“Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer”
Season Two, Episode Five
Airdate: October 27th, 2008
Entering into its second season, the expectations for Chuck were low. A smart show that never got beyond its initial 13-episode order in its first season thanks to the writers’ strike, its return was unheralded: by NBC, by critics, and by viewers.
But slowly but surely things started to change: critical praise of the season’s first few episodes proved more than warranted, NBC ordered an additional nine episodes before the premiere aired, and a fairly devoted set of fans emerged to herald the show’s quality. While good in its first season, the consensus was clear: it was downright great in its second.
And while there are a number of episodes that I wanted to select here (Not picking something out of the Jill arc feels especially false, and the execution on “Chuck vs. Santa Claus” was perhaps the best of the year), I polled the group over at the NeoGAF thread about the show and their thoughts coincided with my own: while the season has been extremely solid thus far, there is no better example of the show’s sophomore surge than “Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer.”
The reason is quite simple: the show, before this point, had never felt so confident. This wasn’t a show treading lightly with its myriad of video game references, or one where the writers room shot down the Zune joke for being too obscure for a mainstream audience. The show had certainly featured its supporting players in key roles before, but even I had no idea how much I wanted to see Jeff let loose to pass out, get lost, and create hilarious stalker videos of co-workers.
While other episodes in the season felt more important to the show’s broader trajectory, and certainly did more to build the show’s characters, “Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer” is nonetheless my favourite thus far. It has Sarah in a Nerd Herd uniform for the sex appeal, a “King of Kong”-inspired final sequence for the nerd audience, and nonetheless embodies one of the season’s real breakthroughs: no longer just a means to an end, Chuck here is at the very center of the threat against Los Angeles, and he is very much responsible for its safety while commanding this missiles.
While I believe that anyone not yet on the Chuckwagon should start from the beginning, even if the 1st season isn’t quite as good as the 2nd, I nonetheless might sit them down in a room, pop on this episode, and give them a sense of what they have to look forward to. Other episodes were more emotional, or even funnier, or perhaps even more accomplished, but there was none that better embodied, in my mind, why Chuck is the season’s greatest success story.
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