Chuck is like an iceberg. The 10% of it that you see above the surface—a Sydney Bristow who walks into The Office and turns Jim Halpert’s life upside down and brings him on spy missions with her—is already impressive because of its original fun factor.
But what makes it even more impressive is the 90% that is under the surface and that you discover little by little—the double hero’s journey, the double redemption story, the insightful exploration of human relationships underneath the veneer of a campy little show, the contrast between Chuck’s virtue ethics and other spies’ utilitarian ethics, the memorable main and secondary characters, and the fact that a lot of what happens between the central couple is left unsaid and open to interpretation, which forces you as the viewer to think about the story and actively participate in it as an additional character who has to do a little spy work to suss out what’s going on between these spies.
So, what makes the show good?
- Smart and fun;
- Memorable and lovable characters;
- A grammar of human relationships;
- Shakespearean comedy (gods = CIA/NSA, heroes = main characters, clowns = Buy Morons);
- insightful analysis of reality vs appearance, truth vs deception;
- Journey from self-deception, self-refusal to self-discovery and self-realization;
- Double redemption story (Sarah’s competence redeems Chuck’s self-mistrust, Chuck’s innocence redeems Sarah’s dehumanizing life);
- Double hero’s journey. Chuck’s journey from loser to hero, Sarah’s journey from “nothing but a spy” to real woman who allows herself to love and be loved;
- Tons of pop culture references, well integrated in the story;
- Surprising choices (Awesome stays awesome instead of cliche douche);
- Snappy dialog and writing;
- Internal story and character counterpoint like Bach’s music;
- Great one-liners;
- The music is integral to understanding the story of characters and almost another character in the show;
- The story doesn’t spell out everything about the characters’ actions and motivations. Viewers must do a little spy work to figure things out, which makes the viewers another character in the show and makes the show highly rewatchable.
I would say that the reasons above make the show fun. Zachary Levi and Adam Baldwin make it great. Yvonne Strahovski makes it special, as she perfectly embodies a Sarah that undergoes an amazing journey towards a real life and is the most compelling and complex character in the show.