By pretty much any standard, last week’s episode of “Chuck” was jam-packed, what with the bad guys being taken down, Chuck (Zachary Levi) proposing to Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) and Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) giving birth. But according to co-creator Josh Schwartz, “Chuck vs. the Push Mix” actually left a few things out.
“Eleven episodes’ worth has been left out,” Schwartz tells Zap2it, referring to the final 11 episode of Season 4 that start Monday (Feb. 7). “Plus another season.”
Wait — another season? Does Schwartz know something the rest of us don’t?
“No, no, not at all,” he says. “I’m just saying we’ve got enough. We’ve got enough gas in this tank.”
Any news about Season 5 is still a good ways away, but Schwartz and “Chuck” co-creator Chris Fedak have a lot to say about the rest of Season 4, including the returns of Linda Hamilton and Timothy Dalton and parenthood issues — among other things — for Ellie and Awesome. Here are some highlights from Zap2it’s interview with the duo.
Zap2it: The situation with the back-11 order this season is pretty similar to what you went through last year, right?
Chris Fedak: Yes. We had an order for 13 episodes, so we broke a very tightly plotted 13 episodes that we wanted to culminate with Ellie giving birth and Chuck proposing to Sarah. So we were kind of tied into that structure.
Josh Schwartz: Me being the negative Nelly I am, I told Fedak to put it all in [episode] 13. “That’s it — there’s no way we’re going to get more episodes again.” Luckily he didn’t listen to me.
Fedak: [Laughs] Josh wanted to have the wedding in 13 as well.
When you get an order for more episodes sort of late in the game, how do you handle it? Do you just go scurrying back to the writers room?
Fedak: We’re always scurrying back to the writers room. That’s pretty much the usual for us.
Schwartz: Fedak is one of the best scurriers in the business.
Fedak: We have big arcs and shapes we’ve been talking about for the last couple of years. So last season we put Chuck and Sarah together at the end of episode 13, and we knew we wanted to do a show about Chuck and Sarah as a couple. So we took those back six episodes and focused on that part of the story. This year, with Chuck and Sarah engaged, it’s a new season in a way.
With episode 14 and on, we’re kind of relaunching the show, and we’re doing it with a couple of really fun, action-packed episodes. The last couple episodes have been very mythology-oriented — we’ve taken on Volkoff, we had the mom story. So now we’re launching Season 4.2. This part of the story is the team in action again. … We have big mythology we’re heading to, but it’s kind of fun to reset and do some standalone missions.
Schwartz: We also have Sarah as a belly dancer coming up. That should be enough.
Fedak: It will erase your mind.
Will Linda Hamilton and Timothy Dalton be back on the show?
Fedak: Linda is definitely returning to the show — she’s actually in [Monday’s episode]. And Timothy is also returning.
Do you have a timetable for his return?
Fedak: We’re working on that now, but both will be in multi-episode arcs.
You can’t leave Volkoff alive and just have him disappear, I guess.
Fedak: Once you have Timothy Dalton — he’s just been so wonderful. When you talk about scurrying back to the writers room, after we watched the first episode with him, we were so excited because it gave us the opportunity to build out that character some more. So [having] 11 more episodes, we definitely wanted to bring Volkoff back and have some more fun.
What’s your philosophy on mixing in standalone episodes with the bigger arcs?
Schwartz: The bigger stories have great momentum to them and great traction to them. It’s sometimes a function of the number of episodes per season — you need to have standalone episodes. But some of those standalones have been some of our favorites. When we first started the show, we were asked to rely heavily on standalone episodes, because there’s this philosophy that people are finding the show for the first time over the first handful of episodes.
But when we locked into that first run of mythology episodes, around episode six of the first season, that’s where the show really found its creative footing and where people got invested in a real emotional way. So those arcs are always very successful, but some of those standalones have been some of the classic “Chuck” episodes.
Fedak: We love both [types of episodes]. And we also like to build our mythology episodes so there’s at least some standalone component to them. The mission is something you can watch and not totally be tied into the arc of the show. But when it comes to having fun, the standalones give us an opportunity to break out and try something on for size.
Is it kind of like an “X-Files” approach then?
Fedak: I think we might do more mythology episodes than “The X-Files” did. … In Season 1 we really got into how many would be standalon and how many would be [arced]. But like Josh said, [the ongoing story] was something the audience latched onto. … It was exciting for us because it allowed us to do those kinds of episodes.
Schwartz: And you get to dig deeper, you have more emotional repercussions, the world of the characters becomes richer. There are so many things about it that are exciting. But it’s scary too, because you’re saying to the audience, “This train is not going to the same stop every week, so if you’re on the train you’ve got to stay on.” When a show decides to leave its episodic nature behind and embrace more serialized storytelling, creatively it’s very rewarding. In terms of viewership, you never know. So as Chris said, we’re thrilled the audience wanted to take that ride.
Now that Chuck and Sarah are engaged, is either of them going to be extra-eager to plan the wedding?
Fedak: We have a really exciting picking-out-china sequence. … Whenever you’re getting married, there are crazy things that happen. It’s one of the most stressful times in any couple’s life. What’s fun for us is to turn that into, what’s the exciting spy version of that? How do we fold it into Chuck’s spy life? As well as the fact that Sarah is a superspy — the more we bring her into the kind of human world of Chuck, it’s exciting to see the woman behind the superspy mask that is Sarah Walker. It’s another great opportunity for us to continue to explore our characters.
How will having a baby affect Ellie and Awesome [Ryan McPartlin]?
Fedak: It’s funny, because in my personal life, I have a daughter named Clara …
Schwartz: Nepotism! [Note: The baby in the show is not Fedak’s daughter; she’s just named after her.]
Fedak: That’s definitely part of the family story. “Chuck” is not just about the spy world; it’s
also about the family life. And the fact that there’s a new Woodcomb who’s part of the Bartowski family is an exciting change to the show. But there are other things going on with their lives. We have some neat stuff in the back 11 — and the spy world isn’t done with them. A lot of what we’ve done this season is to explore the spy world from a family perspective, so we’re going to have some very interesting stuff come up for Ellie and Awesome, and how they may perhaps, in their own way, get into a bit of trouble.
And since Ellie just had a baby on screen, can we assume you won’t write Sarah’s real-life pregnacy into the show?
Fedak: We’ll be shooting around it a little bit.
Are there any remnants of the Buy More as a CIA front?
Schwartz: Greta will all be explained soon enough.
Are there other Gretas coming in?
Schwartz: Some classic Gretas [namely Stacy Keibler and Isaiah Mustafa] will be returning, and the whole Greta operation is going to pay off. In a satisfying way, don’t you think?
Schwartz: What was designed once as shameless stunt casting to keep ourselves alive will pay off in a creatively satisfying way.
Fedak: That was a fun thing. It started off as a lark … then as we kind of got more into it, we decided to build it into the mythology of the show. We have some stuff coming up that explains what Greta was all about.
What about the weaponry that was built into the store? Is there any chance that, say, Jeff or someone could accidentally trigger it?
Fedak: I’d say it’s pretty well secured, but you never know.
“Chuck” continues its season at 8 p.m. ET Monday on NBC.