“Chuck vs. the Anniversary”
September 20th, 2010
I didn’t realize it until I sat down to write this review, but I think this might be the last weekly Chuck review for quite some time here at Cultural Learnings.
This is not so much a reflection of the relative quality of “Chuck vs. the Anniversary” as it is a reflection of what kind of show Chuck has become over the past season. When I posted my review of NBC’s Chase earlier today, someone commented that Chuck similarly lacks character and consequence: they were joking, of course, but the latter point (consequence) stuck with me heading into tonight’s premiere.
This is still a show I enjoy, and a show I plan on continuing to watch, but I think Chuck has reached the stage where it no longer interests me critically. The season seems like it is onto a solid start, but it is a start which takes absolutely no risks, taking some potentially interesting new ideas and quickly absorbing them into the show’s existing structures.
And as pleasant as that is, I think it might be the point at which weekly reviews no longer feel like a good use of my time.
The problem with “Chuck vs. the Anniversary” isn’t the same sort of problem the show faced in its third season. There, the show seemed out of sorts and struggling to find itself amidst a shortened episode order, and so there was a clear narrative of creative sacrifices and the effects it had on the show’s narrative and its characters. When the show returned for its final six episodes (an extra order after the season was planned out), it was interesting in terms of how they course corrected: things were lighter, and more confident, and it resulted in a more pleasant experience. The third season finale, also, did some nice work stretching out the mythology and adding Chuck’s mother to the mix, giving the impression that the show was going to use this momentum to take things to the next level.
Instead, the show returned with more of the same, which pleases me as a viewer and bores me as a critic. Linda Hamilton is inspired casting, and the badass moments she gets at the end of the episode are enjoyable, but none of it seems to offer any sort of complexity. If anything, the world of the show has only gotten smaller with the CIA/NSA taking over the Buy More, and with Morgan now decidedly within the spy organization side of things. The episode tried to suggest that Chuck was feeling tension about being separated from Sarah and the spy game, but I didn’t feel any of that tension when the episode began: while separating Chuck and Sarah gave us the really fun sexting storyline, it didn’t give us anything more substantial than that, which feels a bit weird.
The episode had some serious issues with not quite resonating, in my books: the opening jaunt around the world may be easier to deal with when condensed into a red line jumping around on a map, but it makes it seem like no time has passed at all. And so it seems odd that Morgan would be a “real” spy, or that the Buy More would be fixed that quickly, or that Ellie could become pregnant. Chuck and Sarah’s separation doesn’t resonate either, which makes the entire episode feel more manipulated than usual. The show usually has a nice flow to it, where a single situation unfolds in predictable, and perhaps a bit silly, fashion, but here there was too much work being done in the script which didn’t resonate on screen. Moments like Chuck almost dying, or Chuck not having used his intersect powers in a long time, lacked meaning in the absence of this sort of resonance, which kept the episode from feeling like more than a pleasant introduction to the year ahead.
Everything just goes back to normal so quickly: Chuck’s back at the Buy More, the entire gang knows about the search for Chuck’s mother, and Chuck is back to lying to Ellie about his profession. The issue is that, despite the presence of new elements, this is really the status quo: none of these stakes are particularly new, and Chuck’s Mother is more personal but not necessarily more complex than any previous overarching serialized storyline that will be interwoven into the season. And while my love for the show’s characters will keep me watching despite this sort of similarity, as a critic I just don’t know if there’s anything more to say.
Perhaps the show will surprise me in the weeks ahead, but when I’m as busy as I am I think that Chuck is a logical blogging casualty – with Alan Sepinwall writing the seminal texts on the series each week, and with numerous other sites creating environments where fans of the show are able to discuss it in greater detail, I feel comfortable returning to the role of spectator with a show that might lose its lustre if I continue to hold it under the microscope in written form each week.
“Chuck vs. the Anniversary” is a solid premiere for a solid show, and that might just be the end of the story, for now.
- The Sexting storyline was a very smart choice, and it was integrated well into the episode: starts as humour, becomes about eye candy, and then becomes humour again for the climax.
- Bold choice to cut Jeffster out of the premiere, but it was one part of the episode I enjoyed: the show has bought into the hype with those two way too much over the past season, so I’m glad to see them dialed back (or out, in this case).
- That Chuck would be unaware of how much money was being spent seemed bizarre and silly: while his quest to find his mother showed devotion, perhaps cutting that trip as a desperate search instead of a comic excursion might have made Chuck’s blinders more logical.
- Not sure why Harry Dean Stanton and Dolph Lundgren needed to be cast in these roles, but both were quite fun.