Just as “Chuck” is often a varied blend of comedy, drama, action, romance and adventure, its fans can be a diverse mix of tastes and temperaments. As I’ve witnessed from participating in various forums and blogs around the ‘net, it’s possible to encounter people whose desires for the series are so askew from your own you start to wonder if you’re even watching the same show.
One fan, who I’ll call ‘X’ is clearly quite intelligent, crisp of wit and able to put his thoughts into engaging prose. I read his posts diligently and consider each of his points carefully, weighing them against my own beliefs. His arguments are routinely succinct and convincing. They always make sense. But I almost always disagree with him.
See, he’s just wired differently. He laughs at BuyMore stuff that I don’t think is the least bit funny. He likes characters that I find so undistinguished that I almost forgot they existed. And he seems innately less disturbed by plot turns and character mutations that make me want to hurl epithets (and sometimes objects) at my TV screen. I consider him my anti-matter adversary. If I like something, he’s almost certain to like the opposite. He means no malice, nor is he deliberately being a contrarian. He’s just genuinely attracted to things that repulse me (well, except for Yvonne, who’s like a universal constant or something but that’s a topic for a different post).
Then there’s fan ‘Y’. He’s been given divine guidance from above and the stone tablets depict Chuck’s “Hero’s Journey”. This journey must be dark, dramatic and woven with intriguing mythology. The other characters are only relevant in how they service Chuck in his journey, and are otherwise superfluous. BuyMore? Waste of screen time. Romance? Fine, as the ‘E’ subplot, once important things are taken care of. Villains? Yes! The more powerful and effective the better, so as to emphasize Chuck’s heroism in the face of said villainy.
Woe onto you if your own beliefs advocate a different character or story emphasis. Heretics must be indoctrinated or discredited. Suggest that you’d like to see the show return to its lighter, season one roots and you get the (metaphorically speaking) cold, unblinking fish eye of death. Accompanied, of course, with a treatise on why you’re completely, utterly, inescapably… wrong. As if anyone’s opinion could actually be “wrong”, as opposed to differing.
I’m going to omit talking about fan ‘Z’. He runs his own blog where he attracts certain types of personalities to his cult using the politics of hate speech. He’s completely reprehensible as a human being and I don’t want to even give him anonymous attention. But it is worth noting that there’s a tentpole out there in the fandom with his name on it, for considerations of fan diversity if nothing else.
As for me, I belong to the “Light” camp. That’s not “light” as in “forces of light” or any type of moral superiority. It’s light as in “lighter tone” for the show. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I loved season one. It was not without its flaws, mind you. Certainly, neither ‘Helicopter’, ‘Sizzling Shrimp’ nor ‘Sandworm’ is going to win any poll for favorite Chuck episode. But the lighter, more comedic tone of S1, as contrasted with mid-to-late season S2 and certainly the first baker’s dozen of S3, was a lot more fun for me. I like romps and hijinks. I liked that the villains were a little silly sometimes or could be redeemed by the end of the episode. I liked that Chuck surviving despite his lack of training was somehow made more credible by the relative ineptitude of the bad guys. All of this stuff is tolerable when things stay just shy of tongue-in-cheek.
And being an agent of “light”, I can also lay claim to the fun parts of the Chuck-Sarah romance. You know, the “forced to kiss you goodnight” scene in ‘Tango’, or the “pizza, no olives” scene in ‘Wookie’ or the “God, you’re so pretty” scene in ‘Truth’. These worked best in the light tone of S1; it’s hard to imagine them delivering the same hopeful charm embedded within the darker arcs of later seasons.
Anyway, between all of these divergent fan personalities lies the bulk of the fan base. We’re all arguably unique in our proportions of what interests and moves us, what we’ll put up with and what will make us leave. And we all, as part of a tiny sample set of the viewing public, represent the likes and dislikes of that larger, less vocal majority.
But what use is all of this?
For the fans, is there any sense of community to be gained from our (forgive me) “intersection” of interests? Or is the mosaic of appeal so granular and overlaps so narrow that they’re just as likely to lead to fractious infighting as common understanding?
For the show runners, can recognizing how widely disparate their show’s fans are be helpful? Or are they trapped by the limited number of stories they can tell while retaining widespread appeal?
Well, there’s no comprehensive answer to these questions. But some small amount of enlightenment might be gained here:
What is this? It’s the unofficial survey that the good folks at ChuckTV.net put together recently. About 2500 people took the poll, voting on what they thought the most important elements of the show were over the course of S3. The results are very interesting. I recommend looking through the results yourself, to see Mel’s caveats about the data and how to interpret it. But here’s one interesting bit of data:
When asked to rank their most favorite to least favorite elements of the show, 39% felt the Chuck-Sarah relationship was the most important element of the show, while 35% of those polled thought it was Team Bartowski. Only 14% felt the Comedy was the most important, and a dwindling 11% voted for ‘The Hero’s Journey’.
I think this means that 74%, nearly three-quarters of those polled, thought the interaction of the three principals, now six principals post-S3, was the most important part of the show. Whether they were in comedic situations or whether they followed the hero’s story template was less critical.
For fans, I think this says clearly that what almost everyone cares about, what unifies the fan base unequivocally, are the main characters. Not a surprise, I grant you, but it’s good to see it quantified. So if you want to get traction with a current or prospective fan, starting with your feelings towards one of the principals is a good way to break the ice.
For the show runners, this should be telling you strongly that story lines that split up or reduce screen time for the Team Bartowski members should be terminated with extreme prejudice. People want to see them working together, and that should comprise the bulk of the plot. Despite facile evidence to the contrary, they don’t care as much about Jeffster. Or the BuyMore. Or the spy world or the hero’s journey or the mythology or the guest stars. They definitely do not care about the Gravitron.
The show exists in your main characters. People are devoted to them, how they relate to each other and what happens to them during the story. Pay keen attention to getting that right and you might find a back nine under your Christmas tree.