In its five years on the air, Chuck , the little show that could, dodged more cancellation bullets than Agent Smith during the entire Matrix trilogy. Perhaps that was part of the appeal. In an apt parallel with Chuck Bartowski’s underdog status on the show, Chuck was the underdog in the annual battle for renewal, even with an army of Nerd Herders rallying behind the show online. Full of bone-breaking action, nifty gadgets and characters you actually gave a monkeys about, Chuck was spy-fi with heart.
And here are twenty things we loved about it
1 The Episode Titles
Many a show has dabbled with gimmicky naming conventions, but Chuck ’s title device was far from gimmicky. Not only was the “Chuck Versus…” prefix a neat metaphor for Chuck’s bottom-rung role in the world of international espionage, but it gave the crafty writers a chance to play on audience expectations. Calling the final episode of season four, when cancellation was still a distinct possibility, “Chuck Versus The Cliffhanger”, however? That was just mean.
Here are our Top 5 favourites (no reflection on the quality of the actual episode):
• “Chuck Versus The Imported Hard Salami”
• “Chuck Versus The Beard”
• “Chuck Versus The Muuurder”
• “Chuck Versus The Aisle Of Terror”
• “Chuck Versus Sarah”
2 All Hail Jeffster!
Who doesn’t love Chuck’s wannabe-anarchic music-loving slackers? Sure, the writers clearly ran out of things for the pair to do after a few seasons, but their glorious rendition of “Mr Roboto”, an accompaniment to Ellie’s wedding in “Chuck Versus The Ring” is still one of the show’s finest moments. They even got their own web-series spin-off Chuck Presents – Buy Hard: The Jeff And Lester Story . More than mere comedy sidekicks, Jeff and Lester were a bromance to rival even Chuck and Morgan.
3 The Guest Stars
It’s telling that this 20 Reasons We Love could quite easily have been a list of 20 Guest Stars We Love. Almost every episode of Chuck would enlist a geek-friendly pop-culture icon, from sci-fi legends to wrestlers, for anything from three-second cameos to multi-episode arcs. In later seasons they even created a role specifically so it could be filled by different guest stars (Greta – in one episode played by Summer Glau). No one has done guest stars better.
10 greatest geeky Chuck guest stars
• Timothy Dalton
• Bruce Boxlietner
• Linda Hamilton
• Scott Bakula
• Brandon Routh
• Gary Cole
• Rob Riggle
• Kristen Kreuk
• Chevy Chase
• Dominic Monaghan
4 The Sandworm
Much more than a showcase for the Best Halloween Costume Ever, “Chuck Versus The Sandworm” marked the moment where Chuck changed from a fun 40 minutes about zany spy-fi action, to a show where we genuinely cared about the characters. Chuck letting Morgan play the head for the first time was the defining moment of their bromance, while Sarah doing something for Chuck, and not just the job, was the turning point of their relationship. How apt that that something was dressing up as Slave Leia.
5 Casey’s Grunts
The perfect punchline to almost any scene, Casey’s grunt was a gag that never got old. They even used it as a pre-credit sting in the final season! It was the perfect emotional outlet for Casey, a man of few words at the best of times, and caught on in no small part thanks to the brilliance of Adam Baldwin. Honourable mention goes to the one true love of Casey’s life – a picture of Ronald Reagan, another recurring gag that never failed to make us chortle.
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6 The Chuck Flash
We loved the Intersect. It made many of the show’s fantastical conceits and brutal fights possible, and continually evolved as the show progressed, jumping between characters and eventually helping Chuck become the ultimate spy. But one of our favourite things about the Intersect were the random images that appeared on screen whenever Chuck “flashed” (or Morgan “zoomed”). We’re pretty sure we saw an otter once. The “Chuck Flash” is even in the Urban Dictionary.
7 The Hair
Chuck remained remarkably consistent in tone and, to a certain extent format, throughout its five-year run. But nothing dates an episode more than the hair. In many ways the show’s folliclular adventures told their own story – one that mirrored the characters’ journeys. Zachary Levi’s ever shrinking mane reflected Chuck’s increased professionalism, Sarah’s loosening locks her opening up as a character, and Morgan’s hypnotic beard the fact he will always be a loafer. Kudos for keeping Chuck’s season one hair in the opening titles until the very end… Always made us smile.
8 I Know Kung Fu
The season two finale, “Chuck Versus The Ring”, with Chuck having the upgraded intersect downloaded into his brain, was a genuine game-changer, and the single most deliriously gleeful moment in sci-fi TV history. We gave the episode 11 stars in issue 184, and we’d do it again today. They repeated exactly the same trick during the season four finale, with Morgan learning kung fu this time instead, and it was almost as effective. Best of all, it opened up a whole new avenue of narrative opportunities to capitalise on in later seasons.
9 Sarah’s Outfits
There’s so much to love about Sarah. Her toothy smile, her devotion to Chuck, that time she beat up the whole of Thailand… but it was the costumes that first made us fall for the future Mrs Bartowski. From cover jobs at the Wienerlicious and Orange Orange to undercover assignments as a ditzy party girl and a belly dancer (er, a personal assignment), there was nothing Sarah wouldn’t do; a fact memorably addressed in “Chuck Versus The Kept Man” where Sarah reminds Casey, “Do you know how many skimpy outfits I have had to put on for this team?” Mere mention of Sarah’s pop-up wings in SFX Towers is still enough to elicit wistful sighs.
10 The Ending
Needless to say MASSIVE SPOILERS ahead for anyone who’s yet to see the season five finale. Still with us? Good, because Chuck’s series finale achieved the rare feat of being ambiguous and satisfying. Losing Sarah was always going to be Chuck’s greatest threat, and he did, spectacularly. What’s great was that it didn’t cheat. Chuck and Sarah were back at square one on that beach and it’s up to you to fill in the blanks. Ending on their own terms was an incredible achievement for a show constantly threatened with cancellation.
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“Ooh, cool, a tiny weapons standoff.” With one line Volkoff earned a place on this list, and that was before Volkoff even revealed his dastardly alter ego! Timothy Dalton doesn’t do much TV, but his role on Chuck eclipsed even his appearance as Rassilon in “The End Of Time” (with less spitting). He’s equal parts intimidating, funny and frighteningly unhinged. Volkoff’s a sympathetic villain too – an innocent man corrupted by technology, a hint at how the Intersect could have gone terribly wrong for Chuck. And the episode where he’s playing charades is one of the show’s comic highlights – though we never did work out what he was trying to mime.
12 A Show For Us
Chuck was a show laser-targeted at geeks. Chuck’s house was littered with geeky paraphernalia, a scene without a pop-culture reference was almost unheard of (our particular favourite: Morgan and Chuck humming along to the Imperial March) and it was never anything less than all-embracing.
13 The Music
It’s not very often that a single composer stays with a show for five years and keeps the music feeling fresh, but that’s exactly what Tim Jones achieved on Chuck . The theme music is the perfect mood-setter, but it’s the recurrent spy-fi theme that best sums up the tone of the show – full of international intrigue and reminiscent of classic espionage tunes.
14 The Buy More
Only a show like Chuck could make our definition of consumer hell – an electronics store – into a place we actually wanted to spend time in. The gang’s houses were a frequent fixture, but in a way the Buy More was their real home. Primarily it served as a pressure release valve, useful for cutting away from the action elsewhere, and helped the show strike a perfect balance between comedy, action and emotion.
15 Mr and Mrs Awesome
Ellie Bartowski and Devon Woodcomb were a glimpse of the future for Sarah and Chuck, or what could be. They were a believable pairing and the stable family unit at the centre of the show. The fact the writers never really felt the need to inject any artificial drama into their relationship spoke volumes. They loved each other, and that was that. And, of course, they were both impossibly pretty.
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16 General Beckman
Memorably portrayed by Bonita Friedericy (though not in the pilot), Beckman served an important narrative purpose – briefing the team each week – but what we loved most about her was the mystery. Beckman’s ice-cold demeanour was a constant source of intrigue, until she became a season regular in later years and the cracks started to show: discovering she had blonde hair, the shock revelation of her prolonged affair with Roan Montgomery and even kissing Chuck. She eventually became a part of the family and made the steely face of the NSA personal.
17 Chuck didn’t kill anyone
Obvious, perhaps. And maybe a little hypocritical given the amount of murder going on elsewhere, but the fact Chuck never killed anyone himself was the clearest indicator of the fact that as much as he grew over the five years, he never changed at heart. It also sets up a brilliant gag in the final episode, “Chuck Versus The Goodbye”, when Chuck refuses to shoot Nicholas Quinn in the back, firing into the sky instead, and takes down a helicopter with a single bullet. Comedy gold.
18 Chuck’s parents
Casting was one of C huck ’s key strengths, and they didn’t drop the ball when it came to mom and pop Bartowski. Sci-fi icons Linda Hamilton and Scott Bakula were smartly weaved into the spy world in a way that never stretched credulity, while easily Chuck’s darkest, and most heartbreaking, moment came at the climax of season three when Chuck’s father is shot. Sniff.
“Promotional Furnishings By…” is a credit you’ll see on a lot of TV shows nowadays. It’s essentially product placement, but it took Chuck t o demonstrate what could really be achieved, and turn a TV bugbear into a bonus. Big Mike ate enough sandwiches over the years we’re confident the mere mention of the word “Subway” would make actor Mark Christopher Lawrence retch, but it never felt intrusive. They even managed to weave Subway into the plot on several occasions. Not to mention that we have smart use of product placement to thank (in part) for keeping the show on air for as long as it was.
20 Chuck and Sarah got together… and stayed together
Chuck and Sarah finally hooked up half-way through season three, but rather than pushing the big ol’ reset button they stayed together right to the end, a remarkably bold move given how much tension the first two and a half seasons built around the will-they-won’t-they aspect of their relationship. Any other show would have fizzled out after that, but remarkably Chuck was better for it. The joy of subsequent seasons was seeing how the trials of their relationship became a part of the challenges they faced. They remain sci-fi’s sweetest couple.