Monday, April 27, 2009

Chuck: Chris Fedak vs. the finale

As promised, I spoke with "Chuck" co-creator Chris Fedak about the developments in the "Chuck" season two finale, "Chuck vs. the Ring" (you can read my review of it here). After the jump, Fedak discusses -- and, in many cases, tries to avoid discussing -- the implications of the final scene, the musical talent (or lack thereof) of Jeffster!, the whereabouts of Vincent from Fulcrum, and more.

What exactly does that final scene mean in terms of what Chuck can do now?

The first thing I should say is Schwartz has sent over a Warner Bros. security expert to my house. So if I say anything that might spoil season three, I think he's authorized to take me out. He looks like former KGB.

The final scene is a launching pad for season three. It's something that we've kind of teased, ever so slightly earlier in the season. It gets back to what you asked me the last time we talked about the Feistel code, the scene (in "Chuck vs. the Dream Job") where Chuck's dad asks him to look at the computer screen, the idea is that his dad knows inside the Intersect is the ability to decipher a code. That was our first subtle hint that maybe the Intersect didn't just store information, but it could provide abilities. In our final scene, with the new Intersect update is that there's now abilities stored inside.

So he knows kung fu now. Can you tell me what else?

I can't tell you what else. The security expert from Warner Bros. is putting a silencer on the gun right now.

So let me ask you this: the Intersect was supposed to go into Bryce, who we know from past experience already knows kung, fu, knows parkour, etc. Why would he necessarily need to be given Neo's kung fu skills?

I think that the new Intersect skills are even more advanced than the classically learned-skills that Bryce had.

How long had you been thinking about doing this? Where did the idea come from that, at the end of season two, you'd turn Chuck into a bad-ass?

The idea started early on by being the idea we said we weren't going to do. When we were pitching the studio and network, we were very clear that Chuck would not have powers, would not have abilities, that the Intersect would only give him information that would be vital to the mission, but wouldn't give him critical skills for the mission. We were working on stories, on pitches, it was always a given inside the room that Chuck would not have abilities. I think it was Josh, when we were describing where we wanted to go in the season, and we knew the last scene would be Chuck re-uploading the Intersect, and he asked, "What happens if he does have abilities? What if we do the kung fu scene that we've always said we wouldn't do?" It was a great question to ask. It got us all thinking about the great possibilities for the third season of the show.

Well, that brings me to my next question. Let me play Devil's advocate: you went into the series knowing that a lot of the appeal of the show is seeing this ordinary guy struggle to be a spy without any real training, he doesn't know how to fight, how to use a gun, he doesn't know spycraft, and he's just a nerd who has this intelligence in his head, saving the world because he's good at Missile Command or whatever. Does giving him these abilities take away from the appeal of the show?

No. It doesn't take away. I'm going to answer your question rather cryptically. I'll say that the show is not going to lose its sense of humor.

One of the things I wondered about is, are the abilities going to be reliable, or will this be like "Greatest American Hero" where he can only do things some of the time?

I'm sorry. The Warner Bros. security expert is looking rather frightening at the moment. You'll have to wait for season three on that.

Well, then the other question is, if Chuck knows kung fu, and he has the Intersect, and he also has the Orion wrist cuff, which we know can do a lot of cool things on its own, at what point does he still need Casey and Sarah?

Oh, I think he absolutely needs Casey and Sarah. He's not suddenly going to become Jack Bauer.

Does Zachary Levi have any martial arts training, or was that all stuntwork?

We had really no idea how much Zach would be able to do for the final kung fu sequence. We're asking ourselves, "Should we have a stunt guy do the whole thing or could Zach be in for a little bit?" A few days before we got to the fight scene, we were working on the finale script and we got a call to come down to the set to see what Zach and Merritt Yohnka and his stunt crew had choreographed. So I showed up on the stage, and Zach started the stunt sequence, and he was amazing. So much of it is Zach, it's unbelievable. He's just an incredibly gifted physical actor. He can do the comedy, he's a gifted comedian, but he can also do the action as well.

As I was watching it, I was getting excited for season three, because there's now so much more stuff we can do. I ran back to the writers' room, and said, "Guys, he's great."

YouTube has some video of a feature "Access Hollywood" did during the first season, and there's this B-roll of Zach and Yvonne trading fan kicks at each other's heads.

It's the weirdest thing in the world. I was there when he was doing that. When you're the producer of a television show, and you're watching your incredibly attractive female lead and male lead kicking at each other's face, just missing each other's nose by a few inches, I was like, "What are you guys trying to do? Give me a heart attack?" But watching Zach do kung fu was like going back to the pilot. I knew Yvonne had a dance background, but I had no idea if she could dance like we needed her to in the scene where she's dancing and fighting the other guys. And when she first did it, I went, "Wow."

What can you tell me about the Ring? Is that, in fact, its name?

I think it goes by many names. It's cryptically known as the Ring. If you think about Fulcrum as a subsidiary, a franchise of the Ring, that it's a larger organization.

So what is it that introducing the Ring does for the show that Fulcrum wasn't. Why did you feel the need to introduce a larger evil organization?

(Long pause) I'll say this: the Ring has different goals than Fulcrum.

But wasn't Fulcrum already pretty vague in its goals? One of the advantages and disadvantages of Fulcrum is that we didn't really know what they were about, so you could do anything with them.

Thinking about season three, it was important that the Ring have a very specific goal. And that plays out in season three.

The last time we talked, you said you had most of season three already mapped out. Obviously, you're reluctant to give away too much, but let me ask you one of the more obvious questions: Chuck has quit the Buy More, Casey has quit the Buy More, Morgan has quit the Buy More. We love the Buy More, Jeffster and Big Mike are still there, you still have that set, but how do you keep using it as a part of the show at this point?

Unfortunately, I think you'll just have to wait and see season three.

Couldn't you just convert it to a Benihana set?

We look forward to building the Benihana set.

At any point did you consider something with more closure, or would that have made things too easy for NBC?

This was our finale. We knew it from the beginning of the season that this is what we were working to. This was the coolest ending we could imagine. This was the one we had to write.

Is Vincent alive or dead?

Vincent is dead. But when you're dead in the "Chuck" universe, there's a tendency to not be dead.

And he had more of a tendency to not be dead than anyone else.

When we cast Arnold Vosloo in the part, with "The Mummy," it was Jeremiah Chechnik's idea, he directed the episode, "Chuck vs. the Predator." Arnold's very sophisticated, and it was really fun for us to make him more and more sickly as the (season) went by. It became a joke: how can we hurt Arnold this week? So I think he's dead right now. He was inside the drive-in when the F-16's dropped their bombs.

He's dead, but don't hold me to it.

Are we done with Fulcrum? Have me moved past Fulcrum now?

I can't say.

How did you guys decide Captain Awesome would be the one to find out? Are there specific stories you have in mind for that, or was it just that you thought he'd be funnier to be in the loop than, say, Lester?

The reason we chose Captain Awesome is because, of all the people in the "Chuck" universe, he's the one who thinks he has it all figured out. That type of certitude, especially with the way Ryan plays the part, it's so much fun to throw him a curveball. We really enjoyed the idea, of all the people you could tell, whose world would be rocked the most? And who would respond the best, who would have Chuck's back the most? It would be Captain Awesome.

One of my favorite scenes from last week's episode was Captain Awesome losing it in front of Ellie because he couldn't deal with the secret.

Was it your idea of Allison (Adler)'s to use "Mr. Roboto"?

We kind of got it in our head. Back when we first started working on the show, my wife is a big "Roboto" fan, and if you listen to the lyrics, it almost sounds like it could be the Chuck story in a way. Allison and I were listening to different song options, we were trying to come up with something big and ludicrous and operatic. And then this being a Josh Schwartz show, you have to go through the man, and he kind of got into it.

Well, when you do a scene like this, particularly where you have characters performing the song, how far in advance do you have to get the legal clearance? Like, if Toto had refused to license "Africa" the last time Jeffster! appeared, would you have been in trouble?

It's a big huge process, and you have to start early. I think in the original script, we had "November Rain" in there, and we couldn't clear it. Then we started thinking about other, going new, a modern contemporary band, or did we want to go back to the 80s where we live, and Styx was just out there. I love me some Styx. We thought about "Come Sail Away," but "Mr. Roboto" seemed so perfect.

Are Jeffster! supposed to be getting better? Because it actually doesn't sound bad, and that's even before the Styx version comes in.

There's three different versions of the song. There's the Jeff and Lester version, then our composer Tim Jones in to add score, when Bryce comes into the reception hall, it's Tim's score playing an orchestral "Mr. Roboto," and when the paratroopers fly through the window above, that's the actual Styx music kicking in.

Jeff and Lester are not the best performers in the world, Jeffster's not the best wedding band in the world, but they've got enthusiasm. Since they are technically proficient, I thought this song was perfect for them, because they rock when they have a vocoder.

What were some of your favorite things that you got to do this season?

The season was amazing. When it comes to the physical production of the show, our team has done an incredible job. In the "Chuck vs. the Gravitron" episode, we shot in a real moving Gravitron. I was inside with our camera operator and Zach and the guest character. The different fights that we've done: the car fight in "Chuck vs. the Best Friend" is just stupendous, and the F-16s blowing up the Fulcrum presentation was huge.

There's my geek excitement for certain filmic parts of the show, but there's also the people I got to work with this year. Everyone who came onto the show was wonderful, and our cast is fantastic. It was a dream: I got to work with Chevy Chase, Scott Bakula, Bruce Boxleitner, Morgan Fairchild, everyone was in our finale. And we have a great production team, the people who make this crazy show possible, from our stunt coordinator, Merritt Yohnka, our special effects team, the entire crew. The most exciting part of the process was telling a big story over 22 episodes. That's something that you rarely get the chance to do. Working with the staff and Josh was the biggest change. When you start on a season, you're working on episode 1 and it's impossible to imagine you're going to get to it all.

Well, speaking of geek excitement, are there moments where you're thinking, "Man, I got Chevy Chase to do Cyrus' big speech from 'The Warriors' on my show!"

Absolutely. There's nothing quite like it. You're sitting on set, talking with Chevy Chase, about to blow up a wedding reception, and you're feeling pretty good. This is awesome.

I know you said last time you didn't have any regrets about this season, but were there any stories you wanted to tell in this context that didn't work out in one way or another?

There's a number. When you're in the "Chuck" writers room, you've got board after board of different notions, half the idea don't make it into the episode. There's always a board with all these raw ideas. From my perspective, I look at them as the stories we haven't gotten to. There are some that have been up there for quite some time, but I always think of them as ideas we just haven't figure out where to use yet.

But were there any that you now can't tell because Chuck has super powers?

None comes to mind.

So what are you hearing right now from NBC?

We had a good meeting with NBC and Warner Bros., and everybody's very positive. We're still in the same holding pattern. There's no ETA.

So if, unfortunately, NBC decides not to renew and this is the ending, what do you want the audience to take away from the show?

I love endings that imply further adventures. If this is the end, and God forbid that it is, our fans should know that Chuck and Sarah and Casey are off saving the world. They're amazing and thye're a great team, and hopefully we're going to get to see that.

And how would you react to knowing this was the last episode?

It would be gut-wrenching for our entire writing staff, and our cast as well. We've all fallen in love with these characters. You probably feel that from the show that we write. It's hard to imagine not having more experiences and more fun, taking those characters out into the world and telling their story.

Knowing that there's a chance the show might not continue, in hindsight are you happy with the pace at which you moved the Chuck/Sarah relationship?

Absolutely. Especially for season two, it was imperative to the show that Sarah's job is to protect Chuck. If they have an emotional relationship, she's not as good at her job. So keeping them apart and having that tension was organic to the show.

That then leads me to the inevitable follow-up: Sarah was able to have a relationship with Bryce, Chuck now appears to be perfectly capable of taking care of himself and much more of an equal to the other two. Are the obstacles no longer there?

Sepinwall, you're not gonna get that out of me. Unfortunately I'm just going to say you're going to have to watch season three.

God, I hope I can.

God, I hope you can, too.

Alan Sepinwall can be reached at


Anonymous said...

HOLY COW the ending was insane!!!!!!!!! Chuck knows kung-fu!

fgmerchant said...

OMG!! That was soooo amazing!!! It said "To be continued..." so that means it HAS to come back right!?!?!?!?! GAAAAH!!!!!!!!!

Chris Littmann said...

Excellent interview. Here's hoping he can fill in some of the blanks in Season Three.

Anonymous said...

Wow This show is just unbeliveable if NBC doesn't get how great this show is then they will continue to be in 4th place in the ratings game because chuck and life are the only shows they have that are worth watching let's go Season 3 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Peter Andrianopoulos said...

Really genius ending. I loved it. I saw a post that the Kung Fu was a little much on another site, but to be honest, it was fantastic. It was well done, and I'm glad Zach did his own stunt except for that backflip, lol.

Its nice when the actors are so into it they do their own stunts, its better than the cheese of seeing a stunt double in there in HD.

Can't wait for Season 3, great interview. Season 3 is very hush-hush and it makes it even cooler.

Hopefully NBC promotes the hell out of the show next year,cause I really feel they are going to announce the renewal any day now :D

Anonymous said...

Great interview. You asked the question I most wanted to ask--now that Chuck appears to be Sarah's equal can't we do a Mr and Mrs Smith relationship? I fear they think the audience "loves" the tension so they will string us along. Zach and Fedak I think have both said they can never be together until the end, but I'm an avid viewer who would love to see that play out. They've really reached a point of no retur and I can't imagine going back to the same tension. There is so much other tension that could develop instead of the "we work together or I protect you" tension. But regardless I just hope they get a season 3. I'll Chuck anyway I can get it!

55 said...

I loved Roboto, but I would have passed out with glee if they had done "Come Sail Away." Who can forget that Freaks and Geeks scene?

sooper said...

Does giving him these abilities take away from the appeal of the show?

The answer to this question, Chris, is yes. It really really does. You jumped the shark and it sucks.

nams said...

God, I hope we all get to see season 3 of Chuck. It's been much too fun, for us not to be getting more of this wonderful show!

Unknown said...

Awesome interview, thanks for sharing! And that's so cool that Zac did so much of his own stunt work - I'd been wondering about that.

Unknown said...

God I hope so too.

Brandon J said...

That was awesome. I love that Chuck knows Kung fu. And that makes the story line more wide open. I really hope to see more in a third season.

JEMaher said...

Great episode. One of the really fun aspects of Chuck is that Fedak/Schwartz don't dumb it down - if you're paying attention, and think things through, you can kinda see where they're going (for example, Orion as Chuck's dad). Given the groundwork this season, that, I hope Season Three features these 2 episodes:

1)"Chuck vs. the Umbilical Cord": We've been told for 2 seasons that Chuck's mom just suddenly left. In tonight's season ender, Stephen Bartowski tries to stop Chuck from following Sarah, who Stephen knows as Chuck's 'handler'. When Chuck tells Stephen that he loves Sarah, Stephen immediately relents, with a look of regret and remembrance on his face.

That, plus the suddenness of her departure seems to me a telegraph that Chuck's mom was/is a spy - perhaps Stephen's original handler (thus playing off the 'family business' meme). And perhaps she made the choice Sarah was about to - but couldn't stick to it; or, continued to do the occasional mission, and was captured/believed killed.

That background would tie nicely with Stephen's sudden decision to abandon his kids. Presumably, they were at some risk the entire time he was designing the Intersect; but with wife/spy's disappearance, their chief protector gone, the danger to them became too real to risk his continued presence.

Now, as Fedak says, 'dead' often isn't 'dead' in the Chuck universe; so if Mom is a spy, she's undoubtedly still alive. In 'Umbilical Cord', Chuck no doubt discovers this, seeks her out, perhaps finds that she's not being held, but is in fact part of the Ring organization....the possibilities are wide open.

Now, who should they cast? Clearly - Linda Carter. She has the resemblance to Ellie (remember, Stephen's comment that Ellie 'looked just like her mother'), and the same lanky, athletic beauty as Sarah.

The second episode we'd really need to see:2)Chuck vs. The Hippies: We've met Chuck's dad. We've met Morgan's mom. We've met Sarah's dad. The Awesome Awesomes have made their debut. So who's left?

Well, there's Colonel Casey, the ex-choirboy, who we know '..wasn't hatched!" Now ask yourself - who becomes a spy? In the Chuck universe, Fedak/Schwartz telegraph that it's someone who's rejecting some aspect of their prior life. With Sarah, it was a rebellion against the selfishness of the 'grifter' lifestyle. With Bryce, it was a gritty rejection of the 'Bryce Larkin from Connecticut' straitjacket. And Chuck - well, 9-5 NerdHerder is about as far from Charles Carmichael as you can get...

So, we have Casey... a cigar smoking, Reagan loving, shoot first, emote way, way, way later dude in his early-mid '40s. The right age, background, and attitude to be a rebel against parents personifying the 'peace love and understanding decade'.

In short, Casey is the Black Ops version of Alex P. Keaton. And of course, the casting here is self evident - no one could possibly play those roles better than Steven and Elise Keaton - Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross.

The comedic possibilities, against Baldwin's grunts and reaction shots, would be priceless - blackmail shots of 5 year old Casey, playing naked in the mud at Woodstock; a revelation that Casey's real name is 'Rainbow'...the mind boggles.

Fingers crossed for Season 3!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe how much I was on the skin of my teeth the whole time this episode played. I had heard someone died and I was so afraid it would be Casey. I love Casey. I think we need more Casey. I think we need a Season 3 so we can have more Casey.

W said...

Chuck is the man! The season finale was excellent! I hope there' season 3!

Anonymous said...

Season 3 is much needed. Most beloved comedy, action, romance, show on. Please continue

Mrs. Roboto said...

No doubt about it...

Best episode of the year!

GabbyD said...

fine ending!

season 3 please! :)

Anonymous said...

Season 2 was fantastic!! AWESOME ending. I hope there is a season 3.

Eric said...

I could be wrong but the way I took it Chuck didn't gain some lifelong ability but just momentarily "flashed" his Kung Fu skills.

Maybe he just has the ability to upload the abilities or skills of others around him?

Baylink said...

I like 'Umbilical Cord' -- both of those, actually, and I'll see you at Ken Levine's Sitcom Room this fall -- but... you haven't *looked* at Lynda Carter lately, have you?

She fell off the turnip truck, pretty much all at once, the last couple of years...

Anonymous said...

My theory is that his "Kung Fu" skills would have some kind of limitation, most likely this: although his mind understands the movements needed to force his body to perform martial arts, the fact is his body has never had to use those movements before and is unused to processing and engaging them effectively. Like any body that overstrains itself physically with foreign motions, it could be harmful and damaging for Chuck to use "instant kung fu" without training his body to adapt to the movements. That's the theory that makes most sense to me.

Craig Ranapia said...

Sorry for sounding like a broken record here, but the one thing I love about 'Chuck' is that it started off as pretty good fun but (like 'Burn Notice') turned into a big gooey ball of awesome because someone obviously sat down, figured out what wasn't quite working and did something about it.

Or, in short, exactly the opposite of what 'Reaper' and 'Heroes' did -- isolate what didn't work, and kept doing it.

Mandy said...

Great interview! I can't wait for season three to see all the Kung-Fu!!

Anonymous said...

Mr Sepinwall, I feel honoured to love the same fandom you do. ;) You asked the true Chuck!fan questions, and that makes you just about incredibly Awesome.

I'm on a little bit of a finale high right now. that was friggin' fantastic. how does a show like this exist?!?!?

Anonymous said...

The NBC Chuck wesite says series finale this morning. Is this confirmed?

Stephanie said...

I really like the idea of Chuck having all of these abilities that he can't really control. I can imagine his skills making an appearance at some rather inopportune moments and that could be pretty funny. It would also mean he would need Sarah and Casey to help keep things under control.

There really is so much potential here. I will cry if this show isn't renewed.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The NBC Chuck wesite says series finale this morning. Is this confirmed?

No, it's a mistake. We're discussing it in the episode review thread.

Deseree Eve said...

Hi guys! I am a huge fan of Chuck (and your recaps Alan). Please help keep Chuck alive and join the "Save Chuck" Facebook page. Also, there are a number of "Save Chuck" twitter feeds that would love your support as well. Lets all work together to save the show!!

Anonymous said...

I feel like one of the unofficial themes in Chuck is the hidden depths of ordinary people. Chuck doesn’t succeed because he is the intersect, he succeeds because he’s Chuck. The Buy More employees are the pinnacle of incompetence but occasionally reveal a weird sort of super competence: even they have superpowers. Jeff clearing at room at will by being so disgusting, Big Mike taking out the toughest enemy agent with a tackle, Anna really does know Kung Fu. When Chuck needs them for something important they can be bizarrely effective in their own strange way, even the ordinary can be extraordinary. They even have their own spy van.

Chuck prevails thinking outside the box: by doing things the CIA wouldn't have done. Not by singehandedly beating up a team of elite enemy agents.

It is nice to see Chuck be less of the passive, bumbling, fool... but Kung Fu in a pill feels a bit cheap.

I can't help but feel like it the gamechanger goes a bit against the spirit of the show. With the new intersect Chuck saves the day not because he's Chuck, but because of the intersect giving him Kung Fu.

Ang said...

I totally loved it, I get the whole 'flashing abilities' thing they're (probably) going for, I'm really hoping for another season.

I am also scared that, if they GET that season, they'll have Chuck and Co. crawling back in apparent shame to the Buy More within the first couple of episodes - as covers, to keep use of the Castle, whatever. I don't mind the BuyMoria, but I do hope they can shake up the dynamics there at least. I really hope Season Three brings about a new age of proactivity for Team Bartowski - no more (or less) waiting to stumble upon something that triggers a flash. I want to see them actively trying to figure things out.

I'd also love to see Chuck slowly developing a sense of confidence - he can still be a geek, and still have the floor drop from underneath him momentarily - ZL's hysterical in those "oh crap" moments. Some of his helplessness in Season Two was a little overdone, I thought.

junior said...

The season was AWESOME we need more CHUCK. Return for season 3

chandu said...

one of the very few shows and the only show on nbc, which I watch regularly...please please please...we need season 3...

wassupchuck said...

Great interview, great questions. Now we need season 3, or you are going to have to do another interview and squeeze the answers out of him...(maybe use casey)!! Thank you for your support of a show that you obviously love as much as we do. Keep up the good fight!

Anonymous said...

I Think that it would be funny that because he did the Kung Fu stuff that the next day he was so sore that he couldn't move. The benefits could be useful, but the consequences could be fun to deal with as well. He after all is not physically fit to do all that stuff.

LeeZy said...

It suddenly occurred to me that if Chuck does get canceled by NBC, why couldn't it live on another network that NBC seems to own or control, like the USA Network where Burn Notice lives? It would seem like a plan for many of the shows that NBC doesn't want because they worship the false idol of Jay Leno... or is USA sorta kinda out of space?

Stellar Drift said...

"If they have an emotional relationship, she's not as good at her job. "

He really needs to explain that, because its utter rubbish - doesn't make sense.

ChuckNut said...

agreed, stellar drift. wasn't that the whole point of the 49b in vs. broken heart?!

Jon said...

About the only song that could possibly work in place of "Mr. Roboto" is "The Final Countdown."

David said...

Alan, It's getting to crunch time on renewal. Have you heard anything?

Stonebox said...

Chuck deserves a seison 3. It is a really great show. A shame if this show stops. The Chuck serie starts this year in Holland. I (and my family here) cannot wait to see again the whole serie now on Dutch TV and hope to see a followup 3th seison.