It’s been over a week since C2E2 and we’ve had to endure another Chuck-less Monday this week.  I’m finding this to be the perfect time to ponder season four.  What’s been good, what’s been bad, what can be improved for the next season (please NBC, let there be one?).  I learned a few things in the C2E2 press room that have changed my mind (for the better) about season four, but I still have a few reasons for concern.  

Chuck is one of the few shows we sit together and watch as a family (these days probably the only one).  It’s also one of the very rare shows that I’ve been watching since the pilot.  How is season four doing compared to the other seasons?   I’m liking it, but it doesn’t have quite the same charm or fun as it once did.  Not to say there haven’t been fun episodes.  I think “Chuck vs. Phase Three” is one of the best episodes of the series.  Lord knows my son loved it.  You also will not get a more hilarious, iconic moment in this show than Jeffster singing “Push It” in the maternity ward waiting room, hijacked intercom and all.
Still, something has been missing from seasons before.  The ensemble doesn’t seem to be as tight as they once were.  Sure individual relationships have strengthened, but the interactions between all the cast members have become fewer and farther between.  As the focus has shifted away from the Buy More, that’s resulted in a change to the center of gravity.  That center is now The Castle, which is great for the spy team, but it leaves many others out.   

It wasn’t until I talked with a few of the cast members and co-creator Chris Fedak in the C2E2 press room that I realized why these shifts have been happening.  These characters are growing, evolving, and experiencing dramatic changes in their roles, thus changes in their purpose in Chuck’s life.  In other words, as Chuck changes, so do the people around him.  These changes in many ways have worked, but in some ways have been a bit too off putting. 

Jeff and Lester

It might not be fair to group these guys together, especially when Vik Sahay (Lester) and Scott Krinsky (Jeff) spent a lot of time at C2E2 trying to prove they are different people.  Needless to say though, these two have really evolved into one scary pair.  They were always a little strange but as we have learned more about them, underneath those layers are two really messed up people.
The evolution has even taken the actors by surprise.  “When we started I didn’t realize how deranged and mental Jeff was going to be,” said Scott Krinsky.  Vik Sahay had a much different view on how things have progressed for these two very strange buddies.  “When we began there was nothing really there, little specs.  There’s an alchemy that can happen when you put two people together.  We met the first day of shooting and somehow it caught into some kind of oil fire that is now spiraling out of control and they’re in trouble.  That’s how it all kind of unfolded.”
You have to admit, in peeling back the layers of these two, it’s like watching a train wreck.  It’s uncomfortable, somewhat sickening, but you can’t look away because it’s too fascinating.  Krinsky listed as his favorite moment in the series during the panel that Jeff and Lester at the beginning of season four were living in a van.  He found that to be quite a spiral from two weird guys at the Buy More.  Sahay doesn’t see Lester as hopeless though.  “I really think that Lester, I’ve said this for a long time now, is in dire need of love.  The one thing he needs more than anything his actions prevent the most.  He’s a jagged, off putting fellow…If somebody could get hold of him and hug him he would have that “Good Will Hunting” moment, where they’re like “it’s not your fault” and he would break and melt and become a beautiful angel of a boy.”
From now on, when I hear complaints about how Jeff and Lester have grown too weird, I’ll probably find myself defending them.  Underneath all that weirdness are really two misunderstood characters.  If season five and beyond is granted, we do have to wonder if a redemption is planned for Jeff and Lester.  Nah, probably not.

Awesome and Ellie

These two have always been the stable, grounding force in Chuck’s life and in turn, the entire show.  It’s interesting too, since at the beginning of the series we weren’t sure what sort of character Captain Awesome would become.  Josh Gomez had this to say about Ryan McPartlin’s handling of the role.  “The Awesome character had the potential to be a douchebag kind of character.  And Ryan with his own sort of non-douchebag way just brought so much heart and such sweetness to it.”

Now that they’re in diaper changing mode, this has pushed Captain Awesome and Ellie off to the side.  I find it to be a double edged sword.  It seems logical that Ellie and Awesome would move into their own bigger place, start a family, and get on with their lives thus leaving Chuck alone.  However, that logical shift has also removed them from the group.  They aren’t there all the time in the same apartment getting involved as Chuck experiences his next dilemma.  The balance they’ve provided in the past is missing.  I don’t see their changes as an improvement in the overall dynamic.  

Judging by the previews though and what happened in “Chuck vs. The Muuurder,” it sounds like they’re going to find themselves in the thick of it again soon.  “With any story you got to sucked by the lull before the world gets turned upside down,” said McPartlin.  “I hope that’s what’s happening with Ellie and Awesome.”



You’ve got to admit, Morgan has certainly grown by leaps and bounds.  Out of all the characters, I find his growth to be the most inspiring.  In season one he was pretty annoying.  He was a pest that was constantly distracting Chuck from his spy issues, albeit unintentionally.  I didn’t see him to be a valuable member of the team in that season.  Now, he’s a integral part and his growing bond with of all people Casey has been a delight to watch.  Not to mention his maturity, going from the relationship phobic, refusing to grow up lackey to the now responsible and competent store manager of the Buy More, as well as a pretty darned good spy.  

“At the heart of the character was a really sweet, loyal friend,” said Gomez,  “(who) very much cared about his friend, he cared about his friend’s family because they’re his family ultimately.  When Chris (Fedak) and I spoke about it where the character was going to go and that it was going to open up into that I was delighted and didn’t know exactly where it was going go.  I didn’t know I’d be going on missions with Casey to Iran.”

That professional relationship with Casey is further complicated by the fact that Morgan is dating Casey’s daughter, thus throwing a potential father-in-law issue there as well.  The potential of this scenario is huge and it’s been very well done.  They might be going too far though with Morgan actually living with Casey.  I liked it better when Morgan was living with Chuck and they had to deal with their complications with the ladies in their lives.  Morgan as the responsible adult is taking some adjustment, but all in all I think it’s working quite well.  

John Casey
Sure Adam Baldwin wasn’t around to defend himself, but who could ignore what he’s brought to this show?  His character in the panel and the press room came up often.  Just like Morgan, no character has had better development than John Casey.  Why?  Here’s a tough, loyal, dangerous special ops soldier who’s been a stealth assassin for years.  Since Chuck has come into his life though, he’s facing the toughest challenge he’s ever faced.  Civilian life.  The way they’ve handled his slow assimilation into this life has been nothing short of brilliant.  

Yes, there is a sensitive teddy bear like human underneath that rough exterior.  In the panel Chris Fedak promised we’d get more of that, not just with Casey’s daughter Alex.  Casey will be coming in contact with the one true love in his life, Alex’s mother, before the season (and perhaps series) closes.  How that affects him in his duty will be interesting to see.  

Chuck and Sarah

Whenever a show is built on the “will they or won’t they” tension between the two leads, history has more than proven that bringing these guys together is a bad idea (cough, Moonlighting, cough).  Chris Fedak however defended this decision, stating that they knew it was going to happen in season three.  

“Season 3 was always designed with the fact that we were going to put Chuck and Sarah together at the end of it.  From a story perspective we kind of built the season that way.  We had an order for 13 episodes,   being the Chuck show we thought we had 13 episodes so we built a tight and structured story that led to Chuck and Sarah in Paris and then being together in the end. So that was kind of the model, the structure.”
So is that pairing working?  I think so, but it has dramatically changed the tone of the show.  The tension has shifted to the normal perils of a relationship in not so normal circumstances.  Love like this is foreign to both characters, but Fedak had nothing but huge praise for Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski and their ability to pull anything off.  Their chemistry is that good.  “We also knew we had a secret weapon which was Zack and Yvonne.  (They’re) aren’t only good at looking at each other longingly but they do plenty of fantastic (scenes) together.”  
In fairness, NBC and their wavering commitment to the long term prospects of this show, aka only granting half season orders each year and then adding episodes later, has really hurt the plotting of the Chuck and Sarah story.  I don’t think anyone dreamed they would get this far in the relationship.  Scott Krinsky agreed that the choppy episode orders from the network have affected the way the stories in general have been done.  “I think it’s probably it’s been a part of how they’ve told the story because every season they thought this could maybe be the finale.  Maybe it’s pushed the story along a little quicker that they might of had they known that they would keep going from season to season.”
The storytelling has also been affected by changes in the writing staff.  Many of the original producers and writers have gone onto other things (Allison Alder – No Ordinary Family, Matt Miller – Human Target, Phil Klemmer – Undercovers, Scott Rosenbaum – V).  Much of this season’s writing team are new to the show and that’s resulted in a slight tonal shift as well.  The writing hasn’t been as crisp or tight as in season’s past.  Or as funny.  That has allowed for some inconsistencies and weaker plotting.  Not horrible, just weaker.  
So What Does This All Mean?

So what did I learn about Chuck from C2E2 overall?  This season has had it’s inconsistencies, but there is a method to the madness in character progression at least.  Yes a lot of the nerdiness is gone, but that’s because these characters are growing, facing normal life challenges around a not so ordinary spy life.  These are not one sided, single dimensional people.  Not even Jeff and Lester!
A lot of that light-hearted charm from the first three seasons has been missing from season four.  One reason is the less Buy More, the less mad cap insanity.  The Castle and spy world just isn’t as fun.  Sure, characters like Alexei Volkoff and Roan Montgomery are delightful kooks, but Mary Ellen Bartowski (Linda Hamilton) hasn’t really added much to the comedy aspect.  She doesn’t seem like she fits into the fold well at all.  Not like Scott Bakula anyway, who’s eccentricities as Steven Bartowski were far more entertaining.  

Chris Fedak talked about balance, primarily how that’s always been a big challenge for them.  However, things are going to change.  The normal rules are the show are going to be upended.  The question is, how much?  Will it be a good thing? Chuck has always been a fun show and that part should never change.  Yes these characters are growing and experiencing life changes, but the day that this show starts taking itself too seriously is the day it should probably end.  I don’t think they’re at that point yet, but this season has been a lot more serious.  That aspect has been more bad than good.   
Fedak also promised in the panel that the Buy More isn’t going anywhere.  Will it continue though to just be another waning distraction for Chuck instead of a comedic center?  As Chuck grows as a spy his need for the Buy More goes away.  Sure it’ll always be there for him but how long?  Where else other than Jeffster can comic relief be drawn?  Morgan has now turned into the straight man running the insane asylum unlike Big Mike who as the leader was just as nuts as everyone else.  What else is left for the Buy More? 
As for Ellie and Captain Awesome, they need to get themselves back into the overall fold and not be a side story.  Their presence is needed because any insanity must be grounded in some ways.  Sure Morgan is sliding into that role nicely, but they need to be there too.  They bring a lot of charm and sensibility that the others don’t have.  
Finally, there’s Chuck and Sarah.  Don’t change a thing.  They’ve always been at the show’s center and as long as their relationship maintains that extraordinary chemistry that has pushed this show into unique territory, Chuck will thrive.  The key is finding the balance between all that revolves around them.  That’s where season four has faltered.  There’s still a chance for season five (yes I’m being an optimist) to fix that.  
(Photos courtesy of Warner Brothers).   

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