(The premise of TV Deathmatch is explained here.)
Decision: Chuck > HIMYM
My reason for decision (as well as some thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the shows generally), after the jump.
RFD: This first Monday primetime edition of TV Deathmatch gives me an excuse to give some thoughts generally on Chuck and How I Met Your Mother, two (usually) well-executed and enjoyable but not (again, generally) particularly groundbreaking shows.
Yesterday’s HIMYM was pretty middle-of-the-road and serves as a pretty good example of both what I really like about the show, and what I find frustrating about it. You can really see the Letterman pedigree of Carter Bays and Craig Thomas shine through in an ep like Old King Clancy; in particular, it’s not hard to imagine the escalating list of Canadian sex euphemisms popping up as a Top Ten list on The Late Show. (This is a good excuse to link to this outtake featuring a brilliant Letterman impression by the Barnacle.) And, as others such as Alan Sepinwall have mentioned, the writers deserve credit for being pretty inventive in the structure of how stories are presented, both within an episode and over the course of a season (or series). (Also: Robin Sparkles. Brilliant.)
That said, I see two principal limitations on the show. The first limitation is that the stories themselves are often not particularly new or interesting; many of them are fairly shopworn situation-comedy tropes: last night’s was The Elaborate Lie to Protect the Friend. The result is that unless there’s something interesting going on with the story structure, the show can steer dangerously close to being little more than Friends + Alcohol: usually passable, and sometimes good, but rarely great. The other limitation is Ted: I understand that Ted is supposed to be earnest and idealistic, but too often, he just comes off looking like a giant douche, and I find myself not really caring much about whether Ted ends up finding someone, let alone who that someone turns out to be. Not sure whether that’s a problem in the writing, directing, or the acting, but it’s an issue, and, given that that’s the (ostensible) premise of the whole show, it’s a big one.
Now onto Chuck. I suppose, if HIMYM is an update of the standard multi-camera sitcom, Chuck is a standard spy drama, but with nerds (for lolz) and a better soundtrack. I don’t think anyone here is really trying to do anything brand new; it’s not like Chuck is the first show to explore the comedy potential of bad spy-age. What I enjoy about the show is that nearly all of the main and recurring characters are very likeable, and none more so than Chuck himself (except maybe Captain Awesome). (It’s a little ridiculous that nearly every episode includes a scene of Yvonne Strahovski in her underwear, but if that’s what it takes to make Zachary Levi look like a shlubby nerd, I’m not going to complain.)
So, back to last night: Both episodes appear to have been primarily designed to advance significant plot points for the main characters, without a whole lot else going on. A matchup on substantive plot points generally is not going to turn out favorably for HIMYM, particularly when the stories involve the main characters. The Canadian sex jokes were pretty good, but not enough to make up the difference. Chuck FTW!
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