25 September 2007

Pilots: Chuck and Journeyman

WARNING: Possible spoilers ahead

Last night I watched two new NBC shows, Chuck and Journeyman. Both shows had a retread feeling, but one of them was a bit more enjoyable.

First up was Chuck. The main character Chuck is a geeky college dropout who lives with his sister, works as part of the Nerd Herd in an electronics store, and can't seem to get over his college sweetheart who was stolen from him by his college roommate. It is that same roommate who sends Chuck an encoded email that, when opened, programs Chuck's brain with the entire contents of the NSA/CIA supercomputer. Talk about a killer computer virus!

Chuck is like comfort food. The gentle humor combined with the familiar elements were enough to keep me from turning the channel. The computer-in-his-head gimmick reminded me of Jake 2.0, another show that I liked. Zachary Levi as Chuck is similar to Christopher Gorham as Jake: a geek but in an endearing way. There are the two competing agents (played by Adam Baldwin and Aussie newcomer Yvonne Strahovski) who will be giving Chuck his assignments. The end of the pilot indicated that there will also be a similarity to Scarecrow and Mrs. King in future episodes, since Chuck decides to keep his life as normal as possible. My Monday-at-8p slot has been filled with 7th Heaven for years. I think this is a worthy replacement.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about Chuck was that viewers were given the whole setup in the first episode. The same can't be said for Journeyman, a show about a man who is thrown back and forth on the timeline of his life without any warning. I was just as clueless as the main character. Critics have compared this show to Quantum Leap. The biggest difference for me is that Sam Beckett had Al and his handheld computer Ziggy to give us a little exposition. All Dan has is his smartphone, which doesn't even work when he goes too far into the past. When Dan finally figures out at the end of the episode that he has been jumping to save a child who ends up saving a busload of people, it isn't very satisfying. The emphasis of the episode seemed to be on Dan finding his former fiancee who had died in a car crash. Saving the kid felt like an afterthought.

I'm not saying Journeyman is a bad show, but it may not be the show for me and ABM. We like shows where the basic premise is explained clearly in the beginning. We both were left with a lot more questions than answers at the end of the pilot. That may be fine for some people (hello, fans of Lost) but I want my entertainment to be simple. I also want there to be at least one other person in the main character's life who runs interference. In Journeyman, there is absolutely no one who believes Dan, not even his wife. From the throwaway comments that the characters make, Dan may have done drugs or been an alcoholic or cheated on his wife or been under psychiatric care -- who knows? It is never clearly spelled out. I felt like I was dropped into the middle of a movie. Anyway, whatever Dan has done in his past means that no one believes him now. He does something at the very end of the episode to prove to his wife that he is traveling in time, but it isn't clear whether she believes him or not. We will probably give Journeyman one more shot, but only because we are TV addicts and we don't have anything else to watch in the Monday-at-10p slot.

If you want to see for yourself what I have been babbling on about, you can go to NBC.com and watch the streaming video versions of both shows in full.
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