Like many other NBC shows, Chuck will be going on a little mini hiatus with the nonstop Winter Olympics coverage starting on Feb. 12. But we’ve got an exclusive clip from Monday’s episode, the last before the Olympics begin. This past Monday’s episode saw everybody’s favorite nerdy super-spy (played by Zachary Levi) “burn” his first asset and veer a bit toward the dark side of espionage, and also entrench himself into what could be a love triangle with his handler Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) and new Buy More employee Hannah (guest star Kristin Kreuk). Chuck co-creator Josh Schwartz says that when the show returns from its break on March 1, it will continue to build on the emotional cost and the toll of Chuck becoming a spy, in terms of how it affects Sarah, his family and his own soul. “You’ll just see the stakes rising ever higher,” says Schwartz, who also created The O.C. and is an executive producer on Gossip Girl. Read below for more of our “state of the Chuck” conversation.
Photos courtesy of NBC
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How are episodes shaping up for the end of season?
It’s gonna be epic! It’s gonna be huge and jaw-dropping. We have to top what we did at the end of last year, and I think we will.
How are the ratings so far and what are you hearing about a next season?
The ratings have been pretty solid this year. They’ve been better from last year, which is good to have growth in your third season. But I take nothing for granted and will not rest or relax until an actual or offcial pickup is in hand. Until that moment, the fan base needs to remain galvanized and passionate. Nothing is certain.
With so much uncertainty over the course of three seasons, have you gotten an ulcer yet?
Oh, I got an ulcer episode 3 of The O.C. [Laughs] I’ve had a systematic ulcer for seven years now.
We’re seeing Chuck delving more into the spy game and even getting a smidge cold-blooded. Was that always where you wanted to go with the character, dipping into that a little?
We always wanted the character to evolve. We didn’t want him to just be the guy who sits in the car three years later. It’s always been in our minds that he was definitely going to shift and evolve and grow and grow up. Certainly giving him the Intersect download at the end of last season, which gave him all these new powers, we knew that was going to push his character out of the car and into the action. We wanted to measure the emotional consequences.
But so much about what fans love about the character is he’s at heart a geeky, warm guy. Have you had to strike a balance where you don’t go too far and lose that aspect of him?
We have a really good handle on what makes the character who he is, and Zach does as well in playing him. We always try to find the vulnerabilities in the character. If anything, his newfound powers and abilities only magnify his insecurities and “Chuckness.” You saw in Monday’s episode Sarah really measuring the cost to Chuck of him moving into this world. It’s something we’ll always hold on to. No matter what level of computer software is in his head, he’ll always be Chuck at heart.
Brandon Routh’s Shaw character straddles the heart and cold of the spy world. He seems to be the guy that Chuck might turn into one day.
Absolutely. His character is there very much as a reminder of what Chuck could be, and a guy who’s really there to push Chuck and shake up the dynamics of this group.
Had you considered bringing in that sort of character in previous seasons?
We had Bryce Larkin on the show, who was a super-cool spy version of Chuck, and then last year we had Cole, the British beefcake. Shaw is going to reveal himself to be interwoven into the story in ways we’ve never really attempted before, so it’s a much more ambitious character for us.
Do you have to have someone who’s as in tune with Chuck as Zach is to pull this all off?
Yeah, there’s not a lot of guys on the planet who could play the part. You go through casting, you look back on it and you realize that Zach was really the only guy out there who could bring all those colors that we ask of Chuck to life. He can play the humor, the action, the romance and the drama. Our whole cast is really gifted in that way. They can all effortlessly shift from on tone to the next and still make you feel like you’re watching a relatable human being at the same time.
This Monday’s episode is the last before the Olympics. Is there a cliffhanger to get people excited over the short hiatus?
We certainly didn’t know it was going to be that before we shot the episode, so it’s not built to be this crazy cliffhanger that’s going to sustain you during the Olympics. It is an emotional cliffhanger, and it definitely sets the table for where the characters are coming and what the back half of the season is going to be.
You’ve had some pretty heavy hitters such as Vinnie Jones and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin come in for guest-starring roles. Your bad guys play off of villains we’ve seen before, but they always have some little quirk to them.
That’s why we like casting these actors who have a history that they bring with them. They give you a shorthand and a level of depth that you wouldn’t get necessarily with someone you’ve never seen before.
Is there one of those guys with that visual shorthand you still want on the show?
I mean, Jean-Claude Van Damme. What do I need to do? I’ve been talking that forever! And Chuck vs. Chuck – Norris, of course.
I would think Chuck Norris would be up for that.
He’s made so much money with those Total Gym ab-rollers. You just never need to work again.
Maybe you can get him for the fourth season. When will you feel comfortable enough to start thinking about a next year?
As we design the end of this season, much like last year it’s designed to be this massive cliffhanger table-resetter of what the next year could be. Inherent in that is a vision for season four, should we be fortunate enough to get there.
Jay Leno’s primetime show has been pulled, and NBC will have that 10 p.m. hour open for business daily. Does that help your cause?
Look, it’s certainly better than them getting rid of a 9 o’clock hour too next year. Last year was very scary for us because we were a bubble show to begin with, and we were a bubble show in the face of NBC losing five hours of programming. Yes, on the one hand it’s definitely a better scenario for us than losing an hour, but like I said, I still take nothing for granted.
How go things in your non-Chuck life?
We’re plugging along with Gossip Girl and are excited to come back in March with new episodes. I just finished a draft of the move Bright Lights, Big City, which I’m attached to direct, and I have a pilot at CBS that just got greenlit that we’re going to get ready to figure out. It’s a half-hour comedy called Hitched, about 20-something newlyweds, so it’s a whole new universe for me.
In the initial development, have so far liked doing a sitcom?
Those are the shows I grew up on, so it’s something I’d love to try. I always like to try writing different kinds of things, whether it be a web series or a draft of an XMen movie or a sitcom. I like trying different things and learning and trying to get better. With this, it’s a really fun adventure. It’s called Hitched, and it’ about 20-something newlyweds.
Bright Lights, Big City, based on the Jay McInerney novel, will be your first feature film. Any nerves kicking in yet?
Not yet. We haven’t been given the green light. I have so much anxiety day to day in TV land, my ulcer is torturous enough that I don’t try to add to it until absolutely necessary.