Yes, Chuck fans, today is the season finale.
Now, there are rumors floating about that Chuck has been picked up for thirteen ( no truth to that), Nikki Finke saying that the show is safe ( I have issues with Ms. Finke at times, some things she wrote during the WGAstrike hurt some writer friends deeply, so I take what she says with a grain of salt). Let me be clear- THERE IS NO TRUTH TO ANY OF THESE RENEWAL STORIES. So do not think that we are in the clear ( I suspect Chuck will be renewed, because of the help we fans got from prominent TV critics from the Chicago Tribune, The NJ Star-Ledger, and Ausiello at EW.com, which turned a grassroots movement that would probably been effective to a point into a national story not seen since Jericho was cancelled the first time). If we are lucky to see our favorite Buy More employee and the gang back for season three, we cannot give up the big fight- we have to continue to tout the show at every possible moment and make sure people tune in for season three.
The fact is, rarely do these fan based reactionary movements work. the most famous one is of course the Jericho ” nuts” campaign, which saw Les Moonves’ office filled with peanuts. The most successful one in history was the letter writing campaign that saved 80s cop classic Cagney and Lacey, a show cancelled after it’s first season only to return for another five (it also had Ms. magazine backing it). There is also The Family Guy, cancelled by Fox only to come back years later due to the ratings the show got on Adult Swim. That show is also still on the air after many seasons.
The thing that is different about the Chuck campaing, though, is the fan ingenuity. It was a fan who came up with the Subway campaign. See, Subway is prominent in it’s product placement on the show, including the character of Morgan Grimes ( the invaluable Joshua Gomez) singing the $5 footlong jingle a couple of episodes ago. Fans actually praise the product placement on Chuck- it’s obvious, sure, but it’s done in the most fun loving, goofy way. That is why this idea got legs. We all know product placement is the wave of the advertising future on TV, as the rise of DVRs and TV on DVD attest ( not to mention the continued popularity of torrent files). What could be more effective than showing both the advertiser and the network that the idea actually works? NBC has been the most aggressive network in this arena ( see: entire episodes of 30 Rock based around McFlurries and such). They are dying to prove that product placement works. We are helping them prove a point by showing the advertiser that we are watching and listening. It’s easy to be cynical and jaded about the practice, but damn it, we aren’t idiots. Advertising dollars propel the TV industry- that’s why Neilsens, however ineffective, are still the standard we use to gauge viewership. The assumption is if 1% of the population are recorded as watching a certain television show, the number correlate out by formula, there by 2 1/2 Men scores 17 million viewers in a week ( I really don’t know how accurate that is, honestly. No one I know likes that show, but almost everyone I know watches The Big Bang Theory at some point during the week).
The money train, though, is the most important thing to the networks. And that has been part of Chuck’s problem. See, Heroes ( craptastic as it is right now) is owned outright by NBC/Universal, it gets all the money from DVD and International sales. Chuck is produced out of Warner Brothers studios, which means that NBC has to pay the WB a licensing fee, and they don’t garner a huge chunk of those DVD and International sales. That is why, despite comparable numbers ( Heroes still draws in a few hundred thousand more, plus a bit more in the oh-so important 18-49 demo), Heroes pulled in an early renewal call and Chuck- well, by all accounts, it’s on the positive side of the bubble, but it’s on the bubble none the less.
All things being considered though, Chuck has everything going for it- it’s like Lost and Heroes in it’s dense mythology, but unlike both of those shows, it’s actually funny, light hearted, positive, and charming on top of smart and thrilling. It’s not weighed down by a ridiculously massive cast that requires maneuvering ridiculous amounts of story lines. It says great things about family and friends. It’s actually quite family friendly ( I know last weeks Chuck-Sarah make out session was a little steamy, but as my preteen daughter pointed out, when was the last time you saw a show that actually encouraged responsible sexual practices and said condoms are important and don’t sex someone up without one. Yeah, but you know, I’m one of those ridiculously open liberal parents that allows my kids to swear because there are worse things in the world they could be doing, like robbing liquor stores). And the cast has shown in the last few weeks that they really appreciate us as the fans. Few shows have the majority of their cast and crew talk to the hosts of a fan podcast to discuss things the way Chuck’s cast and crew did last week for Chuck vs. The Podcast. Few show runners would engage their fans in interviews, thanking them and encouraging the ” Take It To the Man” attitudes. Few would actually say ” Send Nerds” ( as in the candies) like Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak did. Fans often feel passionately about their shows, but there often seems like there is a wall between creators and fans, and we never even know if they know how passionate we are about what they do. The Internet has changed this somewhat, and I have seen show runners get majorly involved now in fan communities ( Criminal Minds Fanatic has a notoriously close relationship with Ed Bernaro and the creative crew on that show). Chuck falls on that side of the TV world. A lot of that, I’m convinced of, is Josh Schwartz being so frakkin’ young himself, growing up in the era of video games and the rise of the Internet. Chuck’s NBC page uses integration really well, and Schwartz ( who also produces the CW’s Gossip Girl- talk about a Sophie’s Choice situation in the Schwartz home Mondays at 8 pm) is savvier than most about the ways to use the Internet community.
Another fan based movement happens on the mother of all Internet driven commercial real estate- ITunes. Chuck is available on ITunes, and so is the music. Chuck fans have been encouraged to of course purchase episodes off of the music store, but there has also been a push to buy the music featured. The Chuck soundtrack is heavy on two things- indie rock ( Bon Iver, Phantom Planet, Spoon, Flight Of the Conchords) and eighties classics ( Rush, Journey, Twisted Sister, Huey Lewis and The News). I know I have bought songs simply because I heard it on Chuck first. And I have apparently forgotten how much I loved Huey Lewis as a kid. I would like to thank Chuck for reminding me.
And more on that eighties thing- well, it’s less about the eighties per se than the genius way this show pays homage to the popular culture of the people of my age group. Emmett Millbarge- totally Spies Like Us. The Godfather? Well, you know that the Buy More is just a different kind of mafia, right? Casablanca is probably referenced in this show more than one could possibly realize. There have lines cribbed from everything- James Bond, The Warriors, Quantum Leap, Jerry Maguire… part of the fun is realizing that yes, Nicole Richie and Ben Savage’s characters are, in fact, named Heather Chandler and Mark Ratner ( from the two greatest high school movies ever- Heathers and Fast Times At Ridgemont High).
Then there is that cast. Adam Baldwin as the indomitable Maj. ( now Col.) John Casey- a mix of his characters in My Bodyguard and Firefly ( Jayne Cobb=John Casey on earth and with a badge). The beautiful Yvonne Strahovski ( nicknamed Strahotski by libido charged fanboys) has grown into her difficult role of kick ass chick with a gun and a heart. How can you hate a show with a character nicknamed Captain Awesome, and Ryan McPartlin’s character has developed from one note joke to the person Chuck first tells about his secret. Sarah Lancater’s Ellie Bartowski is a smart woman who loves her brother to the point of almost smothering him, but she genuinely cares about what he is doing with his life. Jeff and Lester provide hilarious comic relief at the Buy More, and let’s face it, Jeffster is the coolest lame ass band in TV history. Morgan Grimes is the devoted best friend, and the Chuck-Morgan bromance is the stuff of legend. Then there is Zachary Levi as Chuck- handsome but not so much so as to be unbelievable as a geek, but not so geeky as to be off putting. He’s charming, affable, and funny, and a really great actor. I’m actually sure of the fact if it wasn’t for the show’s lead, the show would not work. Sometimes character and actor just mesh in a way as to become one. From all accounts, Zac Levi is an awful lot like Chuck in real life- video gamer, sweet, generous, and warm.
There are many reasons why Chuck deserves a third season, most of them listed above. But let me just say one more thing before I go and Twitter some more about the Subway thing and the season finale and just how beloved this show actually has become. I can tell you right now that the first two episodes were fun but didn’t inspire diehard loyalty from me. It wasn’t until the show’s mythology began to develop around the middle of season one I became hooked. What was a funny little spy show became deeper and more involved in “Chuck vs. the Alma Mater”, when you began to get a sense that the reason for Chuck to become the human intersect was bigger than originally thought. This is one show that has gotten better with each episode. Hurt by the ten month layoff the strike caused, being in the most competativetime slot ( Mondays at 8 ET- opposite House, Dancing With the Stars, The CBS comedies The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother, and Gossip Girl on the CW), this show deserves so much better than NBC has given it. And the best thing I think NBC, after handing over five hours of prime time to a comedian ( even money from me Jay’s show fails), being in fourth place, and with little looking all that promising for them, is too reward a loyal, if small, audience.
Here’s hoping for season three of Chuck, with at least thirteen, preferably twenty two, episodes. There are worse things that could happen.