Sunday, February 08, 2009

Chuck vs. the Comic-Con

As I discussed here several times over the last week, I was asked to moderate the "Chuck" panel at the New York Comic-Con, featuring co-creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak and co-star Yvonne Strahovski (pictured above, in a vaguely competent snap from my digital camera), and it was a blast. Originally, I was going to save my panel recap for my review of the next episode. But since there won't be a new episode this week due to President Obama's primetime address (and we'll discuss both that and the possibility of future Obama-related disruptions in the recap), I'm just gonna do it tonight.

Highlights coming up just as soon as I reassure myself that I shouldn't have titled this post "Chuck vs. the Sepinwall"...

• Though "Chuck" didn't get one of the Con's bigger panel rooms, the room they did get was packed (I'd estimate the crowd at around 1,000 people) with very enthusiastic fans of various ages, genders and life philosophies. The panel opened with a special five-minute trailer for the second half of season two. It featured many of the guest stars you've heard about -- Scott Bakula, Chevy Chase, Tricia Helfer, Arnold Vosloo, Jenny McCarthy and Jonathan Cake -- lots of action, lots of skin from both genders (including Sarah having a fight in her underwear), lots of laughs (including what looks to be the high point of the Emmitt Millbarge era to date), and the usual heartfelt moments. In short, it looked great, and even my usual spoiler-phobic tendencies couldn't overcome my delight at the sheer awesomeness of it.

• Schwartz is very good at staying on message, so if you've read some of the recent interviews he did in promoting the 3-D episode (like with Fienberg and with Mo Ryan), a lot of the answers would sound familiar, so I won't reproduce them verbatim. But without Zachary Levi -- who's usually the live-wire crowd-pleaser at big events like this -- Schwartz and Fedak did a very good job of keeping the crowd amused, while Yvonne... well, we'll get to her ordeal in a bit.

• In discussing the show's elevation from fun in season one to mega-awesome in season two, the guys talked about how they felt they were close to hitting their stride when the strike happened, and that they had a lot of time on the picket line to figure out what was working and what wasn't. And Josh said, "And we told Yvonne we would not have to serve any more wieners in season two."

• This, of course, led me to protest, once again, the elimination of the wonderful Wienerlicious uniform, which everybody liked. "This is Sepinwall's own fetish," Josh tried to spin back on me. "He's going to pretend that a lot of people feel the same way." (I feel confident that I made my feelings on the uniform clear and un-pervy in my review of the season premiere, so we'll leave it at that.) They said they felt the joke had run its course, especially after the Casey/Sarah fight in episode two where she used the hot dog sticks as weapons, and that it was also difficult for Yvonne to do certain fighting moves in a skirt without flashing America.

• Along similar lines, we talked about how Yvonne reacts when she discovers the latest skimpy outfit she's going to have to wear. "I thumb through the script and then schedule my workout regime accordingly," she said. For the most part, she has no problem with the wardrobe, except to point out when, again, she'd wind up showing too much of her goodies in a fight scene. An attempt to have her fight in a towel was nixed for this reason, though she acknowledged some people would probably enjoy seeing her towel fall off. (If she only knew what was coming during the audience Q&A...)

• I brought up my question from "Chuck vs. Santa Claus": Once Michael Rooker disappeared on a mission to figure out if something important was happening at the Buy More, surely Fulcrum would realize something was up, and at what point does the store stop being a viable cover for Chuck? Fedak said the Arnold Vosloo episode will address that at length, as we find out what it is that the rest of Fulcrum believes is going on there, which is very different from what's actually happening. It'll also give us our first look at Fulcrum HQ, in what Chris called "A very cool, '80s, 'Tron'-type sequence of what it's like at Fulcrum."

• I asked when Casey and Sarah were going to get around to teaching Chuck a bit of self-defense, because as much fun as it is to watch Zachary Levi squeal like a girl, you would think he would have learned judo or how to shoot a gun by now. They said that's coming up, and they promised that Chuck will have "his own cool spy move."

• At this point, I opened it up to audience Q&A and the weirdness with poor Yvonne started. At various points, the webmaster of declared that he had a personalized Strahotski teddy bear to give to her. A representative of a local Polish-American society tried to invite Yvonne to be grand marshal at their annual parade. A woman whose 63-year-old father is a huge fan of "Chuck" in general and Yvonne in particular said her dad begged her for an autograph, and how could Yvonne say no to that? She signed something, to applause from the crowd, and that set off a tidal wave of autograph requests (several girls got their phones signed, one kid got Yvonne's Comic-Con nameplate, etc.), one guy asking if the panelists would mind hanging out with ham after for some photos (Josh: "I would mind. I don't know if Yvonne's game."), one guy who gave a monlogue about how he watches the show with his wife and then told Yvonne how gorgeous she was (Josh: "Is he here with his wife?"), and, finally, a guy seriously elevating the creep factor by asking Yvonne if this was her first time in New York and how much time she planned on spending here. (As soon as the crowd started loudly snickering, he protested that he didn't mean spending it with him.) Towards the end, another fan asked who was the craziest fan she'd ever encountered. Having been given a lot of possible choices in the last hour alone, Yvonne thought about it, then pointed to the Strahotski webmaster and said, "Maybe the guy that made this website." (As Yvonne tried to say she was joking, Fedak warned that "Strahotski just became Stranotski." To his credit, Strahotski guy laughed.) Something tells me this will be the last fan convention she agrees to appear at without her co-stars.

• Someone asked Yvonne if she misses the original spelling of her name. She said she doesn't, since Strzechowski is still legally her name. She just changed it at Schwartz's behest for the sake of easier pronunciation. Josh was actually pushing her to change it to Yvonne Striker, and when a kid in the audience later protested that Striker is the name of an X-Men villain, Josh said that only made the name awesomer.

• A fan asked about the show's future. Josh and Chris noted how much they were promoted during the Super Bowl, and Josh said, "It's feeling as positive as it can without saying it's actually coming back." Then we got into the unfortunate timing of the Obama press conference tomorrow, and the rumors that Obama may do yet another primetime address a week from Monday. "Clearly, Obama's first plan as president was to destroy 'Chuck,'" Josh said, before noting that he hears the President may only speak for five minutes, which would allow "Chuck" to air more or less on time.

• A fan complimented Yvonne on how well she does the American accent. She said in her acting classes in Australia, they were required to learn other dialects, and she can also do (to varying levels of success) British and Scottish accents and a few others. (A few fanboys called out for her to demonstrate, but either she didn't hear them or pretended she didn't.) I asked about the scene in "Chuck vs. the Ex" where she got to use her native accent, and she admitted she was uncomfortable with it, because she's so used to being American on this show.

• Fedak promised that the question of whether Chuck is paid by the government for his services will be addressed, and when someone asked how Chuck has avoided getting fired from the Buy More despite spending very little time there, Josh said, "Luckily, the Buy More is not run by the greatest brains. It's not hard to get one past Big Mike."

• The following exchange between a very solemn pre-adolescent kid and Schwartz and Fedak was probably the best moment of the morning. I give it to you, verbatim:
Kid: "In the Christmas episode, when Casey's toe got shot off, did he get a robotic toe?"
Schwartz: "He does now, as of today."
Fedak: "It's actually a toe and a missile."
Kid: "Does that mean he's like Darth Vader?"
What can you say to that?

• The producers originally wanted to set the show at Best Buy for the product integration money, but it didn't work out. I asked if they would incorporate the Circuit City bankruptcy into the show's business world. "That's what America wants to see," Josh said, "clearance sale for sweeps." They think that the Burbank Buy More isn't supposed to be a thriving location for the franchise, and an upcoming episode will feature a visit to the far glitzier Beverly Hills store.

• There's been a lot of discussion about either Chuck moving out of Ellie's apartment, or else Ellie and Awesome moving out post-marriage, and possibly making the cover romance even more awkward by having Sarah then move in with Chuck. I asked how long they felt they could draw out the will-they-or-won't-they dynamic without pissing off the Chuck/Sarah 'shippers; Josh said he felt there are enough natural obstacles in their working relationship that he can plausibly keep them apart a while longer. (Again, in being good at staying on message, he didn't say more than that.)

• Josh: "You're going to see in a couple of weeks that Jeff and Lester have a band, called Jeffster."


Anonymous said...

Alan - I loved the Chuck panel discussion today, I thought you did a good job. Your summary posted here is true-to-form, and well done. I just learned of your blog today, and will have to do some catch-up reading!! Thanks for your writing! Again, nice job moderating today's panel discussion. The verbatim kid-Creators discussion cracked me up (all over again!). Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Arnold Vosloo? That is news. What episode is he appearing in?

Thanks for the report. Looks like the second season is going to be a heckuva ride.

Mo Ryan said...

Please please please let there be an episode all about Casey's robotic toe.

Because that would be awesome.

Thanks, Alan! Sounds like a good time was had by all.

But it sounds like they need to have an episode called "Chuck vs. the President."

Mo Ryan said...

Yeah, regarding the Vosloo appearance, that's the first I heard of that.

Moderating a panel AND breaking news. Nicely done.

Anonymous said...

"There's been a lot of discussion about either Chuck moving out of Ellie's apartment, or else Ellie and Awesome moving out post-marriage, and possibly making the cover romance even more awkward by having Sarah then move in with Chuck. I asked how long they felt they could draw out the will-they-or-won't-they dynamic without pissing off the Chuck/Sarah 'shippers; Josh said he felt there are enough natural obstacles in their working relationship that he can plausibly keep"


You need to finish this. What was he going to say forever.

Anonymous said...

'Strahotski guy' here. Great write up! I hadn't read your blog before today and I'll be adding it to my Google Reader.

As for being labeled 'craziest' fan, I view that more of a badge of honor than an insult.

Yvonne seemed extremely gracious to all of her fans. I don't think any of it really got too awkward.

I would like to offer an apology, however, if I caused an avalanche of autograph requests. I really just wanted to give her a bear; didn't expect anything in return.

So if I did interrupt your panel in that way, I do solemnly apologize, sir.

Anonymous said...

"Josh said he felt there are enough natural obstacles in their working relationship that he can plausibly keep."

Heh. I kinda laughed when I read that.

Alan, thanks for the recap!

Brian said...


Fun stuff, Alan. That "robotic toe" exchange was truly priceless. Although I don't know why you gave credence to the concept of "shippers" by asking the creators to worry about pissing them off.

Anonymous said...

Were there any "Charah" moments at all in the previews?

Mac said...

You probably should have gone with "Chuck vs. Sepinwall", because sooner or later, they have to have a SD Comic-Con episode, right?

Zac F. said...

Thanks for asking Yvonne about her using her native accent in "Chuck vs. the Ex".

Excellent write-up. I hope in a future episode that there is a sly slam on President Obama's Monday speeches in the form of a one-liner like "Why does the president always have to talk to the country on Monday nights at 8?" or something like that. Maybe in an episode where we see Chuck and Morgan hanging out for longer than 30 seconds. :)

Anonymous said...

Man, what an insane panel. Out of all of comic con, that was the weirdest hour I spent there, and that's saying something at a con.
Great panel, although hopefully future ones have ground rules like:
No Autographs
No Polish Parades
No Autographs, &
No Autographs.

That footage was pretty amazing (I'll never see Basic Instinct the same way again), but i must disagree on one point. I never got into that wiener costume. It was sexy, sure, but comedically, it was funny once or twice, but then it just became kind of annoying. And am I the only one who finds meats on a stick extremely unappealing? It just makes me feel bloated and gross, not ready for the laughs.

A-nyway, amazing con, amazing panel, and I can't believe its another year-and-a-half till the next one. Hopefully by then I'll have recovered from this one.

Pamela Jaye said...

thank you!

you mention much skin on both genders - so who else is... tell me it's not Morgan.

I'm going to do a fan-girl ramble now.

I'm not actually a member of the Scott Bakula's Chest Fan Club (a virtual entity) but he's lost his shirt so many times I'm surprised no one has made a drinking game of it.

Even my ex made jokes - along the lines of
"This is Scott Bakula, for BreakAway Shirts. When you have to lose your shirt as much as I do..."
(it was nice that he could laugh)

plus, if nothing has changed (and who knows how the audience feels 20 years later) the reason Scott did so many shirtless scenes on Quantum Leap had something to do with a bet that if the ratings went up when he lost his shirt in one particular episode, then they were allowed to write more of the same (and apparently there were at least two female writers).

It must have been a well known thing, because later on Murphy Brown there was a joke about how if Peter (Scott's character) took off his shirt, the ratings went up (and he had yet to take his shirt off on Murphy Brown when that was said).

When Scott signed for Enterprise, the one guy in our group made a bet on how many eps it would be before Scott lost his shirt. I believe the final answer was 5.

In fact, there was once a Dark Shadows chat, where a 20 minute conversation broke out about Scott's chest. Alas, I was not present.

Okay, so I've rambled - but really: I want good ratings for Chuck as much as the next poster. And Scott's chest used to be really good for ratings.

For the record, I think Scott has extremely nice shoulders.

Also, I'm pleased that Chuck will learn to defend himself, in whatever way.

and, though I'm not Polish, and Yvonne disagrees on the pronunciation, according to what i learned Strzechowski would be pronounced

stzh eh HOV ski
(man, that's hard to spell phonetically)
Anyone Polish around here? Did I misspell or did her family misplaced that Z the way Carl Yastrzemski's family did?
Or did the books teach me wrong? (always a good chance of that - it's hard to learn a language from books, which is why I finally gave up)

Pamela Jaye said...

yup, and I'm the girl who almost never talks about Scott's chest. Great move there.

Hi there, Strahotski guy. I think Yvonne is a very good actress (mainly cause Alan keeps pointing it out)

Anonymous said...

I too would've gone with "Chuck vs. The Sepinwall." A little egomania never hurt anybody.

Alan Sepinwall said...

You need to finish this. What was he going to say forever.

This is what happens when I'm bouncing back and forth between my notes and the actual post. It's now fixed, and reads:

Josh said he felt there are enough natural obstacles in their working relationship that he can plausibly keep them apart a while longer. (Again, in being good at staying on message, he didn't say more than that.)

Anonymous said...

Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse tried to gear "LOST" toward being more about the relationships than about the mysteries in season 2 or 3 and the ratings started to drop precipitously. Without the mysteries, the show is just a hour long "Gilligan's Island." My point is that Chuck and Sarah are the emotional core of the series, keep throwing obstacles in their way, and we'll see how the ratings are affected. It also speaks a lot about how much creativity Schwartz and Fedak have in them if they can't figure out what to do once Chuck and Sarah are together.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting from your point of view, Alan! I was sad to not be able to attend, but am now thinking it might have been safer to be home waiting for recaps like yours.

But my real reason for posting is: Arnold Vosloo for the win!

Jesse said...


Don't worry. Judging by Alan's write-up, he was amused, not offended. Plus, you now you have more visitors to your site.

Pamela Jaye said...

and the visitors to (thank you!) found video in
multiple parts

Pamela Jaye said...

well, my Polish pronunciation isn't too bad after all - except for forgetting it should have been ska instead of ski at the end (I guess).

for those who ever wondered, according to, i think, the Michener book, Poland the ski at the end of many Polish names mean "from" a place as opposed to the popular in other countries "son of."

Pam, who is in no way Polish, but had a really big crush once upon a time that turned in an odd direction.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to tell you that you did a wonderful job moderating the Chuck Panel. I wish you could give lessons to the guy who moderated the Fringe Panel. He was beyond awful. He never spoke into the mike and asked vague questions. When your guests says..."I don't know how to answer that" you've got big problems. I was glad to be part of the great experience of your panel and its guests. I can't wait for the rest of the season to air.

Anonymous said...

Strahovski actually did a brief Scotty accent before, on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. It was hilarious.

Nice recap. Sounds like the panel was lots of fun. Although, it would be exponentially awesome if you could share some juicy details about the exclusive trailer. ;)

Anonymous said...

Great post; thanks!

Pamela Jaye, yes, in Polish the "w" sounds like a "v." It's a pity that explaining that to other elementary-school kids never did anything to ease up on the mockery of my own surname. Ah, well. . . .