To Binge or Not to Binge Episode 67: ‘Chuck’


Hannah Allred

(Graphic by Hannah Allred | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


The funny thing about superheroes is that many of them rarely ever intend to become high flying vigilantes — at least, not at first. Peter Parker started out as a regular kid bitten by a unique spider, Captain America began as one of the countless soldiers marching into war and Bruce Wayne wasn’t Batman until both of his parents were killed off in one tragic night. Nonetheless, each of these heroes eventually came to fit what we expect of the standard hero form. They always don the tight-fitting spandex, create a masked persona for themselves and stay awake each night hunting for the criminals. That’s what superheroes do, right?

Well, now imagine a guy who gains superpowers only to quickly realize that he doesn’t want to be a superhero. At all. He’s no good at fighting and gets nauseous at the sight of blood. He hangs up on the government agents who call on him to save the day. He’s less interested in running around in a fancy outfit than playing some video games, fixing laptops and eating a jar of cheese puffs. In steps actor Zachary Levi — and no, I’m not referring to his role as Shazam in DC’s 2019 comedy, as hilarious as Levi was in that movie. Though known for his voice work as Flynn Ryder of Disney’s “Tangled” and roles in other movies and television — from “Thor: Ragnarok” to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Heroes Reborn” to “Alias Grace” — one of Levi’s most acclaimed appearances was as the super-powered non-superhero Chuck Bartowski of NBC’s comedy adventure series “Chuck.”


To Binge or Not to Binge

I like superheroes, I don’t like it when they’re too uniform, and I love it when they go against their own stereotypes. If you’re at all like me in sharing these opinions, you’ll probably enjoy “Chuck.” The series at once capitalizes on the action and excitement of spy, superhero and even martial arts flicks, yet it subverts them by placing a protagonist who’s trying to escape it all at its dead center. In essence, Levi plays the role that Rebel Wilson does in the relatively recent film “Isn’t it Romantic?” as an everyman thrust into a living nightmare of genre tropes. As such, “Chuck” is whimsical, silly and surprisingly nuanced.

Chuck’s origin story would make it seem that gaining superpowers would be a relief to him. Initially, he’s a college dropout on anxiety meds trapped in a dead-end job — a computer repair serviceman with the Nerd Herd at a Buy More (a spoof of the Geek Squad at a Best Buy) in his late twenties. Single and depressed, he lives with his older sister — a successful doctor — and her fiancé — an ex-Abercrombie and Fitch model. Both of them are determined to get Chuck on his feet, out of their apartment and set up with someone, but to little success. However, what looks like a miraculous opportunity lands on Chuck’s shoulders when his brain is fused with a complete database of CIA intelligence by strange happenstance. Before he knows it, Chuck is a highly wanted and consistently endangered human-computer hybrid, complete with superhuman intellect and other mysterious abilities. However, he quickly learns that accomplishing mundane tasks such as crossing the street to buy a corndog for lunch isn’t nearly so easy with generic beefcake baddies toting machine-guns and villainous agendas hot on his tail. Suddenly, having superpowers isn’t fun — it sucks.

Fortunately, actress Yvonne Strahovski (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Dexter”) joins the fray as Sarah Walker, a government agent skilled in combat and tactical strategy, assigned to protect Chuck. With circumstances requiring that the pair can never separate, the two pretend to date as Sarah spends much of that time chasing away baddies with a gun or nasty knife in hand. Of course, the premise follows that Chuck, as wimpy as he is, inevitably falls for this scary bad-a. It isn’t easy to bond with your femme fatale protector if you’re utterly terrified of her, though, particularly if you’ve seen what she does to her victims firsthand. (Hint: it’s bloody.)

The dynamic of these polar-opposite characters one who is revolted by living in the action genre and another who is the exact embodiment of it results in an entirely improbable but delightful satire. “Chuck” is reminiscent of the best of B-list hero films with its campy, cartoonish humor, yet it combines that with well thought out and edgy twists. One episode has a Stan Lee cameo, for crying out loud. So though the 2000s-era series is a little old, it’s a superb binge for those who like comic books and enjoy adorkable slice-of-life romantic comedies even more. That may sound like an odd combo, sure, but it’s certainly a flavor some audiences adore. Also, to those into alternative rock, especially anything along the lines of Bon Iver and Band of Horses, the show’s soundtrack is killer good. The deliberate cheesiness of “Chuck” might bother some viewers. After all, the series draws most of its commentary from being highly over-the-top.


Best Episode

Despite my own mixed feelings about it, I can’t deny that the best episode of this whole series is easily its finale, which is especially melancholic and thought-provoking as compared to many of its more cutesy ones. I won’t spoil anything, but the turn that the writers took with the ending took me by total surprise, more so, perhaps, than with the finale of any other television series I’ve seen — serious, lighthearted or otherwise. While “Chuck” doesn’t conclude with a traditional “happily ever after,” its resolution is certainly evocative of all of the best qualities of the show, taking its long-running themes of vulnerability and self-worth to new heights.


Similar Shows (And Movies)

On the whole, “Chuck” carries a peachy, lively aesthetic similar to those of “White Collar,” “Psych,” “Scrubs,” “Superstore” and “Brooklyn 99.” It’s also a must-watch for anybody who really enjoys thriller-comedies like “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Get Smart” and “Ant-Man.” 


Trigger Warnings

For the most part, “Chuck” has relatively mild depictions of violence, which are primarily choreographed martial arts scenes, though it can get a bit grungy at times. The show also features non-explicit but frequent allusions to sex, alongside multiple comedic innuendoes.



4.7 out of 5 Stars

Available to stream on Amazon Prime

91 episodes over 5 seasons, approximately 90 hours total


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