Saturday, February 05, 2011

Chuck redux

Do you know how to pronounce ‘redux’? I don't, and, although the answer is trivially easy for me to find out, nonetheless I don't; somehow it's fun to have these questions in life—that or I'm lazy. Well, if it's pronounced ‘reducks’ (as in “he ducks when the crane first comes at him, and then he reducks on the return path”), then the title is almost a rhyme; but if it's pronounced ‘redo’ (as in “the first test subject wasn't too good at reducking, so we need to have a redo”), as I have been sometimes assured that it is, then the title doesn't rhyme at all. (Unless, that is, you pronounce ‘Chuck’ as ‘Chew’, in which case you are a very special flower.) Perhaps even more interesting, to me, than its pronunciation is its meaning; I always assumed, in my optimistic, faux-amis-prone style of guessing at meanings *, that it was akin to ‘reduced’—which, I know, makes no sense at all, since, for example, Apocalypse Now Redux is an extended, not shortened, version of the film—but actually it means ‘revisited’. My reader, you know this, I am sure; but I did not, and so you can share with me in the delight of shedding a bit of ignorance. I'm still not looking up the official pronunciation, though.

Well—that ‘well’, I picked it up from Garrison Keillor, I think, and now I cannot get rid of it as an all-purpose segue—I ended last night's very long entry by lamenting my tendency to write about what I wanted to write, so let me do my best to curtail that tendency (and the attendant footnotes, also copied, these from DFW) and dive right into today's topic: Chuck! Revisited, and, possibly, reduced!

Diving right in: Chuck is, you may have heard, a spy show, but I want to advance the thesis that it is not. Indeed, when I say that I want to write about the show but that I might seem to be duplicating the AV Club's work, in fact there is no such worry; the AV Club is concerned with recounting and analysing plots, and this activity interests me almost not at all, since the plots are thin and flimsy things—so why am I such an addict? We all have our weaknesses for cultural garbage, but this is not, I think, one of the times that I am indulging that weakness. Nor is it the cheesecake, which, actually, doesn't appeal to me at all—“yes, right,”, you respond, “tell us another”, but, really, there is a point when the pandering becomes so comically obvious that it's hard even to enjoy it qua pandering. No, it is this very simple fact: this is a show about two very rare themes, friendship and love.

Perhaps now you are snorting with derision at the idea that these are rare themes; indeed, buddy shows (is that what we call them? There must be a name, but TVTropes lets me down here) and romantic movies are perhaps two of the most reliably visited genres to be found. Yes, but think about the friendships and the romances that you see in these shows—are they anything like any you have ever had? They intersect, a tiny bit, with true life, or else no one would relate to them and no-one would watch; but also there is a reason that one refers to television- and movie-watching as escapism. They leave out the boring bits of everyday life, and, really, my dedication to cinéma v&ecaute;rité is not such that I need to see that (although David Lynch can do it beautifully; I always squirmed with impatience at the scenes in Lost Highway where the Balthazar Getty character, whose name I now forget, is simply lounging around in his backyard, trying to come to terms with this part of his life that he cannot remember and of which no-one else will speak—it is a crucial moment but everything is internal, and there are so few cues onto which the stimulation-craving viewer can hang); but, perhaps more importantly, they seem almost obliged to seize on certain well worn tropes and inflate them to proportions that are meant to be, and often are, humorous or involving, but that in the end inevitably ring hollow.

Am I, perhaps, suggesting that Chuck is free of such tropes? I certainly am not (ahem); it has its share, and this, combined with the aforementioned flimsy plots, gives critics most of their ammunition against it. My feeling, though, is that the show is deeply authentic in its depictions of these two central themes, friendship and love; and this is what keeps bringing me back to it, despite the morass of Season 3, and this is why Chuck versus the Honeymooners struck such a chord with me that I decided to revive this long-dormant blog just to write about it. Which I will. Soon.

* I was about to call this activity ‘etymologising’, but I really meant something like “semanticising based on etymology”, or would have meant that if ‘semanticising’ were a word. Anyway, I was going to describe it as something “my optimistic, I-can-guess-your-meaning-based-on-appearance etymologising”, but then I realised that I was transgressing against Larry Wall's injunction against an I-can-make-anything-an-adjective attitude.


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