Just the FAQs: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About 'Chuck'
by Kim Potts, posted Oct 18th 2010 1:00PM
It hasn't always been smooth sailing -- 'Chuck' fans have eaten a lot of Subway and shipped a lot of Nerds to NBC execs -- but the dramedy about the adorkable computer nerd-turned-spy guy and his family and friends is still alive and well in its fourth season, and with a still-devoted group of fans that tune in faithfully each Monday night (or at least set the DVR, check it out on Hulu.com, buy it from iTunes the next day ... you get the picture).
In the midst of another season that has been packed with action, romance, humor, fantastic celeb guest stars, including, in tonight's 'Chuck Versus the Couch Lock' (8PM ET, NBC), Eric Roberts, series co-creators Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz, and Captain Awesome himself, Ryan McPartlin, chatted with AOL TV about all things 'Chuck,' past, present and future.
Oh, and speaking of future ... you may want to scroll to the bottom first, but only if you want what Schwartz considered to be a big season 4 spoiler ...
Most of the people in Chuck's life know he's a spy at this point .. was that the plan from the beginning, that his secret wouldn't remain such a secret?
The 'Chuck' crew, including co-creators Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz and the show's writing staff, are kings of the game-changing plot twist, and some of those storyline surprises have surprised even them. "I think that we'd love to say that we had planned it all out up until this point, but, you know, four seasons in, we're always kind of looking for opportunities to kind of change the show, and the show kind of evolves in its own way," explained Fedak. "One thing, like, for instance, you know, when we realized just how wonderful our cast is, there's plenty of opportunities that we kind of find as we're writing.
So I think the show's always kind of changing and evolving. We had some broad strokes for things that we wanted to do with the Chuck (Zachary Levi) story from early on, and we've kind of followed that very kind of basic trajectory. But for the most part, we're always looking for, you know, different places to kind of change up even our own expectations."
"No," Fedak said. "I think that when we first started working on the show, Morgan was always going to be the person who didn't know about Chuck's secret life. And it wasn't 'til ... you know, it's funny. Like, we started talking, I was actually talking to Gomez, and he brought up the idea of, Chuck's a guy who needs his Alfred, you know, like Batman needs his Alfred, Chuck needs that guy, as well, to kind of support him.
"So Josh and I ... we kind of got that Alfred idea stuck in our head, and then last season it just seemed like a perfect opportunity in episode nine, 'Chuck Versus the Beard,' for us to have Morgan learn. And then also the great thing about (Gomez's) performance is that he's such a positive and energized person, that we thought it would be great if he was super-excited that Chuck was in the spy world and would want to perhaps be a part of it. So that's been like a great thing that we've kind of realized, and it's really been a part of season 3 and 4."
Morgan Guillermo Grimes ... isn't he just the gift that keeps on giving?
Comic relief, childhood BFF, Buy More co-worker and now, yes, Chuck's spy cohort, Chuck Bartowski's fuzzy-faced pal Morgan is easily one of the biggest 'Chuck' fan favorites, and frequently a scene stealer. Fedak said all of the show's supporting cast members, in fact, have been such great surprises that they've allowed the writers to evolve their characters in fun ways.
"Josh playing Morgan has just been a wonderful surprise. But I think we've seen that from a lot of our characters, from Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) to Captain Awesome," said Fedak, who's made a big splash of his own with his first TV series work. "I mean, Ryan (McPartlin) had all of like, I think, three lines in the pilot, but little did we know that we had actually cast a perfect Captain Awesome. He's really taken that character in a lot of really fun directions. And same thing with Vik Sahay and Scott Krinsky and Mark Christopher Lawrence ... our cast is so great, and they give us such great material, that we love writing for them. And that's the great thing about season four; it gives you an opportunity to write more stories and learn more about those characters, that in season 1 you don't have time for."
Speaking of the supporting characters, John Casey (Adam Baldwin) is going to find out soon that his daughter is, well, friendly with Morgan. How will he react?
"Casey's the most terrifying potential father-in-law you could ever not hope to have ... or hope to not have," said Josh Schwartz.
Schwartz again: "Poorly, as always ... They create havoc wherever they go. Nothing but havoc. Except now there's a chance they might get killed."
Jeffster is another fan favorite, right down to the Jeffster World Tour t-shirts ... is there any chance they'll ever do a little concert tour, kind of like the 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' cast did with their live episode tour?
"We do not feel comfortable inflicting that upon the ears of America," laughed Fedak and Schwartz.
OK, but will the lovable lunks ever find out the truth about Chuck? "Well, I think that that would give us a great deal of anxiety," Fedak added. "Though we've joked about the fact that Jeff would discover it and forget the next morning."
It's probably wishful thinking that he isn't, but is Papa Bartowski really dead?
Schwartz: "Yes. Sorry Chris, I just had to go answer it." Definitively? "That's the truth of the matter," Fedak said. "Yes, he is dead."
But we all kind of hold out a little hope that he isn't, especially since we all love Scott Bakula so much ... "Well, we love Scott Bakula," Schwartz added. "Scott Bakula is a dream to work with. But yes, Steven (Bartowski) is no longer with us."
At least we're getting to know Chuck and Ellie's mom this season, and she's being played by one of the all-time greatest fierce mamas, 'Terminator' star Linda Hamilton. Who else is on the 'Chuck' guest star wish list?
Not many stars that producers haven't already gotten. In addition to Hamilton, season four guest stars include Timothy Dalton, Harry Dean Stanton, Dolph Lundgren, Robert Englund, Steve Austin, Ana Gasteyer, Nicole Richie, Rob Riggle, Olivia Munn, Summer Glau, Stacy Keibler and Eric Roberts (and that's just so far), while seasons 1-31included appearances by Chevy Chase, Robert Patrick, Dominic Monaghan, Christopher Lloyd, Tricia Helfer, Angie Harmon, Carl Lumbly, Brooklyn Decker, Bruce Boxleitner and Morgan Fairchild as Captain Awesome's parents, Gary Cole as Sarah's dad, Matthew Bomer, Brandon Routh, Kristin Kreuk, Vinnie Jones, Diedrich Bader, Arnold Vosloo, Ken Davitian, Tony Sirico, Mark Pelligrino, Jordana Brewster, Lou Ferrigno and Schwartz's 'O.C.' pal Rachel Bilson.
Josh, you're a big 'Seinfeld' fan ... anyone from that show you'd like to see on 'Chuck'? "Hmmm, who can we get in there? We would like Newman to be the villain. You will discover that Volkov is played by Wayne Knight, and Chuck can just look at him and say, 'Hello ... Newman.' (Laughing) 'Hello ... Volkov.' No, but we did throw in a Vandalay Industries (reference) a couple of weeks ago."
And McPartlin's pick: "I think it would be really cool to get Jason Bourne on, just for a really quick part. It would be great if Matt Damon came on, like he did on '30 Rock.' Something real quick, like a fight with Chuck. That would be awesome: Jason Bourne vs. Chuck."
How did Greta, the ever-changing (in person and gender) Buy More employee/CIA agent, come about?
"As most good things on the show do, completely by accident," Schwartz laughed. Added Fedak, "The way it worked was that we were casting, and Greta was going to be a part on the show in the first episode, and we had the opportunity to cast Olivia Munn. However, she has a television show that was just about to start shooting, so we could only get her for a couple days. So we cast her as Greta, and then we kind of came up with the idea that we ..."
Schwartz: "But Greta was already written in episode two ..."
Fedak: "Yes, so we had Greta in episode two."
Schwartz: "We needed a Greta for episode two. And that was going to be Isaiah Mustafa, who we still kept as Greta, and by that point we had realized that that was going to be the part that would be a rotating part in a lot of episodes in the season, but not all."
Keibler, for instance, was Greta last week, and Summer Glau is a future Greta.
'Chuck' is largely, among its other major themes, about family. Now that Awesome and Ellie are having a baby, will his parents return?
"You'll see Awesome's mom in an upcoming episode," Schwartz promised. "You can imagine. Ellie's pregnant, and Awesome's mother is only too happy to help. And it will thematically very nicely resonate with the search for (Chuck and Ellie's) mom."
Fairchild returns as Dr. Honey Woodcomb in the Oct. 25 episode, 'Chuck Versus the Aisle of Terror,' the episode that also features Robert Englund.
And Sarah's dad? Will he return, especially with Sarah settling into a -- relatively -- normal relationship with Chuck?
Fedak said, "We'd love to have Gary (Cole) back on the show. Right now, we haven't ... we don't have that as a part of the season, but that's certainly a place that we're always kind of thinking about.
Directly from the Captain himself: "Well, we figure there'll be a lot of scholarship offers right off the bat, and the IQ should be off the charts," joked McPartlin, a daddy of two sons in real life. "You know, what's funny is, as together as Awesome seems, since the first season, when he thought he could do anything, now that he's getting older, he has a family and cares much more about things outside of himself, he realizes how neurotic he really is and can't (continue) to be, because he's full of so much love, and I'm sure that's going to be the same when the baby is born.
Just kind of like I was in my own life, to be honest. I can give you the name of the best car seat to get, the safest minivan to drive ... I was ahead of the game on microwaving plastics because of the BPA in it ... I could go into a million things about being a parent and being neurotic, so I don't think Captain Awesome is all that different. As a matter of fact, when Captain Awesome came home with the sleep machine? I have a sleep machine in every single bedroom in my house ... I don't think Captain Awesome will be too far off. I think the writers have tapped into what I'm like in real life."
The characters on the show seem to mirror the actors and actresses who portray them in a lot of ways. From McPartlin/Captain Awesome's daddy concerns to Zach Levi and Josh Gomez being big videogame fans, like Chuck and Morgan. Coincidence?
"I don't even think we have to have a lot of discussions. It's really about getting to know everyone socially, on set and off the set, just having conversations. That's what the writers do ... they're very observant, and they pick up on the little things, the nuances that make each individual who they are, and then they incorporate that into a good story," said McPartlin, who starred in the now-defunct NBC soap 'Passions' pre-'Chuck.' "There's a lot of comedy in all the little things that make up who we are. Like, Josh Gomez and I are co-captains of a fantasy football team. Right now we're co-owners of one. And it's totally ridiculous, but I'm sure (the writers) are getting a lot of mileage out of that."
By the way, the name of the McPartlin/Gomez fantasy football team? Captain Morgan.
J.J. Abrams said the way he came up with the idea for 'Alias' was that he kind of imagined what Felicity would be like as a spy. Is Chuck 'The O.C.'s' Seth Cohen as a spy?
From 'The O.C.' creator Schwartz: "Well, (the show) is really such a combination of Chris and my sensibility. You know, Chris had this super cool idea for a spy show. I wanted to do a show about a quarterlife crisis, you know, those kids that I've been writing about, grown up. And it didn't seem like those two ideas could possibly meld together, but we have so many things that we share in terms of what we love that it really became, wouldn't you say, Chris, like a brain fusion?"
Fedak added, "I think it's certainly like a fusion of things that usually don't go together: quarterlife crisis and spy action, but it's been a great combination. And I think that from the perspective of like Seth Cohen, it's like Chuck is definitely a guy who's really very aware of who he is -- of the kind of pop culture world, I think, that we were. I think Josh and I were really excited to drop that character into spyland, into the ..."
Schwartz: "An unlikely hero."
Schwartz: "And we got lucky both in the case of Seth Cohen and Chuck Bartowski. We got the exact right actor for the role."
What was the search to cast Chuck Bartowski like? Was it difficult to find the perfect person?
"It was even harder than Chuck and Morgan's search for Chuck's mom," Schwartz said, laughing. "It didn't take us to quite as many countries, although close. It was really challenging. I mean, obviously, you know, we wanted to be able to ... obviously Seth Cohen was part of what we talked about, but we also wanted this guy to feel like his own character, and a man, you know? And we really wanted someone you could believe would be cowering on his birthday instead of wanting to go out and face people ... his life hadn't come together ... but who, if given the opportunity and the right-fitting tuxedo, could also make that transformation and would be believable as a spy, as well, albeit a spy that spent a lot of time in the first couple of seasons hiding under tables to avoid getting hurt.
"And when (Zach) came in and read, it was instant. It was just like, here's a guy that can hit every note, play all those different colors, who you believe is nerdy, but you also can see someone who drop-dead-gorgeous Sarah Walker is falling for over time, and, you know, just the whole package. And our show, as Chris was saying, it's like an unlikely cocktail, if you will, of many different ingredients, and I think that's part of why the people who love the show love it so passionately, because there's nothing else like it on TV. It makes it a challenge sometimes to break that out to a broader audience, but we're happy to have who we have watching. And somebody like Zach, and the rest of our cast for that matter, can really ride all of those different tones and all those sensibilities and pull it all together into something that feels whole."
"We talk about this all the time," said Schwartz, who's also the co-creator and an executive producer on 'Gossip Girl' and is developing 'Ghost Angeles,' a supernatural romantic comedy that will star Rachel Bilson, for NBC. "I mean, we'd much rather have a show that people who love it, love it passionately. You want to be somebody's favorite show, (rather) than just being a show that can stay on the air for forever and no one really knows that it's on and no one really knows, you know, if it's no longer on. So obviously, would our stress-related anxiety, Chris' gout, my irritable stomach from anxiety, be better had we not lived every week for the last four years never knowing if that was the final week of the show? Certainly.
"But would we trade the four Comic Cons ... and the thousands of screaming fans and the Subway campaign and the passion of the people who love the show? Wouldn't trade it for anything."
As much as the uncertainty has been stressful, is there also an upside? There are a lot of story arcs in 'Chuck,' and some of those, some of the really great ones, have maybe been helped by the scheduling situation?
"I think it has been stressful to live on the bubble like we do, but the one thing it does do is that we tell our stories very aggressively, because if you don't know if you're going to be around next week, you actually tell the story that you might have held off on," Fedak said. "And I think that's always caused us to push the story forward. And it's an exciting thing, because the 'Chuck' show is a show where we are not afraid to change things. So yeah, it's definitely affected how we tell the story."
Added Schwartz, "It's definitely meant nothing has been left on the table."
Is there an ending in mind, whenever it comes?
Fedak: "I think that, just based on the fact that we're never quite certain exactly what is going to happen, f there is going to be another season, that we always have kind of an ending in the back of our minds."
Schwartz: "And also another big cliffhanger, as well."
Fedak: "Exactly. It's always a moving target, that that big cliffhanger is also the ... you know, it's not the epilogue for season four, it's the prologue for season five. And I guess in the end, we really like those prologue-type endings."
As for this season, will Baby Awesome be born before the end of season four?
Schwartz: "Wooo. Fedak dropping a bomb!"
Fedak: "That is a yes."