Like all great creative brainstorms, this Monday (Feb. 2) night’s 3-D episode of “Chuck” was born from the desire to emulate a Dennis Quaid horror movie from the ’80s.
“It was actually presented to us,” explains “Chuck” co-creator and executive producer Josh Schwartz. “NBC came to us sometime in the fall and asked if we’d like to do a 3-D episode of ‘Chuck’ and we said ‘Yes… Absolutely… 100 percent.’ Because I remember how impacted I was by seeing ‘Jaws 3-D’ as a kid and the severed arm floating off the screen at me after Jaws chomped it. That was before Jaws got personal, by the way, in ‘Jaws 4.’ I wanted America to have that same experience.
Schwartz adds, “Chris Fedak and I were super-excited about the opportunity. We knew, even before the show premiered in the fall, that it was going to be a challenge based on going off the air for the strike, so we wanted to have every bell and whistle in our arsenal.”
“Chuck Versus the Third Dimension” comes at a key juncture for “Chuck.” Facing a jam-packed Monday 8 p.m. hour, “Chuck” has yet to fully deliver on its ratings potential this season, despite increased critical adoration. Dedicated fans haven’t had a new episode since the hostage crisis hour “Chuck Versus Santa Claus,” which aired back on Dec. 15.
“We just wanted to do a big fun episode of the show, that was really sort of your classic ‘Chuck’ plot,” Schwartz promises. We’re hopeful that there will be some sampling of the show from audiences who haven’t watched the show for a while or have never seen the show, so we didn’t want to make it heavily mythologized… which is coming. At the same time, we wanted to give fans and viewers of the show something as well. There is advancement of the story.”
Once the network suggested the 3-D option to the “Chuck” team and once Schwartz and Fedak jumped at the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of “Jaws 3-D,” the question became how to take advantage of the technological leap.
“We knew in Jeff in 3-D kind of sold itself,” Schwartz deadpans. “Big Mike eating a donut in 3-D would be good. And then we probably needed to do some bigger stuff like knives coming at you and Chuck jumping off a skyscraper onto a glass elevator in his underwear and lots of women in their lingerie seducing you in 3-D.”
Learning to use the technology on a narrative level was one thing. Learning to master it on-set provided additional complications.
“It’s not easy,” Schwartz acknowledges. “The cameras are much much better than they’ve ever been, but it’s still a slower filmmaking process, so we couldn’t get as many set-ups in a day as we wanted to. That being said, it’s definitely moving very quickly in the direction of being very easy to use, certainly for a movie. With a TV schedule, you have to move so quickly, but once our director Robby McNeill, we were able to move very very fast. The other big issue now is the glasses. We’ve seen the show through the really good polarized glasses and then there are the paper glasses they’re handing out for the Super Bowl and there’s some variation there, but I think overall it’s really fun and effective. The good news is that if you don’t have glasses and you don’t like 3-D, the show looks good in 2-D, it doesn’t look like the old version when you’d watch something in 3-D and it’d be all blurry. It looks a lot like the show.”
And it will feel a lot like the show.
“It’s straightforward in the sense that Chuck happens upon a case, gets a flash, has to insert himself into the case. It’s a standalone case in that regard, though there’s a lot of fun to be had inside of that,” Schwartz says. “We really wanted to do what felt like a classic ‘Chuck’ episode, so you could watch the show if you’d never seen it before and understand what the premise was. That being said, there’s still a lot of serialized elements involved in the show, including the Chuck-Sarah relationship coming out of the Christmas episode.”
Teasing for the future, Schwartz says, “The first two episodes back are more standalone, though again moving forward some of the serialized emotional components of the show and then we begin a series of more interconnected episodes that are really going to start to reveal a larger mythology for the show and I think are the coolest run of episodes that we’ve ever done.”
“Chuck Versus the Third Dimension” airs on Monday night at 8 p.m. on NBC.
For more from my interview with Josh Schwartz, check out the full Q&A at The Fien Print.