Why would Chris Fedak let Chuck choose being a spy over Sarah?

(a reprint from a Google Group Post)

I think that to answer this question, you need to remember where CF’s predilections lie and how he views the “Chuck” story and its characters.

We’ve been around this subject many times, and in an attempt to figure out CF’s vision a lot of us have digested page after page of web interviews, seen many minutes of video interviews, listened intently to hours of podcasts and – of course – tried to puzzle out the answer from what CF has done with the show. There are also myriad little circumstantial clues sprinkled throughout the “Chuckverse”, like why Ali Adler was added to help write ‘Chuck vs. the Ring’, that help flavor the various theories. I have one of my own, of course, the caveat being that any or all of it could be totally wrong.

I think, in the beginning, all CF wanted was a comic book story based on fantasy wish fulfillment. That somehow, due to circumstances beyond his control, a super nerd gets thrust into a fantastical spy world, replete with beautiful, sexy assassins gruff, dispassionate military establishment types and nefarious villains. CF was probably aiming for an exaggerated, pseudo reality where he could have James Bond like escapades (falling out of planes without parachutes, fights inside Gravitrons, etc….) yet have consistent bits of irreverent comedy. Sort of a mix of Alias and Get Smart.

Had CF been able to realize his vision unimpeded, we’d have gotten a very shallow show, with two dimensional characters that existed for the sole purpose of driving Chuck through his hero’s journey from nerd to spy. Each of the other characters’ contributions would have been rigidly compartmentalized – Sarah to act as the tantalizingly sexy but lethal partner Chuck pines for but can never have, Casey as the uncompromisingly stern but fair tough guy who keeps Chuck humble, Morgan solely for when Chuck needs a ready confidante, Devon and Ellie dropped in ad-hoc for family stories and the Buy Morons even more randomly for pure comedy. I think these characters would have remained largely static for the entirety of the series’ run. Just imagine ‘Chuck vs. the Third Dimension” characters for every episode. IMHO, this show wouldn’t have made it past the first season.

What likely happened was that while Chris was pitching his spy comic to his USC film school buddy JS, Schwartz expressed his “twenty-something’s coming of age” story idea to CF, and like the Reese’s peanut butter and chocolate story, both of them realized the two premises could be fused into a symbiotic whole. Schwartz brought a focus on Chuck’s relationships with his various love interests, his family and – unavoidably – the other agents he was forced to interact with under dramatically charged circumstances. For these to work, those characters were going to have to be fleshed out considerably. This was the lever that initially moved CF off his original concept and started him on the road to trading compromise for advancement.

Once the pilot was green lit for development, McG probably came on board, possibly to mollify the studios concerns regarding Schwedak being able to pull off an action-adventure show. It’s hard to believe that someone of McG’s stature did not have a profound impact on the show’s balance and feel. I can only guess, based on McG’s other work, that he might have brought more relevancy and tension to the action elements of the show. Maybe a little more emotional grounding and poignancy to Chuck’s plight. Whatever he and (later) Norman Buckley added, it worked. The amalgam of all of these elements produced a nearly perfectly balanced pilot, and the unexpectedly strong enthusiasm for it at the 2007 SDCC foreshadowed a strong initial season run.

I’m guessing two other things happened during that period. First, it should have been instantly obvious that Levi and Strahovski had strong chemistry together. While Schwedak probably reveled in their luck, they might not have been fully cognizant of how this force would later yank and distort the original concept’s emphasis on Chuck, but that’s neither here nor there. Second, other writers were hired. And as tends to happen when a bunch of creative talents are brought together into a collective, they acted like a herd of cats. That is, to say, they each saw intriguing possibilities enhancing and expanding the characters in ways not anticipated by CF.

Having seen his fears of premise dilution assuaged by the pilot’s success, Fedak was already in a mode to accept the input of other creative minds. So, faced with tight schedules and little practical experience, he probably led the team with a very loose hand, letting them go where they would to enrich Chuck’s world. And where they went, like bugs to a porch light, was the Chuck and Sarah relationship. I think this is how the relationship initially got accelerated past the point of prudence – CF didn’t really have a feel for it and didn’t rein it in, and JS offered no resistance to a fast pace because he knew he could just reset the relationship as many times as he wanted, OC-style.

During the first and second season runs, it started to become clear that CF’s episodes were a little, uh… ‘clunky’ in terms of the relationship stuff. He seemed to write action and comedy fairly well, as well as facile but serviceable spy mythos. I think he got better at it over time, but I don’t think he ever demonstrated a real command in setting up a romantic scene or exploiting it. When they brought in Adler for ‘Ring’, it just seemed to put a punctuation mark on this weakness. The good news seemed to be that he realized he had it.

So now let’s get back to the original question, “how could Fedak have thought it was okay to have Chuck choose the spy life over Sarah?”

I hope I’ve laid enough groundwork that you can visualize that it might always have been CF’s intent that Chuck would eventually choose the spy life over any and all obstacles. That the story in his head was always centered on Chuck’s life, his needs and his aspirations. And the only reason we even ask that question is that so many other cooks have stirred the kettle that CF’s original focus has been diminished. Today, a lot of fans think Sarah is the most compelling character on the show, and there are strong proponents of Casey, the family and even the Buy Morons.

I believe that during the pre-production of S3, two things were in play. First, TPTB came to a decision that it was time to consummate the Chuck Sarah relationship by the end of the season. Second, JS and several of the lead writers either left (Skeeter) or got involved with other pilot projects and weren’t able to devote their full attention to “Chuck”. In the resulting vacuum, CF stepped in and produced a season arc that mostly reflected his idea for how a season culminating in a Charah resolution should proceed. And with most of the seasoned heads preoccupied, it really didn’t get the benefit of review and discourse that previous seasons received. The writing team wrote the episodes they were assigned and the perfect storm of reduced budget and distractions squeezed out the opportunities for oversight that might have averted the plot and character dysfunctions which soured many fans on S3.

The short answer to the question? It was because Fedak saw nothing out of place with Chuck choosing his destiny over Sarah, and no one who could convince him otherwise did.


About aardvark7734

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