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'Chuck' Co-Creator Chris Fedak Promises Big Things in the Second Half, But Is the Charm Gone?

by Joel Keller, posted Jan 31st 2011 2:45PM
'Chuck Vs. The Fear of DeathThe forurth season of 'Chuck' has been a head-scratcher for many of its most ardent fans. Much of what made them fans of the show in the first place -- its humor, how everyday geek Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) tries to balance the spy world and his personal life, the presence of the Buy More crew -- is still there. But those aspects aren't as dominant as they once were; in some ways, 'Chuck' has shown more resemblance to more straightforward spy shows like 'Alias' this season than the funny, charming, comedy/spy hybrid that we saw in its first two seasons.

That notion hasn't been helped by the current story arc, where Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) goes deep undercover in the dark organization of Alexei Volkoff (Timothy Dalton) in order to extricate Chuck's mother (Linda Hamilton) from her 20-year undercover mission. In the meantime, Casey (Adam Baldwin) is in critical condition from a bad fall he took at the end of last week's episode. It's a dark turn for the show that many of its fans -- including our recapper, Ryan McGee -- have been hoping ends soon.

If co-creator Chris Fedak is to be believed, those fans will be satisfied with what happens during tonight's climactic episode. "It's not as if we've set some something where we're going to spend seven episodes with Sarah inside (the Volkoff organization)," Fedak told me last week. "We have bigger things that are just about to happen."

In fact, Fedak and his 'Chuck' partner, Josh Schwartz, promise that tonight's episode will be one of the most "epic" 'Chuck's ever: "Monday's episode is huge. We were interviewed, and Josh said -- and I agree with him -- that the last act of episode 13 is maybe one of the best acts we've ever done.

"It's an amazing combination of the spy world, the emotional, and Chuck's family life coming together in one amazing act of television. It's just incredible."

Yes, he used the word "amazing" twice in that sentence. But from the previews, the episode promises to be as huge as Fedak says it will be, with Chuck confronting Volkoff with the help of his buddy Morgan (Josh Gomez). At the same time, Chuck's pregnant sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and her husband Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) get involved, and we hear Ellie exclaiming "My water just broke!"

'Chuck vs the Push Mix'Just like last year's 13th episode, which signaled the real start of Chuck and Sarah's relationship, it feels like we're getting a season or series finale in the middle of the season. That's not an accident, said Fedak, as both this year and last they wrote toward the initial 13-episode order that NBC gave them. "The good thing about having 13 episodes is that you tell the story aggressively, and I kind of like that," he said. "There's no padding, there's no extra, you know, 'We're going to sit on this story for a couple of weeks and tell it at our own leisurely pace.' We move the story."

Fedak describes next week's 14th episode as a "launching pad" to the second-half story arc. He won't say much about it beyond the fact that John Larroquette will return as CIA lothario Roan Montgomery next week and that down the line Sarah will re-encounter the members of her old team, including Carina (Mini Anden). In addition, "We just finished an episode that had Lou Diamond Phillips as our bad guy. He was fantastic, really fun to work with."

But has the magic gone from 'Chuck' already? In the show's first two seasons, viewers went along for the ride with Chuck as he tried to manage the Intersect that was downloaded into his brain by his old friend Bryce, all the while trying to navigate the spy world using his awkward social skills and extensive computer knowledge. In the meantime, he was falling for Sarah. Now, he's a full-fledged spy, he and Sarah are a couple, and Chuck can kung fu like an expert. Where's the sense of wonder?

When I asked Fedak if he missed those days, he said he did, but he was also excited to see the characters continue to evolve. "There's got to be a point where Chuck becomes a little better as a spy and Morgan gets a girlfriend," he said. But the second half of the season will see more situations where Chuck leans on his own smarts as much as he leans on the Intersect.

"Chuck isn't Superman," Fedak said. "He's still a super-smart guy, and his most important aspect isn't the Intersect in his head, it's his brain. It's his smart-spy, smart-guy abilities. [He's] the guy who can disarm a bomb with computer pornography, and we want to explore that more. Going forward, we want to make sure that we're always thinking of the Chuck solution to a problem, along with the fun kung fu / wish-fulfillment side of the story."

It was exciting for the writers to explore Chuck's new "powers" during the third season and the first half of the fourth season, but "we don't feel the necessity to have the whole show culminate in a fight. I'd much rather come up with How does Chuck figure his way out of this problem? because that's what makes him unique."

The folks at the Buy More, though, especially the creepy dynamic duo of Lester and Jeff (Vik Sahay and Scott Krinsky), balance out the heavy spy stuff. Because many of the episodes this year either de-emphasized the Buy More -- now a pure CIA operation -- or eliminated it altogether, the show took on a heaviness that hadn't been there before.

The old Buy More crew on 'Chuck'Fedak acknowledged that there's something missing when we don't see the Buy More for a few episodes in a row, but there's little danger that the Burbank crew will disappear. "I think that if we did many episodes where we never fall back to the Buy More or come back to their stories, that the uniqueness of the show would fall away, because the 'Chuck' show has always been about a guy who doesn't want to give up his personal life, he doesn't want to give up his family, he doesn't want to be James Bond."

It sounds like Fedak and Schwartz know that the show's gotten a bit dark and heavy and want to bring elements of the early seasons back. Whether they can or whether this is a bell that can't be unrung is something we'll see in the second half.

One thing that will satisfy fans, Fedak promises, is that Chuck and Sarah are still a couple for the time being. "We're not particularly interested in breaking them up," he said. "Doing a wrenching tale of Chuck and Sarah falling apart as a relationship isn't exactly the thing we're excited about because we like them together as a unit. We like them as spy partners."

In fact, they're due to get closer, as Chuck was about to ask Sarah to marry him before she entered the Volkoff organization. In our conversation, Fedak referred to Sarah as Chuck's fiancée briefly before correcting himself and saying she was his girlfriend. Could that status change tonight? If it would, it would be pretty "epic," right?

'Chuck' airs Mondays at 8PM ET on NBC.

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rangerleroy

I feel the opposite about the Buy More. Jeffster and Big Mike are just annoying, time-wasting intrusions into the stories now. I don't think they balance out anything; they throw everything off balance with their nonsense. Chuck, Morgan, Ellie and Awesome provide plenty of comedy. I would love to see the Buy More go away for good so that more time can be spent on the rest of the cast.

February 01 2011 at 1:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
noseless_wonder

I still like Chuck, myself. Was tonight's episode "epic"? No, but it was closer to the charm of the earlier seasons. I just think they focus too much on creating drama for Chuck and Sarah when they make a good "as-is" couple. I also twist my lips at all the overly-sexy costumes Sarah finds herself in every week. Don't they realize the show has a large fanbase that DOESN'T consist of 18 year-old boys? That being said, I don't think they need to, or should, return Chuck to his ignorant, reluctant spy status, which he had in the beginning. He's matured and grown, I think it's good the show is allowing him to evolve. I also like seeing Morgan grow too; the bromance that has brewed between him and Casey has been my favorite part of the recent seasons.

The show has lost some of its appeal, but it still has a solid premise and entertaining characters. In my opinion, that makes it better than a lot of the shows on network television. Plus, Zachary Levi is a doll to fans and has increased star power since Tangled came out. I don't think we should count Chuck out quite yet.

February 01 2011 at 1:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Neil C.

Please just get rid of Jeffster. They are annoying and not funny.

February 01 2011 at 12:59 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Jimmy

I still enjoy Chuck, but I have to say the whole Momma Bartowski storyline has been a major letdown, which is too bad considering they have Linda Hamilton.

January 31 2011 at 8:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Anne T

I guess I am in the minority, but I have enjoyed the 3rd & 4th seasons more than 1st & 2nd, or at least as much. And I certainly don't look for more of the Buy More. It doesn't balance out anything & doesn't seem to fit the rest of the show really. I like the spy stuff more, if it is too dark, maybe make the spy stuff lighter, which they do from time-to-time anyway (like vs. Suitcase or the episode with Armand Assante this season.) They really haven't gotten that dark this season, not as much as last season. Plus, then everyone complains that nothing seems at stake in the spy stuff.

Love the show even more this year, hope the creators keep it up!

January 31 2011 at 5:44 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Anne T's comment
Sarge_87

I couldn't agree with you more.

January 31 2011 at 6:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
spytv23

I also agree. Last season went a little dark (but I still loved it). This season combined all the character development of season 3 with the comedy of seasons 1 and 2. We had the big arc, but we also had comedic episodes like cubic Z (which probably had the best Chuck-Sarah interchange with their "tough cop-silent cop" routine; although that might have been surpassed by the Belly Dance scene), Costa Gravas, Couch Lock, etc.... I think you need to be a really negative person to dig for flaws in this season. No show has handled the combination of mythologic story arcs along with outstanding self-contained episodes since X-files. The uniqueness of chuck is that it manages this as an action-comedy! The writers haven't missed a beat and I'm really looking forward to the remainder of this season and a season 5.

February 11 2011 at 12:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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