Comic Elements Ground 'Chuck'
'O.C.' creator Josh Schwartz tackles the spy game
The show, created by Josh Schwartz ("The O.C.") and Chris Fedak, is unashamed of mining its premise -- geeky guy becomes highly valued government asset -- for comedy. Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) lives with his sister (Sarah Lancaster), works at a big-box store called Buy More, where he's part of the Nerd Herd troubleshooting team, plays a lot of video games and generally avoids the opposite sex.
And then an old college roommate turned rogue spy e-mails him an encrypted file that, burned onto his brain, makes Chuck just about the most important person in the espionage game, as evidenced by the sudden presence of both a beautiful CIA handler and an intimidating National Security Agency agent in his life.
Oh, and he's applying for an assistant manager job at Buy More.
"It's as much about him trying to save the world as it is about him trying to save the Buy More," Schwartz says. "We always saw that his spy life was equally as dangerous as his life at the Buy More. ... It really is a balance between that office comedy, the spy action and then the Chuck quarter-life crisis, for lack of a better word, at home."
The secrets he's carrying in his head may give Chuck a purpose in life, but it certainly doesn't make things any easier. He has to hide his new life from his best friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez), his sister and everyone else in his life, while CIA agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) poses as his girlfriend and tightly wound NSA man John Casey (Adam Baldwin, "Serenity") takes a job at Buy More. On top of all that, he's not sure what's real and what's cover in his relationship with Sarah.
"I think every episode, Chuck has this moment of realizing a new part of this responsibility and this new life," says Levi, who co-starred on ABC's "Less Than Perfect" for four seasons. "Fortunately that will lend itself to an overall kind of arc for Chuck himself ... for however long they decide to let us live."
Chuck the character and "Chuck" the series both have touches that are instantly recognizable to followers of Schwartz's last series, "The O.C." In his endearing, self-deprecating awkwardness, Chuck could easily be a slightly older Seth Cohen, and Schwartz and Fedak have liberally peppered the show with pop-culture references that the geek legions will appreciate.
"It's a little bit of writing what we know," Schwartz says of Chuck's nature. "The idea of doing a spy show was always something that was really cool and exciting, but I certainly didn't feel prepared to write a Jack Bauer-like character at the center of the show. I wouldn't really know how to relate to that character.
"But a character like Chuck, it's really fun to imagine yourself in that kind of situation and [think] how you would react. And hopefully for the audience, they'll have that same kind of wish fulfillment in watching the show because I think a lot of people relate to the character of Chuck and feel like, you know, Chucks in their own lives."