Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chuck & the Line Between Comedy & Melodrama

Let's talk Chuck.

I watched this show (Mondays 8/7central on NBC) when it first came out and then my attention wandered away in the second season, only to be reinvigorated by my melty Disney-crush on the voice of the guy from Tangled who also plays the hero on Chuck. (I could just listen to that voice for days...*sigh*)

Recently my DVR has been chock-full o' Chuck, but as I watch it, I keep pondering why the series doesn't quite work for me. I loved Alias. I love comedies. So a show that is essentially the lighter side of Alias should be excellent, right? Except... it doesn't quite fly for me.

It reminds me of that Aaron Sorkin show Sports Night. The first few episodes had a live audience and you could hear the awkward laughter. Sorkin is one of the cleverest (yes, that's a word now) writers out there, but laugh-out-loud is just not his kind of humor. And Sports Night, while witty and sharp, just didn't play like a comedy. The studio audience/laughtrack/what-have-you was weird. And as soon as they took it out, the show became sooooo much better. The actors stopped overplaying for laughs and it became real and much more powerful. And funnier. (Though still, more a drama in a weird 30 minute "sit com" time slot.)

I think maybe Chuck's problem is almost the opposite. Chuck is great when it's over the top camp, but occasionally it falls into the category of comedies that are taking themselves just a tiny bit too seriously. Going for the dramatic moments, tipping into playing it straight - most noticeably where the relationship between the hero & heroine are concerned. And when comedies try to be dramatic, they have to tread very carefully, because melodrama is waiting to suck them into its gooey clutches, never to be seen or heard from again.

Here's what I think might be the crux of the issue - the straight man/funny man dynamics. The byplay between goofy Morgan and hard-ass Casey is brilliant, because Casey is utterly emotionless. But the relationship between hapless(though not as hapless anymore) Chuck and his tough-girl (who isn't really that tough anymore and is really pretty damn angsty) girlfriend Sarah doesn't play. She is written as too emotional to carry the straight man role, so their interactions seem... awkward to me. They are pushing so hard for heartfelt that all I see is the effort. Hawkeye & Hotlips they ain't.

Or look at Beckett & Castle. Booth & Bones. Shuester & Silvester. The entire Stephanie Plum series in which she is a basketcase who plays off the manly emotional lock-down of Morelli & Ranger. When the straight man is buttoned up, it's poetry. And that isn't to say that they can't have real emotions, but these folks don't wear their hearts on their sleeves - at least not voluntarily and certainly not Every. Single. Episode.

Humor is a delicate balance. And so is sexual chemistry. It needs resistance! But with them all lovey-dovey and no alternative love interest on the horizon, even her dangerous mission behind enemy lines feels like a delaying tactic to keep them apart until the big finale episode rather than an actual obstacle.

But still I watch (and listen) and so do many others, so they must be doing something right.

Do you watch Chuck? Love it? Hate it? Never bothered with it? Do you, too, have a melty Disney-crush on an animated character's voice person?


Laurie said...

Love Chuck, and agreed, the Casey/Morgan dynamic is so much fun this season. (Haven't seen Tangled yet, but I have the 3-D DVD already pre-ordered. :))

I have a couple of shows I tend to watch while I do other stuff because I want to know how it ends, without actually paying full attention to them. Chuck isn't one of those, it's a favourite must-watch, but I would definitely like to see more Beckett-like emotionlessness to Sarah, because yes, she has been a little too much on the angsty side lately. (Also, I'm annoyed that it took Sarah two episodes to bring down Volkhoff, when MamaB couldn't do it in twenty-odd years... that seemed a little too preposterous for my tastes.)

But I'm sure you know I could talk plot lines and believability for hours. :D

Vivi Andrews said...

Laurie!!! Hi!

Yeah, the Volkhoff thing was way too pat. And made his mom look like much less of a badass when Linda Hamilton is, hello, the original badass. Sarah needs to channel Linda Hamilton.

Maybe it's just the fact that they got together? Are there any TV shows that survive the Moonlighting curse and live to tell the tale after they admit they are nuts for each other? TV is so tricky - what with the whole episodic/endless series/spin the conflict out forever thing. It makes me nuts when things aren't resolved, but then when they are resolved, where do you go from there?