“Chuck vs. Santa Claus”
December 15th, 2008
When someone thinks of what a good Christmas episode should be, “Chuck vs. Santa Claus” will meet many of these criteria. It has plenty of jokes within the holiday spirit, characters dressed up in seasonal garb, generous samplings of Christmas-themed music, and the absolutely genius decision to have Reginald VelJohnson reprise his role as “Big Al” from Die Hard to go with the episode’s Christmas-themed hostage situation. In these moments this episode felt like what we all expected: one of the most funny and enjoyable shows on television delivering a note of holiday cheer.
But what we got was less an example of a good Christmas episode than it was a demonstration of Chuck’s ability to balance the emotional with the hilarious, the dramatic with the comic, and the danger with the laughter. When things seemed to be wrapping up too neatly at the halfway point of the episode, it became clear this was about something more: it was about learning how far people were willing to go to protect those they loved, and continued a long streak of fantastic dramatic work from both Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski.
It’s another fantastic episode, if not quite the one we expected, from a show that put together quite a great opening to the season.
“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 Versus The First Date”
September 29th, 2008
When the TV critics started receiving their screeners for the first three episodes of Chuck’s first season, there was a lot of very positive things being said about the show really flourishing in its sophomore episodes. When the first six episodes were watched by NBC, they saw enough growth to give the show its Back Nine before it even aired an episode. And when the first episode streamed on Hulu.com, iTunes and Amazon a week ago, reviews were simple: this is a show that knows where it’s going.
For those of us who followed it last year, this news is that much more welcome. This was a show that everyone kind of appreciated, whether it was Adam Baldwin’s angry John Casey, the charm of Zachary Levi’s Chuck Bartowski, or the beauty of Yvonne Strakhowski’s Sarah. The problem was that it felt like we were appreciating parts and not the whole: while there were building blocks that really clicked on an individual level, trying to find a balance between the spy antics, the interpersonal team dynamics between Chuck/Sarah/Casey, Chuck’s relationship with his family, and the antics of the Buy More employees was something that couldn’t be done in only twelve episodes of a strike-shortened season.
But Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak went back to the drawing board over the lengthy break, and they’ve come back with a bang: even with an “imposing” guest star, the need for heavy exposition to welcome back (or welcome in) viewers, and a lot of emotional baggage from last season, Chuck is at its finest for its premiere – if it can continue on this trend, this is (as many have called it) the show to watch in the coming season.