Friday, January 27, 2012

Goodbye, Chuck

Tonight one of my favorite shows on TV ended. It was a quirky, nerdy, sappy, and often cheesy little show called Chuck. Yes, I've been obsessing over it for the last few days. And yes, I cried (a lot!) when it was over. So why is it that TV shows, of all things, can do that to me when normal life stuff usually doesn't? I believe it is the power of a story. So let me tell you one.

About two years ago, thanks to the good folks at Netflix, Greg and I discovered Chuck. I'd heard about it and wanted to watch it but we don't watch much TV and I think it was on at a bad time for us. Anyway, for a month or two we actually got our money's worth of our Netflix membership. I wasn't sure what to think about the pilot, but after Chuck vs. the Helicopter, I was hooked. We would watch the four shows on the disc in two or three days, return it, and repeat the process a day or two later when we got the next disc. That's how we caught up on those two great first seasons. We'd laugh, I'd yell at the TV (it's what I do), and then we'd look at each other and say, "One more?" It was fun.

What's the appeal of a show like Chuck? Well, it's nerdy. And goofy. And kind of sweet, sometimes sexy, occasionally serious, but mostly silly. It's a show about a (seemingly) regular guy, a little down on his luck, who one day gets an email from his former college roommate and friend who turned on him, got him kicked out of Stanford, and stole his girl. When Chuck opens the email, he downloads the Intersect, a supercomputer full of government secrets encoded in subliminal messaging, into his brain. Just one of those things that could happen to anybody, right? Over the next five seasons, Chuck meets spies, saves the world in pretty much every episode, and tries to keep his "spy life" from endangering his "real life," all while chasing after superspy Sarah Walker, the girl of his dreams. There's spy spoofs, romantic angst, cool spy gadgets, and stupid nerd humor. And I loved it. Over five seasons, we saw brilliant writing, terrible writing, good acting, terrible acting, awesome bad guys, so-so bad guys, cool guest stars, and the wacky antics of the employees at the Buy More, Chuck's "cover job."

What I loved, and I think most fans of the show loved, was the heart of the show. Chuck is just a downright good guy, who loves his family and his friends and would literally do anything for him. And even though that gets him in trouble sometimes (okay, a lot. Actually, most of the time), it all works out in the end. Most of the time. A lot of crazy, unbelievable, stupid stuff happens in the course of every episode, but good prevails. That is the connection that takes a good show, a good story, and makes it great. We all know that in this world, good doesn't always win. Bad people do terrible things to good people, for stupid reasons like power, ambition, and greed. Sometimes even good people do dumb stuff that hurts others. But ultimately, we want good to win. We long for it. We need it. Why? Because even though this world is messed up, God is good. He wants us to know that He will ultimately save the day. Good will win the fight against evil. God will win the fight against the enemy. Good stories remind us of that simple truth, and that is why they can touch us in ways that real life sometimes can't.

If you haven't seen Chuck, go ahead and give it a try. Maybe you'll like it, and maybe you won't, and maybe you'll cry like I did when it was over. Even the good stories aren't perfect, but God's story is. If you haven't found that one yet, you have no idea what you're missing.

(One little note regarding content: Chuck is not exactly what I would call a family friendly show. There is often rather brutal hand-to-hand combat and other sorts of violence, as well as some pretty risque scenes and outfits in just about every episode. Standard stuff in TV these days, but I thought I'd offer fair warning.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini

After reading Inheritance, Paolini's monolithic finale to his epic cycle by the same name (which I generally refer to as "those Eragon books"), I decided to review the entire series.

The books center around Eragon, a simple farm boy who chanced upon a dragon egg in the forest and went on to alter the course of the world. Throughout the course of the series Eragon grows in his abilities as a dragon rider and in his relationships, as he becomes more mature in his dealings with his dragon Saphira, his elf-friend Arya, his cousin Roran, and the leaders of the various people of Alagaeisa. Ultimately he must face and destroy the tyrannical and nearly invincible Galbatorix in order to free the land from his rule and attempt to restore the race of dragons, which the evil king almost completely destroyed.

Paolini's attention to detail is impressive. His mastery of a thesaurus is downright heroic. His dragons are delightful. His storytelling is brilliant, but ultimately his story was missing something. I hate to say it, but it's true: I was disappointed by the ending. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I just couldn't appreciate the vastness of what the author was trying to do with the story. Still, in my opinion, it got away from him. After I finished Brisingr, and while I waited for this widely anticipated final volume, I was concerned that he had bitten off more than he could chew, and set events into motion which he would not be able to satisfactorily resolve. And in my opinion, that is exactly what happened. When I finish an epic series like this one, I want to feel something. Honestly, I want to cry. When I finished Inheritance, I felt nothing. Not excited, pleased, satisfied, happy, heartbroken, or any of those things that a really good book (or movie, or TV show, or sometimes even commercial) can make me feel. That in itself made me a little sad.

Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy the series. Remember, in the spirit of positivity I only review things I like on this blog. Paolini obviously put a lot of thought into developing the major races of Alagaesia, including their languages, cultures, histories, and people. And although there are those who say his work is largely derivative of the true masters (read: Tolkien), I actually was impressed with his creativity and ingenuity. Plus, I am very forgiving of anything involving dragons. I love dragons, and Eragon's Saphira is no exception. She is really a great dragon. There were several other nice touches throughout the series. I could get all caught up in the things I didn't like and probably bore everyone to death, but I'm not going to do that here. Instead, I'll say that the books are good but not great. I recommend them to die-hard fantasy fans but people who can take or leave fantasy would probably be better off leaving these books.