“Chuck vs. The Sensei”
December 1st, 2008
Any show coming out of a major story arc is going to have a bit of a tough time of their next episode. This isn’t to say that the episode is going to be bad, but rather that it’s inevitable: whether Lost after their premieres or Battlestar Galactica after its inevitable midseason pit stops, there’s going to be a point when the rising action has reached its climax and it’s too soon for the next story to really pick up.
This was, for Chuck, as good a time as any to return to the past of one John Casey, stern-faced Buy More employee in one life and…stern-faced NSA agent in the other. While I like seeing more of Casey, the episode spends a lot of time plainly stating that John Casey only has one speed: mad. There is no inner calm in John Casey, and while we get one moment of unquestioned humanity in the episode there is, for the most part, not going to be something approaching the emotional side that we get so often from Sarah.
But Adam Baldwin knows how to play mad, and the show knows how to balance an episode like this; while it doesn’t help it rise above the show’s standard this season, the choice to parallel Casey’s past with Ellie’s upcoming wedding and the pressures of in-laws offered a good chance for the storyline to slowly move forward even as Casey faces off against a familiar face from his past (and ours, as far as the TV spy game goes).
“Chuck vs. The Gravitron”
November 24th, 2008
The Jill Roberts-arc of Chuck was not what one would call new territory for the series, considering that Chuck’s past relationships from Stamford was such a focus of parts of the first season and earlier this season with the return of Bryce Larkin. The different of degrees, however, is that this is entirely Chuck’s burden: while Bryce had equal parts baggage as it related to Chuck and Sarah, Jill is all Chuck and therefore presents itself as his problem to handle. For two episodes, though, he’s melted into her arms only to have it all thrown out the window when he learns, as we did last week, that she is in fact a Fulcrum agent.
What “Chuck vs. the Gravitron” does so well is pit Chuck as much against himself than it does against Jill or against Fulcrum. While this entire season has been quite a fine showcase for Zachary Levi, this episode is a prime example of the kind of dramatic work that he is often required to bring forward in this type of role. His scenes with Jill this week followed exactly the arc they needed to: starting with terrified at the secret between them, moving into simple awkwardness, and then eventually turning into a realization that “the past is the past,” something that he hasn’t quite been able to do before.
And unlike some other shows, where burning through the built-in dramatic storylines leaves them nothing to accomplish, I get no sense from this episode that Chuck’s journey is complete, or that the season has no further direction. As it concludes Jill’s storyline on a high note, I have complete faith that they’ll find another one in a week’s time – and that’s the joy of Chuck right now.
“Chuck vs. The Fat Lady”
November 17th, 2008
One of the things that Chuck has done so well in its second season is the integration of all three parts of Chuck’s life, specifically how the Buy More and Friends/Family storylines have integrated (mostly) seamlessly into the cases that dominate the rest of Chuck’s time. “Chuck vs. The Fat Lady,” in many ways, is the toughest test of this yet: reintroducing Fulcrum in a big way, the show is given the task of personalizing a group that has remained very vague and poorly defined since the show’s first episode.
But, proving once again that it’s absolutely on the right path this season, the show demonstrates with a deft hand how it is able to personalize that which could seem impersonal, and familiarize storylines which could have felt even more diversionary. Capture under the theme of surveillance, the episode provides ample pleasures on every level: charactertization, eye candy, plot development and John Casey demonstrating his ability to hit a High C with only his pristine voice.
And that’s just fantastic stuff, there.
“Chuck vs. The Ex”
November 10th, 2008
If I was going to make one complaint about Chuck’s 99% sublime second season, it would be that we haven’t spent enough time on Chuck himself – sure, he had his crisis in the premiere, but the show has dealt mainly with his relationship with Sarah as opposed to really letting Zachary Levi cut loose in this role. While he is perhaps the most unsung hero of the show, Levi continually gives Chuck a certain humanity that makes this show work, quite simply – without him, I’m not sure it would be the show it has been so far this season.
As far as episodes go overall, this one was a bit slower and more open-ended than our last few, the multi-episode arc element meaning that we get only part of a broader story (plus, this week’s Buy More storyline was one of the weaker ones in a good season for the store). But the return of Jill, Chuck’s ex-girlfriend from Stamford who broke his heart by running off to Bryce Larking so soon after their breakup, is the kind of thing that lets Levi demonstrate that he is the heart of this show, an element that can often be forgotten when we’re running at the kind of breakneck speed this season has been maintaining.
And that’s what turns what could have felt like a slow, exposition-driven introduction to a new character into something so successful: sure, it’s a bit slower plot wise than anything we’ve seen lately, but the episode was so chock full of double entendres, stylish one-liners and hilarious iPhone photos that any loss of momentum is entirely negated. This is a show that can stop, detour, or hit any multitude of speed bumps, and something will be there to pick up the slack, what little of it there is.