One of my very favorite things about Chuck is that it constantly hides plot points in throwaway gags. This is very efficient writing! Don’t know what I’m talking about? Let’s examine some case studies, shall we?
Early on in “Chuck vs. the First Date,” Morgan lays out a blueprint of a facility and explains to Chuck all the tactical stratagems they will be using…for their Call of Duty game against rival LargeMart. Now, this scene occurs when Chuck believes he will no longer be needed by the government and be able to return to his normal life, a life where the only tactical stratagems he will require will be in a video game. It demonstrates two other things we love about the show: Chuck and Morgan’s friendship (which Jody will expound upon) and the prominence of video games (which I may not have time to expound upon so let me just ask you to name one other show that features a Zork reference in the pilot and an entire episode centered around Missile Command).
The scene is so natural and effective on its own that you don’t even realize it is setting up the climax of the episode, in which Chuck tricks Michael Clarke Duncan (another of our favorite things: awesome guest stars) into believing he’s walked into a trap. He repeats Morgan’s list of troops from earlier in the episode and then even gives him a call to have him confirm (and hilariously add that he took out a sentry with a headshot). Bam, Call of Duty saves Chuck’s ass.
The Buy More also comes through in “Chuck vs. the Fat Lady.” Once again, Morgan is up to some gaming shenanigans, this time showing Chuck a game copier that will copy anything regardless of copy protection. Milbarge overhears the words “highly illegal,” which leads to a dorky suspicious-of-pot scene. This appears to be standard Buy More hijinks…until Chuck acquires a list of FULCRUM CIA operatives that is heavily encrypted and cannot be copied by ordinary means. Enter the game copier from Act I!
In “Chuck vs. the Third Dimension,” the writers pull off their old trick without the help of Morgan or the Land of BuyMoria (see Rae’s upcoming post). About halfway through Chuck’s adventure with rock star
Charlie Pace Tyler Martin, a very drunk Tyler points out his many tattoos, whose meanings he can’t keep track of, explaining that his manager takes care of them. It’s a great little joke about overly tattooed rock stars, but it is also, in fact, a plot point! For, lo, Chuck flashes on one of the tattoos later in the episode and realizes that they’re all secret messages.
All of these little jokes are funny on their own; after all, this is a comedy. But it’s the ability of the writers to make these little jokes matter, to make them do double duty, that impresses me the most. They always manage to surprise me since I can never identify what throwaway gag is going to come back later. It takes real skill to entertain the audience so thoroughly that you don’t telegraph your plot points.
My hat is off to you, writers! May your crackerjack writing be appreciated by many more millions of Nielsen viewers!