In my Chuck book, I mention that my other favorite show is Buffy. I ran across this paragraph in a ‘cuts’ section of my manuscript. It needs elaboration, sure, but I thought it of interest.
Comparing Chuck to Buffy is useful in a variety of ways. Let me mention a few, briefly: (1) We might say that Buffy takes the ordinary, hurtful experiences of high school and college–the anxieties, fears and frustrations–and incarnates them as monsters, demons, vampires, ancient evils. Chuck takes the ordinary, hurtful experiences of our lives with ourselves and with others–the doubts, hesitations, confusions, and alienations–and amplifies them into exercises of spy-craft. (2) Buffy’s characters have a special lingo, an idiolect, all their own. The dialogue is often quotable for its own sake. Chuck’s characters, although they use the guild language of the intelligence community, have no special idiolect that is all their own. Appreciating Chuck’s dialogue turns almost wholly on the keeping track of (what J. L. Austin called) “the total speech act in the total speech situation”. That is a technical way of saying that we have to keep careful track of the context of what the speaker is doing with his or her words, both in their immediate conversational context and their context in the life of the speaker. We must attend to the full circumstances in which the words are said. This is true of Buffy too, but the point is that its dialogue achieves a kind of stand-alone significance that Chuck’s does not, and that can make Chuck’s dialogue seem less crafty and careful. But Chuck’s dialogue is crafty, although it does not exhibit all the dimensions of craftiness that the dialogue of Buffy does–and Chuck’s dialogue certainly is careful. (3) Whereas Buffy centers on no one single couple across its run, Chuck does. It follows the various ways in which its central couple, Chuck and Sarah, are together. The show is a grammar of togetherness, declining its inflections–its tenses and moods. If we consider Buffy’s many couples, including those in which Buffy is one half, but also those of other characters, we could say something similar of it. But Buffy assembles its grammar more loosely, less obsessively. Buffy, at the end of the day, concentrates on Buffy in a way that Chuck does not concentrate on Chuck.