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CHUCK SEASON 2: WILL HE GET THE GIRL? 

Zachary Levi is one of us.

He proved it on a cloudy San Diego morning as he met the press at Comic-Con. Sitting down at our table, he noticed that the reporter next to me had her iPhone out and was demonstrating the lightsaber application. Enthused, he jumped up, whipped out his own iPhone and proceeded to have a duel with the giddy scribe. And apparently, such moments aren’t new to the star of NBC’s CHUCK, which returns for its second season at the end of this month.

On the contrary, Levi shared that “We had a whole (light saber) war at the Buy More the other day, a bunch of the background people on the show got it on it- we had like half a dozen lightsabers out.” That’s almost more than you could hope for, even from a show like CHUCK. The series follows Chuck Bartowski, head of “the Nerd Herd” (think Geek Squad) at a big box electronics store, who winds up with the contents of a government intelligence database in his head. Able to recall various items when visually prompted, he gets two handlers, a sexy CIA agent played by Aussie ass-kicker Yvonne Strahovski and an NSA agent played by perennial badass Adam Baldwin. Alongside his spy duties, which he must hide, he has to handle his relationship with his sister Sarah, his best friend Morgan, and his superiors at the store. Complicating matters is that Chuck is head over heels in love with Strahovski’s character, and she has to maintain a professional detachment, even as she pretends to be his girlfriend in order to be around him as often as needed. Hilarity (and some top-notch action) ensues.

Season one was ended prematurely by the strike (like most everything else on the air), giving series creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak time to think about how to get out of the gate in season two as strongly as possible. And how to get more viewers; CHUCK was a decent success in its first year but didn’t do as well as it was capable of doing in the ratings. Thus, they planned carefully.

“It feels like it’s been two years since we were on the air. We use the first few minutes of the show to get you caught up and then we’re on to the new adventure,” Schwartz told the press. And that new adventure is a little more ambitious this year. “It’ll still have a villain of the week story, but everything (this season) will be sort of under a larger umbrella. Something catastrophic happens at the end of the first episode that launches it all.”

Levi wasn’t quite as forthcoming as Schwartz, but still effusive. “There’s a real big horticulture theme… kidding! It’s not really that different, and I mean that in the best way. A lot of problems that TV, movies and video games run into is that they have great success with their first generation and then try and top it moving forward and lose the heat of what made it good. What I’m happy about is that we haven’t done that. You open up and that’s the Chuck you know and love from the first season.”

One topic that interests fans and journalists alike is the simmering chemistry between Levi and Strahovski, and Schwartz left nothing unclear about where the show would be taking viewers this fall. “The show is swooningly romantic this year. There’s a moment at the end of the third episode between Zach and Yvonne that even I get a little misty at. So we’re really coming out of the gate and owning the romance.” Strahovksi also paid note of it when discussing her character’s evolution. “I think she’s come to terms with what’s going on with Chuck and her attraction to him.”

The other big thing brewing in season two is the plethora of big-name guest stars rolling through the new episodes. Schwartz addressed the list in depth and his concerns about populating the show in this manner. “We have a lot of fun guest stars this year, too. But it feels earned- it doesn’t feel like ‘The Love Boat.’ Michael Clarke Duncan is in the season premiere; John Larroquette plays a former spy and master seducer of women who has to help Chuck seduce Melinda Clarke; the Bryce Larkin character comes back; Tony Hale joins the cast; Michael Strahan (formerly) of the New York Giants; Nicole Richie; and Jordana Brewster, who is playing Jill, Chuck’s childhood sweetheart who returns to turn his love life upside down.”

Nicole Richie’s appearance set the tabloid world on fire when it was announced over the summer, but the CHUCKers assured that there was nothing to worry about. Strahovski elaborated on her character and how she fit into the series, saying “Nicole Richie plays my high school nemesis, which is great. You kind of get a glimpse of what Sarah was like when she was 17. I was really impressed with her and the fight scene we did. She didn’t miss a beat with her choreography skills.” Baldwin, whom you know has to be tough to please, added that he “liked Nicole Richie- she was a gamer. She could really handle her own.”

One thing from season one has gone away, and it may disappoint the show’s male demo a tad: Strahovski’s character will no longer be working at the Wienerlicious, the hotdog shop next to the Buy More. Her costume for the place looked like something you’d see on a woman you were paying for a lapdance, and it doesn’t hurt Strahovski’s feelings to see it gone. “We have a new workplace; the Wienerlicious is gone. All I can say is I like my new outfit better.” But where she was quiet about the new job for her character, Levi was willing to spill the beans. “Yvonne no longer works at the Wienerlicious. Instead she works at this Pinkberry-type place called “Orange Orange” … which is all blue!” Which, for fans of the show, should assure them that the show hasn’t lost any of its wonderfully ludicrous humor.

But when all is said and done, the show rises and falls on the gifts of its star to make the audience believe in Chuck, and he seems upbeat and up to the task. Asked about the stunts and weird situations he finds himself in while playing the part, Levi could do nothing but smile about it like a man holding a winning lotto ticket. “None of it is scary to me- it’s so much fun! When you’re a kid all you want to do is play war with your buddies and stuff like that. I would pay money to do some of the stuff I get to do. It’s awesome fun.”

“You dream about having a role like Chuck because you get to do everything. I get to do great romantic scenes with Yvonne, great dramatic scenes with Sarah Lancaster who plays my sister, witty stuff at the Buy More, and action stuff. And I enjoy all of it equally. I just enjoy that I get to play more than just one note.” For fans of the show, and those coming to it fresh, that should be music to their ears. Hollywood’s newest alpha geek is back, and the man who plays him fits the role like a glove. It should be a glorious season two for CHUCK.

Marc Mason

 

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