There is a scene in 5.09 Kept Man where Casey complains about the ridiculous speedos he has to wear for Gertrude and Sarah retorts about all the ridiculously skimpy outfits she’s had to wear over the years. This truth raises a good question—does the show over-sexualize Sarah and women in general? Think about all the scenes with Sarah and/or Carina in lingerie, or Sarah running around in four-inch heels during missions. Was that really necessary? (Fitzroy would say, “No.” If you catch this reference, you know who you are.)
Some fans of Yvonne Strahovski even say that this over-sexualization of Sarah in Chuck negatively affected the way her acting skills were perceived in her casting for The Handmaid’s Tale (THT) and conclude that she had to prove her acting mettle in that show because of her role as a bimbo in Chuck.
Now, I can’t speak about THT because I haven’t seen it but I can say this: Yvonne is the best performer on Chuck; she’s a great actress who emotes very well. The writers and the cast make Chuck good. Zach and Baldwin make it great. But it’s Yvonne who makes it special. Now, it’s true that the show does focus on her appearance (as well as Devon’s) because it’s a commercial enterprise and sex appeal sells but, in this case, and this is part of the beauty of Chuck, the focus on her appearance works on a meta-level, too because this is a story about appearance vs reality, and viewers who focus on Sarah’s appearance miss on the reality of her persona and on the fact that, yes, if we just look at the appearance, Sarah is out of Chuck’s league but, if we look at the reality behind the appearance, it’s Chuck who’s out of Sarah’s league.
In many ways, Chuck is like Frodo and Sarah is like Boromir. Most humans focus on appearance and would pick Boromir over Frodo any day of the week and twice on Sundays, but the reality is that it’s Frodo who’s chosen to carry the burden of the ring. Same with Chuck and the Intersect. Bryce Gandalf looks at the heart, not at the appearance, and sends the Intersect to Chuck, not to Sarah.
But what about the over-sexualization of Sarah and how that affects the perception of Yvonne as an actress?
One of the problems with Hollywood and stereotypes is that Hollywood is hypocritical. They pay lip service to equality and girl power, and accuse men of seeing women only as sex toys but then promote that exact idea in TV shows and movies because sex sells, sex works, sex makes them money (unless your show happens to be Chuck), and Hollywood loves money.
Hence Yvonne having to run in 4-inch heels when it makes zero sense for Sarah to do so.
Another reason Yvonne was scoffed at is because Chuck is mostly a comedy while THT is drama, and Hollywood takes drama much more seriously than comedy when it comes to awards, even though I’m willing to bet $20 that Chuck’s layered depth blows that of THT out of the water, although I will likely never know for sure because THT is not my cup of tea and will probably never watch it.
As a husband and father of three daughters, I hate it when women are sexualized by Hollywood and other media and, as a European who grew up watching half-naked women on billboards and in commercials and is desensitized to women walking around in lingerie, I couldn’t care less whether Yvonne is wearing a bikini or a spacesuit in Chuck, as long as I can see her facial expressions. What makes the story special to me is Yvonne’s acting as well as Sarah’s character and her devotion to Chuck, not Yvonne’s body or Sarah’s lingerie.
Ironically, to me the most beautiful thing about Sarah (or any woman, for that matter) is the one thing we can’t see—her psyche.
And I suspect this is true for many viewers.