Tag Archives: Casey

Chuck – “Chuck vs. the American Hero”

“Chuck vs. the American Hero”

March 29th, 2010

Sometimes, when critics receive episodes in advance and when previews run rampant online, those of us without those episodes and who choose not to watch those previews nonetheless hear the basic content of an episode. And when it comes to this week’s episode of Chuck, it was absolutely impossible to ignore the subject matter of this week’s episode.

What’s interesting is that these responses were both positive and negative: news that this episode would directly speak to Chuck and Sarah’s relationship tends to divide the Chuck viewership between those who are excited about it because it’s the reason they watch the show and those who are excited about it because it means they might finally get around to resolving this issue. While some live or die based on this story, most viewers tend to view it as a part of the show that’s fine in small doses, and fine in theory, but occasionally overpowers the rest of the show’s narrative.

And so episodes like “Chuck vs. the American Hero” are either the highlight of the season or a necessary evil in order for the show to keep on track heading into the rest of the year; in this case, after a bit of a rough start, the episode manages to prove engaging enough and twisty enough that any of my concerns with their relationship were (mostly) pushed aside for the time being.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Final Exam”

“Chuck vs. the Final Exam”

March 22nd, 2010

At its best, Chuck is a show where the stakes of a traditional spy show feel extraordinarily real: the whole point of the premise is that the things that happen in the show’s universe are dangerous and larger than life, but our protagonist is a regular guy who has a computer in his head that makes him a far more important asset than he was born to be. The show’s second season, where it reached the peak of its creative success, captured Chuck Bartowski coming to terms with the idea that being a spy might be what he was meant to be, and that there was the potential for the world of espionage to become “real” in a way he had never imagined.

But something went wrong at the start of the third season, to the point where I would argue that the show has diverged from the “real” not only in terms of believability (which isn’t new, considering the suspension of disbelief necessary in many of the spy stories) but also in terms of character. And while some would point to the Intersect 2.0 as a dehumanizing factor or the forced separation of Chuck and Sarah against the wishes of die-hard fans as reasons that the show is becoming less grounded, I would argue that it is something more substantial than that.

“Chuck vs. the Final Exam” is supposed to feel as if the stakes are higher than ever, even arguing that if Chuck fails this series of tests he will return to his normal life. However, it doesn’t feel like the stakes are higher than ever – things felt much more real, much more life-changing, when Chuck was reconciling family and country, when he was fighting for something beyond getting to be a “real spy.” The problem with this episode, and much of the third season, is that the struggle between who Chuck is and who Chuck is on the path to becoming has been said instead of shown, implied rather than demonstrated. And so rather than the show confidently or subtly introducing this tension, the show has thrown out the “real” Chuck and moved quickly and efficiently towards something that, while interesting, just isn’t as engaging.

It’s a move that would be necessary to cram this story into thirteen episodes, which may well be the root of my frustration with the show’s current trajectory.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Tic Tac”

“Chuck vs. the Tic Tac”

March 15th, 2010

There have been numerous traces throughout Chuck’s third season that the producers were really working overtime in order to get all of this material into thirteen episodes. This has been a tremendously consistent season from a thematic standpoint, to the point where it’s almost overwhelming: in case you haven’t realized it, the season is about Chuck’s changing identity and notions of trust and belief within our group of individuals.

“Chuck vs. the Tic Tac” is one of the most direct examples of an episode that isn’t about Chuck, perhaps, but is unquestionably part of this ongoing development. This is a Casey episode, and quite a good one, but it is actually probably the most subtle and effective movement in the Chuck/Sarah story that we’ve had in a while. When the show becomes “about” Chuck and Sarah, it sort of slows to a crawl; when it uses other stories to bring to light issues that help offer depth to that whole situation, it seems more natural, comes across as less dominant within the show’s universe.

This is a highly micro-managed episode, one which resists any sort of subtlety in its core story, but it does some nice work where it needs to, and I’ll forgive its bluntness due to its success at setting the show on the right course heading forward.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Fake Name”

“Chuck vs. the Fake Name”

March 1st, 2010

Reviewing Chuck isn’t quite as fun anymore.

That pains me to write, in a lot of ways, but there’s something about the show right now which has made the past few episodes seem particularly difficult to sit down and discuss. I’d love to say that it’s just residual effects of the Chuckpocalypse, so that I could blame that particular group of fans for my struggles, but I don’t think that’s all it is.

There is something about the show that’s missing right now, something that has little to do with Chuck/Hannah or Sarah/Shaw or any of the relationship drama that some seem so concerned about. And I don’t even think my problem has to do with character consistency, like the complaints that Chuck and Sarah are acting differently than they have in the past. I think the show has earned our patience on the former front, and in terms of the latter I think that it’s unrealistic to believe that these characters wouldn’t occasionally bottle up their feelings in a way that’s destructive in the long term but easier in the short term.

Rather, I think my problem has to do with the fact that this season has fingerprints all over it, too purposefully designed to drive the show to a particular point instead of allowing it to get there on its own. “Chuck vs. the Fake Name” has some nice comic moments, and sells its emotional side fairly well, but it’s one of many episodes this season that end up a bit anvil-like in terms of explaining the season’s central themes, while proving too subtle when it comes to actually justifying those themes from a plot or character point of view.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler”

“Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler”

February 1st, 2010

We like to talk a lot these days about shows in which the creators take control of their own destiny: Lost, for example, decided it was going to end the show at a certain point, and it gave them a clear goal to work towards, leading to some great dramatic television. It’s one thing to laud a show for making the right creative decisions in the moment, writing good plots and the like, but it’s another when they make decisions that affect the show as a whole in a way that helps steer the ship as they sail onwards.

“Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler,” while a somewhat weak episode in many ways, signals the start of the period where Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz are making a move to take control of their destiny. While the story of Chuck stepping further into the world of being a spy, in the process reflecting back on his own experience as an asset in his earliest days with the agency, is a bit on-the-nose thematically speaking, the episode lays the groundwork for the show’s biggest secret to be revealed.

Whether they actually go through with it is a completely different question, but the setup is under way, and it raises some questions of how the show plans on ending its third season, and whether the show will have the narrative drive to move onto a fourth.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. First Class”

“Chuck vs. First Class”

January 25th, 2009

One of the things that Chuck has always been good at is effectively telling the same stories without actually, you know, telling the same stories.

The show has always been about a hapless spy who oscillates between, to quote Daniel Shaw, “Bond and a Jerry Lewis Movie,” and whether or not Chuck is capable of handling himself has always been a point of tension. And yet after slightly more than two seasons, I still enjoy that dynamic, and feel as if the show has maintained the charm of Chuck’s incompetence without feeling as if he has made no progress. While Chuck has grown progressively more competent with time, including with his recent developments made possibly via the Intersect 2.0, his response has more or less been the same, and it’s allowed the character to grow without fundamentally changing.

So when “Chuck vs. First Class” starts with Shaw announcing that Chuck would be going on his first solo mission, I had to wonder whether the show was interested in upending the balance of these efforts, and whether Chuck’s success (since we knew he’d be successful) would lead to a newfound self-confidence or even cockiness.

However, the episode manages to offer a series of events that are absolutely familiar and yet which surround emotions and responses that reflect a growing emotional complexity in Chuck that shows maturity without taking away what makes the show work so well.

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Chuck – “Chuck vs. Operation Awesome”

“Chuck vs. Operation Awesome”

January 18th, 2010

Chuck, like any person with a secret identity or someone who lives a double life, is constantly forced to balance his friends and family from his normal life with his work for the CIA. And early in the show’s third season, the show has made this point especially clear with the integration of his brother-in-law Devon into the show’s espionage, which really highlighted how much more effective Chuck is because of the fact that he has a personal connection with particular missions. When he’s saving himself he overthinks and gets flustered, but when he’s saving someone he loves he is focused and capable of accessing the intersect and saving the day.

“Chuck vs. Operation Awesome” is positioned as the second part of last week’s investigation of these types of questions, and while there’s some leaps taken by the show’s writing staff in terms of getting the action rolling, the episode confirms how important those themes are going to be for the remainder of the season. Showing a tight narrative drive inspired, one presumes, by the initial short episode order (which was extended from 13 to 19 after these episodes were already finished and the season had been plotted out), the show intelligently positions a new character as a mediation on the same themes that matter most to its regular characters, and uses an exciting episode to introduce him into the fold.

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Season Premiere: Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Pink Slip”/”Chuck vs. the Three Words”

“Chuck vs. the Pink Slip”/”Chuck vs. the Three Words”

January 10th, 2010

“Trust me, Chuck – it’s all going to work out fine.”

The title of every episode of Chuck implies a conflict. It tells us that Chuck is in a constant state of opposition, and that this show is defined by the adversarial life Chuck lives, trapped between the job the supercomputer in his head forces him to do and the life he would be leading if it were not for that supercomputer. Much of the show’s best material, both comic and dramatic, comes when world collide, when the Castle invades the Buy More and when Ellie and Awesome become acquainted with Sarah and Casey.

And yet, so much of what makes the show work from a creative standpoint is that these elements aren’t in conflict at all. Although it may be tough for Chuck to reconcile these elements, keeping secrets from the people he loves most, the show has always been at its best when these worlds seamlessly become one and the show reflects the beautiful concert of spy and nerd, of friend and friendly foe (Casey), of real family and work family. And what holds it all together is that these are characters who have relationships, who relate to one another in ways that feel funny when they need to be funny, meaningful when they need to be meaningful, and difficult when they need to be difficult. This is a show that wouldn’t work were it not for these characters feeling part of the same world: a world with conflict, yes, but a world which never feels defined by that conflict, episode titles aside.

I say all of this both to celebrate the return of Chuck, and to recognize that the season’s key theme seems to be the characters themselves coming to term with the role that emotional connection plays in this universe. While some feared the show’s game-changing twist would fundamentally change the series’ DNA, it has instead done quite the opposite: the series’ DNA has stayed quite the same, and what’s changed is how aware the characters are of the ties that bind them together which go beyond job descriptions. In “Chuck vs. the Pink Slip” and “Chuck vs. the Three Words,” we discover that for Chuck to tap into all of the knowledge he has available, and for Sarah to discover what she wants to do with her life, all they need to do is realize that the very thing that they believe to be a source of conflict between them may be the one thing which solves their problems.

Which perhaps, in the process, solves the show’s biggest problem, at least for now, and gets Season 3 off to a rollicking start.

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Curse or Blessing?: Predictability in Reality TV – A Cultural Learnings Reality Roundup

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Curse or Blessing? Predictability in Reality TV

November 6th, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve stopped in with a Reality Roundup, which is symptomatic of the fact that my opinions about these three shows haven’t really changed. Survivor has been dominated by a single team to the point of proving downright uninteresting, Top Chef is still being dominated by the same four chefs, and Project Runway is something I didn’t even bother watching for a few weeks, choosing to read recaps instead. This hasn’t been a great season for any of the three shows on the level of really surprising me: in fact, they’ve all to different degrees become predictable (whether in which team will win, which chefs will dominate, and whether the show will be boring, respectively).

All three shows, however, feel ready to confront that sense of predictability in this week’s episodes, as Survivor rushes into a merge and Top Chef present a “volatile” Reunion special in an effort to shake things up a bit. And while Top Chef’s reunion show is predictably dramatic, Survivor’s merge episode is perhaps one of its best ever, unpredictable to the point of having no idea who is going home in the end.

And yet this leaves Project Runway, which has been predictably boring but almost entirely unpredictable in terms of the lack of consistent judging. As such, while the uncertainty of Survivor’s finale is downright exciting, the uncertainty surrounding who will be going to Bryant Park is actually problematic, and the end result dissatisfying if not necessarily wrong.

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Season Premiere: Greek – “The Day After”

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“The Day After”

August 31st, 2009

As one of the few critics who has spent a lot of time analyzing ABC Family’s Greek (although welcome Todd VanDerWerff to the club), I’ve been somewhat harsh on the main romantic element of the series. Casey, as a character, is trapped in a romantic spiral, and the show has spent far too much time humming and hawwing when it comes to her various entanglements. When Casey is actually with someone, the character is neurotic but in a way that seems productive: when she’s pining for someone or trapped in between two options, things because convoluted and almost seem to crawl to a halt. Greek is not so much a guilty pleasure as it is a very solid dramedy masquerading as a teen soap opera, but in these moments the show becomes the very definition of what its detractors (who haven’t seen the show) believe it to be.

However, I want to give them a fair deal of credit. “The Day After,” picking up the morning following the second season finale, spends a lot of time dealing with the relationship between Casey and Cappie, and in a way that I think really works. One of the problems some shows have when dealing with an inevitable coupling delayed by circumstance (See: Gilmore Girls) is that they’re secretly perfect for one another and yet just can’t seem to make it work. It means that when they do get together, when everything seems to fit, the show’s drama stops, and in order to prolong that drama one must contrive reasons for them to split regardless of logic…okay, Gilmore Girls rant over.

My point is that I like what they’re doing in the relationship between Casey and Cappie because of how flawed they would be as a couple, and how they’re not pretending that’s not an issue. Cappie is by far the show’s most interesting character, and the way he handles the aftermath of “The End of the World” demonstrates the complexity of Greek’s plan for their partnership. Yes, I still think the rest of the show is often more interesting, but if this is how Cappie is going to spend some of his time this season then I think my Casey bashing will be somewhat less as the year continues.

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