“Chuck vs. the Beefcake”
March 2nd, 2009
Two weeks ago, I spent a great deal of my review discussing what I feel is Chuck’s achilles heel, the relationship between Chuck and Sarah. I want to clarify that I am not against their pairing: Levy and Strahovski have great chemistry, both actors can bring great dramatic material to the table, and the show is often at its best when it is delving into their relationship. No, the problem is not the characters themselves, but rather the show’s lack of movement in terms of their relationship.
It’s becoming a cliche, in other words, and this episode was ultimately no different: just as Bryce interrupted their relationship by returning to the scene, and just as Jill’s return earlier in the season turned the tables on Sarah, here we saw an MI-6 agent weasel his way into their lives and offer a more accomplished, more suave and potentially more realistic pairing for Sarah Walker. There will come a point where they are going to have to actually fundamentally change their relationship in order to keep things interesting.
But I spent enough time two weeks ago complaining about this, and the end of this week’s episode seems to indicate that some changes are on the way. While I remain wary, I also have to be honest: the show has so much working for it right now that even episodes that feel like they’re relying too heavily on one of the show’s elements end up coming out, if viewed in isolation of recurring trends, pretty solid.
And this is no exception.
“Chuck vs. the Best Friend”
February 23rd, 2009
Utilizing every one of its regular cast members other than Big Mike, “Chuck vs. the Best Friend” is the kind of episode that demonstrates the show’s confidence within its second season. It connects all of Chuck’s various world in numerous different ways, allowing for the Buy More storyline to intersect with Awesome and Ellie while Chuck’s spy storyline intersects with Morgan and Anna’s on and off relationship that is currently in the decidedly off position.
And although the episode doesn’t deal with the show’s ongoing mythology, or introduce a new dynamic into Chuck and Sarah’s relationship, this is an example of a show that knows its identity and knows it well. To be fair the episode, it actually did some of the show’s best Chuck and Morgan material to date, and at a certain point you start to realize that even their mostly perfunctory bromance can be milked for some considerable drama in scenarios like this one.
If a show is going to have a “Flash of the Week,” it needs to do one of two things: make it stand out from an action/suspense point of view or connect it to the show’s characters. What Chuck has decided to do this season is show up every other show by doing both at the same time. It’s made for some darn great television.
“Chuck vs. The Suburbs”
February 16th, 2009
“We can’t go back there – it was just a cover.”
There has always been a certain question of how, precisely, Chuck is going to be able to manage to draw out the relationship between its eponymous hero and his handler/cover girlfriend Sarah. The “will they/won’t they” of the scenario could get old quickly, something that nobody really wants to see happen when Levy and Strahovski actually have a lot of chemistry and the episodes that focus on the intricacies of their relationship, like “Chuck vs. The Suburbs” are amongst the show’s most resonant.
The episode is a sign, though, that there is going to come a point where we can’t keep getting the same memo over and over again. While bringing Chuck and Sarah to the brink of a real relationship before tearing it away from them might have worked the first time around, or even the second, we’re getting to the point where it doesn’t really have the same impact. Changing their cover from “dating” to “married” and placing them in the confines of a happy suburbia with a golden retriever and a whole bunch of photoshopped photos of a happy couple is a pretty good setup for this part of the series’ identity, but I feel as if things are beginning to wear somewhat thin.
And yet, this is all in theory: in theory this episode shouldn’t work, its central theme of “we can’t return to something that wasn’t real” being something that the show has dealt with numerous times, but in practice Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski bring so much pathos to these scenes that it feels like the honeymoon is still ongoing long after the post-wedding bliss should have ended. And that’s a testament to the show’s quality, even if I feel they’re tempting fate at this point in the show’s run.
“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.