Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Breaking Down (and Building Up) Chuck (2)

En route to writing my outline for a spec of the show, last Tuesday I posted my first pseudo-breakdown of a Chuck episode. Since then, I've managed to get my hands on a copy of the script of the Chuck pilot, so today I'm going to dissect that as best I can.

Please note that there are differences between this script and the pilot of Chuck that aired last fall.

This should be obvious, but there will be spoilers below.

Episode 101 - The Pilot

Short Description

In this episode, Chuck's old frenemy Bryce sends him an email that downloads every national secret ever into Chuck's head, which gives him super-spy knowledge, but not super-spy skills. Casey and Sarah battle over him and generally treat him like luggage (but really important luggage) until Chuck uses his new supercomputer brain to defuse a bomb and demands that let him keep living his normal-ish life.

Story Threads

For simplicity's sake, I'm gonna say that there are only A- and B-stories. However, it could be argued that the B-story can be split into two separate storylines--one focusing on Chuck applying for the management position and one focusing on Chuck's love life/getting over his old college girlfriend.

A - Chuck gets an email from Bryce that turns him into the Intersect and his normal life is turned upside-down as spies try to kill him, crazy image montages invade his brain, and he goes out on a date with someone way out of his league. Also, he learns to be a hero by defusing a bomb with porn. Like you do.

B - Super slacker Chuck finds enough courage to move on with his life by applying for a management position at work and (sort of) going for a hot girl he's been mooning after.

Length and Breakdown

Teaser - 8 pages, 7 scenes.
Act I - 17 pages, 15 scenes.
Act II - 10 pages, 11 scenes.
Act III - 11 pages, 7 scenes.
Act IV - 13 pages, 14 scenes.

54 scenes in 59 total pages, with a teaser and four acts. Pagewise, Act I is the longest and Act II is shortest, though Act III actually has fewer scenes than Act II.

(Note: my count probably isn't 100 percent accurate to what the script might consider "scenes" as I decided not to count every single slugline as a new scene, and a few scenes did not have sluglines.)

The stories are organized as follows:

A-story - 38 scenes/beats.
B-story - 20 scenes/beats.

Teaser - A, A, B/A, B, B, B, A.
Act I - A, A, A, A, A, A, A, A/B, B, B, B, B, A, A, A.
Act II - A, A, A, A, A, B, B, B, A, A, A.
Act III - B, B/A, B, A/B, A, A, A.
Act IV - A, A, A, A, A, A, A, A, B, B, A, B, B, A.

(Note: where beats include a / mark, this means that the scene has elements of both stories. When this happens, I'm putting the story that the beat gives preference to as the first story. In the scene/beat count above, every appearance of A or B is counted as one full beat rather than a half, even if there is a slash mark.)

Generally speaking, it's a B sandwich with lots of A breading surrounding it. The teaser and every Act except for III begins and ends on the A-story. Stories also tend to come in clumps; several A beats followed by several B beats.

Findings of Interest

Based on this and my previous breakdown of episode 113, here are some things that seem to be fairly typical structurally for Chuck:

Two stories, an A and a B, with elements of arguable C-stories.
A heavy focus on the A-story.
An A-story that focuses on the spy story of the week and a B-story that focuses more on character, but is generally still intertwined with the A-story (in theme, plot or both).

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