chuck woke up the next morning, he had a bit of a headache.

As it turns out, Chuck’s old roommate stole the information off of a government supercomputer known as “the Intersect” and shortly before sending the secrets to Chuck, he blew up the multi-billon dollar piece of equipment.

It doesn’t take Chuck long to realize things inside his head have changed and that his brain has been upgraded. Chuck soon discovers he has the ability to instantly recall the top-secret records and history of a person at the sight of his or her name or face.

The CIA and the NSA soon locate Chuck and deploy agents to keep an eye on him while utilizing his abilities. The attractive Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and the ever-angry John Casey (Adam Baldwin) enter Chuck’s everyday world both at home, and with his doctor sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and her overly suave boyfriend Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) at work. This provides the bulk of the show’s comedy.

The agents try to blend in. Walker becomes Chuck’s girlfriend as a cover, a decision that stuns both Chuck’s sister and his friends, who find it hard to believe Chuck could score a girl with Walker’s looks. Casey has a harder time fitting in. Forced to take up a job as a salesman alongside Chuck and Grimes at the Buy More, Casey constantly appears on the edge of exploding into a violent rampage, mostly at the foolish actions of Grimes, whose pathetic, yet genuine attempts to move up in the world, as well as woo the ladies (including Chuck’s sister) make him comically laudable.

As the season progresses, threats and attempts on Chuck’s life come and go as he and the agents do battle against numerous criminals from all over the world. Chuck and Walker’s cover slowly transforms into more than just pretend as the two characters struggle to come to terms with their growing feelings for each other. About halfway through the season, the show takes a twist when Bryce Larkin suddenly reappears on the scene, apparently back from the dead. His past connections with both Agent Walker and Chuck throws everyone for a loop.

Before the season ends, the love life of Chuck goes up and down and in numerous directions. Even Grimes manages to survive Casey’s scorching anger and score himself a few dates before the season’s close.

The ratings for NBC’s new comedy started out high, but slowly dwindled as the season progressed. It is debatable whether the decline is a result of the public’s general frustration with the writers’ strike or whether the show lost some of its comic appeal as the season wore on.

However, the final two episodes ended the season with more than one explosive bang. These two episodes alone may have provided enough impetus to warrant another season next year.

In today’s very unstable television industry, becoming increasingly riddled with reality TV, “Chuck” was a welcome whiff of fresh comic action this season, showing the world that even computer geeks can lead super hero lives.