I read or heard somewhere that there are only a limited number of plots for television shows, or perhaps it was specific to sitcoms, and for some reason the number 81 sticks in my head. I have often looked for the reference and I can’t find it. If you have seen or heard this number, or a similar one, and know where it comes from I’d love to hear from you.
The reason I bring this up is that when I started watching the television show Chuck I really liked it. I had also been meaning to re-watch a favorite childhood show of mine, Greatest American Hero (GAH), which recently became available to stream over Netflix. I have wanted to write about the similarities between the shows for a long time, but the “sometimes you can be too close to something, Debbie” comment my English professor put on my paper in college in which I tried to explain how Quantum Leap was inspired by Beckett’s Waiting For Godot (Hello? Samuel Beckett?) had been holding me back.
And then I saw the Greatest American Hero wedding episode and I could wait no longer.
Please keep in mind that I am not an encyclopedia of either Chuck or Greatest American Hero trivia; these are general impressions. If I make a blatant error, please comment and I will correct it.
Chuck and Ralph
Ralph Hinkley and Chuck Bartowski are given the “red jammies” and the Intersect, respectively, seemingly out of the blue. They are average citizens when you meet them in the pilot episodes who are gifted with superhuman powers. They have to keep these powers hidden from most of the world while at the same time using them to do amazing things. They both have handlers who help them to use their new abilities, and these handlers work for federal agencies (FBI in the case of GAH; CIA and NSA in the case of Chuck). As the shows progress, they become more adept at using the powers that were given to them and become more of a partner to their handlers so that the dynamic is more that of a team.
Of course I will concede that Chuck can’t fly, nor is he bulletproof, but when you see Ralph use the suit to “image” something, it is very similar to Chuck’s ability to “flash” on people and things (especially in seasons 1 and 2). Also, they are both reluctant to get drawn into the world of their handlers, with Chuck’s ongoing reluctance to use lethal force and Ralph’s preference to use his powers to “save the whales” and clean up the environment.
John Casey and Bill Maxwell
Here you have two men who love Ronald Reagan and love their guns. They also serve as straight men to the physical comedy of Chuck and Ralph. They are both single guys who live alone in spartan apartments (although I haven’t seen John Casey eating dog biscuits yet), have an affinity for black clothing, and get more involved in Central American politics than is good for their health. They even get an episode dedicated to each of them where they fall in love with someone who turns out to be unattainable because she is a spy for another country. They also get an episode dedicated to each of them where they have a fake funeral to which almost no one shows up. They are basically the same guy separated by three decades.
Sarah Walker, Morgan Grimes and Pamela Davidson
This is a bit of an interesting one, and really shows the difference between a show made in the early 1980’s and a show made in the late 2000’s. In GAH, Pam Davidson takes on the role of both the best friend (Morgan Grimes) and the love interest (Sarah Walker) while being in on the secret of the super suit from nearly the beginning. Although she did participate as part of the crime solving team, she does not take part in the physical apprehension of bad guys (although Morgan rarely does so either).
Buy More Gang and Whitney High Delinquents
Every show needs a group of regular background players, and while the workers at the Buy More serve this role on Chuck, Ralph’s class fulfill the same purpose on GAH. Of course there are some cast members who get more screen time than others, like Jeff and Lester on Chuck and Tony Villicana on GAH. While the band Jeffster is a running theme on Chuck, the Whitney High kids only had one episode where their band got to perform on-screen.
Yes, Chuck’s mom is in it pretty deep with the bad guys, and Ralph’s mom only appeared in one episode, but in that one episode she ended up engaged to and almost marrying a guy who was acting as a courier for the bad guys.
And yes, then there were those weddings. That saves me, because I really can’t find a good parallel for Captain Awesome and Ellie from Chuck within the GAH pantheon. But at least the chaos of their wedding day is nearly identical to the chaos of Ralph and Pam’s wedding.
For those of you who are die hard fans of either (and especially both) shows, I have probably said something to offend you. Please set me straight. I am just amazed at all of the similarities. I can’t help but wonder if it was intentional, unconscious, or completely coincidental.