Every once in awhile a show comes a long that really grabs me. For the last few years, one of those shows has been Chuck. We started watching the show a few years ago when the first two seasons were out on DVD. We had just signed up for Netflix and some of our friends had recommended we give the show a look. My wife and I sat down to watch the first episode and we were hooked. From that point on we plowed through the episodes and DVDs as quickly as possible. Just last night we finished watching the final episode of Chuck. Over the past couple of weeks as we’ve watched the final season we have had a number of conversations about why we enjoyed the show so much. It would probably be safe to say that this show, goofy as it was, ranks at our near the top of our favorite shows that we have watched together (that puts it in the same category as something like Battlestar Galactica if you want a frame of reference).
It is kind of funny that a TV show about spies and nerds could generate some very deep conversations in our house. I’m not talking about conversations related to the finer points of nerdery either. I’m talking conversations about love, marriage, relationships, promises, faithfulness, and loss. So what was it about this show that made it so endearing to us (and many other vocal fans)? Here are a few of my top reasons.
- Chuck (played by Zachary Levi) really felt like an every man. Unlike some shows where the headliners are ripped model types, Chuck seemed pretty normal. The writers really did a fantastic job of keeping him relatable even as he went from nerdy retail worker to nerdy retail worker/super spy. Honestly, some of my favorite moments from the show happened at the Buy More as the show played up some of the inherent silliness that comes along with a job in retail. There were many times I would sit on the couch and just chuckle at how close to real life some of the insanity was to my experiences working at Staples and Office Depot.
- John Casey. What a great character. In a decidedly liberal Hollywood John Casey was the epitome of the hardcore, America loving, gun-toting conservative. They could have easily turned him into a dolt and the butt of every joke. Instead, he ends up being an integral part of the team whose love of guns, high explosives, Reagan, and Crown Vic’s comes in handy more than once. I give major props to the creative team behind this show for giving those of us in the oft maligned flyover country a character who we can identify with and for doing it with respect. If only more shows would do the same.
- The relationships. I saved the biggest one for last. Ultimately, Chuck is about the growth of Chuck and Sarah and their relationship together. I’ll touch on that more in a minute. It’s not just Chuck and Sarah though. You have the great lifelong friendship of Morgan and Chuck. You have John Casey, Morgan, and Casey’s daughter all learning to love and respect each other. You even have the crazy friendship of Jeff and Lester. Those many friendships were a huge part of what made the show work and the writers did a great job of developing and maturing them over the course of five seasons.
But the biggest thing about the relationships that made the show so amazing for me was how it held up marriage as a wonderful thing. So many shows make marriage out to be a soul-sucking drag that saps all the fun and adventure out of life. Not Chuck. In this show you get to watch Ellie and Awesome get married and raise a daughter together. A lot of shows would have made Awesome a bum. Not Chuck. Awesome proved to be a loving and self-sacrificing husband and father. Even though he and Ellie were both doctors, he offered to stay home with their daughter so she could continue to work. They show Awesome not as some hapless guy struggling to handle a baby at home, but rather show him taking it in stride. I really appreciated that in the relationship between Ellie and Awesome they showed a healthy marriage with a healthy give and take.
But the biggest relationship of all was obviously the Chuck and Sarah relationship. It was so refreshing to see Chuck love her, woo her, and pursue her even when he was still just an assignment. He didn’t win her heart because of his athletic abilities or supercomputer brain. He won her heart because he loved her even when she didn’t and he never stopped pursuing her. He didn’t just say the words either. He demonstrated them by his actions. He put himself in harms way for her numerous times. He did things behind the scenes to surprise her. And as the show went on, we got to see Sarah come around. We got to see her begin to really care for and love Chuck. We got to see little gestures like taking an actual Princess Leia picture together instead of just a Photoshopped one. Things like that were what made this relationship such a joy to watch unfold on the screen.
The show didn’t jump the shark when Chuck and Sarah got married. The fire didn’t die in their relationship just because they put on rings. They continued to love and sacrifice for each other. Not only that, but they both desired to leave the excitement of the spy life behind for the joys and struggles of parenthood. Yes, this show not only held up marriage as a good thing and something to protect and strive for but also held up parenthood as a very good thing and something to look forward to. It is very rare these days to see a marriage portrayed on television the way the Chuck and Sarah marriage was portrayed. The way they were both willing to sacrifice for each other and to put aside their own dreams and desires for the good of the other is something that is not just sorely lacking in fake TV marriages but also real life marriages. Whether intentional or not, Chuck shows that marriage is not something we should look at selfishly (what can I get from this person) but rather something we should look at selflessly (how can I serve this person).
Finally, the show drives home the maturity of the Chuck/Sarah relationship in the finale and leaves the audience with a picture of marriage not built on happy feelings and butterflies but rather faithfulness, vows, and commitment. In the final episodes, Sarah ends up losing her memory. That fact has spurred many conversations between my wife and I because of how horrific the thought of losing memory is. That means you lose your identity, the things that made you who you are no longer exist. When that was taken away from Sarah and she no longer remembered Chuck nor had any feelings for him, the show writers could have simply given her back her memories. It would have been easy enough to do and would have certainly provided a happier ending and more closure to the series. Instead, they did something really gut wrenching. Sarah didn’t get her memories back, at least not completely (there is some implication that she might remember some bits and pieces). Chuck and Sarah are still married but Sarah doesn’t remember any of that. Does Chuck run? Does he leave her to find someone else? No, he stays with her. His love for her was not dependent on the warm fuzzy feelings but based on something deeper. So what we end up with is a picture of a marriage that is tough. A marriage that isn’t all roses and walks on the beach. But it is a picture of what a marriage should look like. One where the love and commitment are deeper than just the surface and are able to weather the hardships of life because of it.
Chuck is a very pro-marriage show. It’s not perfect from Christian standpoint by any means but it does an excellent job of showing how mutual love and sacrifice in a marriage work. The way the show ended only drove that home. Even if Sarah couldn’t remember all the things Chuck had done for her and the life they had shared, he was still going to love her and be faithful to her. That is real love. That is real life. In fact, it brought to mind this video clip that I watched a couple of weeks ago:
That may not have been what the writers had in mind but it was definitely something that came to my mind and to my wife’s mind. For me, that backdrop is what made the ending so powerful. Even though Sarah was no longer the Sarah he knew, he still loved her. Below is a video clip of the final scene. It is fitting to me that in the second to last shot, as Chuck and Sarah kiss, Chuck raises his left hand to her face so that his wedding band is clearly visible on camera. I think the implications are clear: their marriage is built on more than emotion and good times but instead on a deep love and respect for each other and their vows. That’s a good thing for all of us to remember and only solidifies in my mind the greatness of Chuck.
I might have almost cried during the final scene. Don’t tell.