“Chuck vs. the Ring”
April 27th, 2009
“Go with your heart, buddy – our brains only screw things up.”
In considering “Chuck vs. the Ring,” a title with two very different meanings, I think it’s important that we acknowledge just how amazing the accomplishment of the Chuck staff is when it comes to pulling off some of the most expansive material for a dramedy of this nature.
The first half of this episode is more or less an episode in its own right, one laden with numerous jokes, an amazing appearance by Jeffster, and what feels like a climax in and of itself. What is interesting is that, by the end of the episode, that storyline felt miles away, overshadowed by an amazingly epic conclusion that potentially changed everything. However, simultaneously, it was highly memorable and containing some of the best jokes in the episode. But when those elements would have felt overbearing, such as during that epic conclusion, they faded effortlessly into the background, never feeling separate but also never feeling like they were fighting in the same space.
It’s such an amazing balancing act, and when everyone in the cast is on fire, and when the writing is off the charts, and when Jeffster soundtracks an entire sequence with “Mr. Roboto,” it’s an example of how Chuck may not aim as high as some of the stronger dramas on television, or embrace absurdity as much as some of the biggest comedies, but in doing what it does I don’t feel there is a single other show that is this capable of executing this level of brilliance.
Forget about save Chuck – let’s praise Chuck for a while, and think with our hearts instead of our brains.
“Chuck vs. The Lethal Weapon”
March 9th, 2009
Well, the second time’s the charm.
See, immediately upon watching last night’s episode of Chuck, I found myself preoccupied with just how similar it was to last week’s episode: it involves the same guest character (MI-6 agent Cole Barker), and the ways in which that character interacted with the group were more or less along the same lines. However, I soon realized that the sense of deja vu I was getting wasn’t making me think less of “Chuck vs. The Lethal Weapon,” which came together as a rather great episode by the end of the day, but rather I was kind of even more frustrated with “Chuck vs. the Beefcake,” last week’s tepid and repetitive story.
That’s not fair to “Chuck vs. the Lethal Weapon,” where everything from last week is that much better due to a decision to pair Chuck’s efforts to get Sarah Walker out of his head with his equally strong desire to get the intersect out of there as well. It means that Chuck isn’t just lovelorn or sad about his current existence, but rather that he is striving for a future, hoping for a chance to be normal. It’s something the show felt like it put on the backburner recently, and returning to it in earnest (and, at episode’s end, with a pretty substantial reveal) makes yet another trip to the relationship well completely justified.
“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. 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 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.