Back in 2007, a confluence of events collapsed together as a lot of people who would move on to Other Things or who had Just Done A Big Thing all got involved in doing a project together for five years that managed to produce one of the tentposts of what we can now nostalgically look back on as ‘pretty good TV.’ I’m not trying to damn with faint praise here, but with shows like Psych and Fringe which I’ve partaken of this year I have come to have an appreciation for that particular era of TV when basically, Leverage was available through whatever method actual Americans watch actual TV.
Look, I haven’t had a functioning TV since like, 2004, let’s just talk about Chuck.
The premise of this show is that we start with our standard issue Anime Loser Protagonist, but made out of meat, so we age him up to the age he actually is in that he’s an early 20s loser in a retail job that sucks and he’s called Chuck. But good news, at one point, it turns out that his being a friend of basically James Bond at college meant that when that guy wanted to offload The Most Important Thing In The World, he emailed it to Chuck. This thing, called the Intersect, was a bunch of government-made super science and when Chuck looked at it, it uploaded itself into his brain, and now he’s got a supercomputer in his brain that makes him into a gigachad superspy when he’s not being the most weenus of weenuses.
Confronted with a lost asset, the US Government, in the throes of Patriot Act stuff, decide rather than shooting him in the head and leaving him in a ditch, that instead it’s time to do hour-long hijinks of a giga dork hanging around with government handlers do do a variety of 007-in-an-hour episodic stories. And these are some pretty cool ideas – either a sort of hyperspeed take on a classic spy intrigue plot, or a ‘where’s the bomb’ kind of narrative, and oh oh, one episode has all the spies get dosed with truth serum but one of the things they need to avoid confessing is their crushes on one anoootherrrr.
And, y’know, it’s pretty good. It helps that there’s a wealthy depth of nonsense super-spy plots and this is early Patriot Act era stuff so there’s the omnipresent threat of ‘terrorism’ which doesn’t need any kind of explanation. Just you know, someone wants to put a bomb on a thing, you know how it goes. The long-term plot of it does go to some weird places, and the overall ending involves brain-washing and memory loss screw-up-the-status-quo garbage that means a bunch of fans are hanging out for a Chuck movie to try and wrap the story up once and for all and maybe give everyone involved a happy ending. It’s that kind of mid-budget ‘fun’ show in its genre, like many of the others I’ve tried this year, and like the others, it lives and dies not on the actual mystery and conspiracy, but rather on how likable the characters are.
And yeah, some of these characters are really charming, asterisk.
The central maguffin of the series is an idea that was a bit nascent in the general culture of 2007. In the most basic way of expressing it, the Intersect is a meme; you look at it, it enters your mind and now it’s part of your mind, and it interacts with the rest of the stuff in your mind, and how you communicate. The idea is that once a meme of a certain type is in your brain, your system of memes, it can introduce new ways to communicate and even new concepts that you didn’t have (like the Sapir-Worf hypothesis outlines). It’s an exaggerated version of it, but this is actually a real thing that we can observe happening. Just look at how you develop a new capacity to understand a thing when you have the proper terminology to communicate how it works.
In Chuck, the Intersect is meant to be a sort of super-fantasy super-science version of ‘all the government’s information about terrorism’ turned into one mega-meme, and with this information in his head, Chuck is not only capable of engaging in precognitive precrime tracking, he also develops some variety of kung fu and gun usage. You could almost identify it as a sort of meatier version of The Matrix – what if someone could download into your head a much cooler you, then sent Miranda Lawson from the Normandy to come and make sure you’re a good boy?
The whole notion is exciting as a place to launch off, but of course, Chuck isn’t a common touchstone any more. I can’t use this show as a point to make people think ‘ohhh, so that’s what a meme is,’ asterisk.
Anyway, so one of the main characters in this series is played by Adam Baldwin. Adam Baldwin is an actor you may also know as Jayne from Firefly, or, chances are, the person who coined the hashtag gamergate. This was a multi-year harrassment campaign that crystallised around the hashtag, which they saw as legitimising themselves because a real-life celebrity was ‘on their side.’ This campaign amongst other things harrassed several women off the internet, created a contraction in the gaming journalism sphere, launched a number of hate-based online content creation careers and even can be traced to directly resulting in a revitalisation of the modern neo-Nazi movement, because one person broke up with another person and the latter decided to write fanfic about it to a big enough room of angry misogynist nerds.
Anyway, Baldwin’s pretty likely a huge fucking racist, which is also a memeplex, especially when it lets you say things like ‘oh, it’s not because Obama’s black, but.’
Chuck seems a neat show, but watching it is just this constant reminder of ‘oh yeah, look at that guy who sucks absolute shit.’