“Chuck vs. the Angel of Death”
January 11th, 2010
The unique two-night, three episode premiere has been a ratings success: the two hours last night scored the show’s best non-3D ratings since Season One, and while tonight will see a drop against intense competition from House, The Bachelor and How I Met Your Mother the show is still off to a good start.
However, creatively, the schedule is both blessing and curse: it allows the show to present a diverse set of circumstances rather than trying to start the show on a single episode which fails to capture the show’s wide-ranging quality, but it also means that certain thematic elements feel as if they’re being beaten into our skulls. “Chuck vs. the Angel of Death” is a spotlight episode for Ryan McPartlin and Sarah Lancaster, but it also reminds us that Sarah and Chuck’s “Will they, won’t they” relationship isn’t going away.
In the short term, the latter point may seem problematic, but the constant onstant reminders of Chuck and Sarah’s relationship would be more annoying spread out over several weeks, and right now the show isn’t being overrun by them: instead, the show is using it as a subtle complication of their working relationship, which takes a fun and adventurous story finally living up to Captain Awesome’s partial knowledge of Chuck’s vocation and having some fun with Casey (and Adam Baldwin’s history of revolution-inspired nicknames) in the process.
And so long as “fun” outweighs Chuck and Sarah’s relationship at the end of the day, the show is in great shape going forward.
“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 Dream Job”
April 6th, 2009
Chuck Bartowski really only wants one thing in life: to get the intersect out of his head. However, at the same time, there are things that he needs in his life that always take precedence, his relationship with his sister being one of them. The show has always played it fast and loose as it relates to the way in which Chuck’s life as a CIA asset interacts with his domestic sphere, but in this episode there is little to no Buy More, and we find instead the convergence between Chuck’s most pressing desire and his most constant duty.
The way “Chuck vs. the Dream Job” handles this is, for the most part, predictably solid: this is not a revolutionary hour for the series, both in how the episode was plotted and the level to which anyone with half a brain called its “big reveal” as soon as Orion came on the scene. However, the show deserves a lot of credit for turning the predictable into the effective, and for doing a bangup job with casting as expected: both Scott Bakula, late of NBC’s Quantum Leap, and Chevy Chase provide that ideal combination of levity and potential menace to their respective characters.
It’s also another sign that Zachary Levi perhaps deserves more credit than he gets for his role on the show – that he is able to switch from comic pratfalls to realistic romantic drama to this week’s quite nuanced self-discovery demonstrates that the show’s star is far from a one-trick pony. And while I love the show’s comedy, and appreciate its romance, I often like it best when it finds itself in the family dynamics, the drama built less on drawn out tension and more on the idea that this character was someone before he was the intersect, before his life was a TV show; and it’s that sense that convinces me above all else that a TV show should be his future as well.
“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.