January 26, 2010

Chuck: "Chuck vs. First Class"

"Is this your first mission?"

"First Class" is another good, solid, if generally unremarkable entry in Chuck's Season 3. Unlike last week, we generally know all the players on the spy side of this one going in. The curve ball is that Agent Shaw has decided that Chuck's handlers are coddling him and that he is ready for a solo mission on a transatlantic flight to Paris. The mission itself involves the (by now) usual assortment of spies, guns, MacGuffins, prat falls, and general comedy, as Chuck attempts to secure a "Crypto Key" from a Ring operative, while maintaining some semblance of cool with the beautiful girl seated next to him in first class (Smallville's Kristen Kruek). Like last week, this "A" plot maintains the feel of a good spy caper, without delving too long or too deep into the realm of the farcical.

The same can't be said for the Buy More plot line.

At the Buy More, Morgan, having fired (and rehired) Lester in "Operation Awesome" finds himself the target of innumerable pranks at the hands of his charges. Unable to cope, he turns to Casey to help him deal with the problem. Casey in turn, decides to treat Lester as a prisoner of war, brain washing him to believe that Morgan is a fantastic boss. While I can appreciate what the writers were trying to do in setting up an interesting (and rarely seen) Casey/Morgan combination, the plot simply doesn't go anywhere and (worse) isn't funny or interesting. Casey does get to grunt a lot, though, and Casey grunting, is always amusing, in any context.

What you may have noticed above, is that I didn't mention anything having to do with Sarah. With Chuck stuck on a flight to Paris and Sarah stuck in Castle, there really wasn't much for her to do save be lectured by the increasingly aggravating Shaw (and engage in this episode's manifestly ridiculous spy activity. See below.). As was hinted at last week, Shaw was apparently married to a fellow spy, who then lost her life. Shaw never forgave himself, and apparently has made it his mission to prevent romantic entanglements at all levels of the CIA and NSA. Of course, some would say that it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but Shaw evidently doesn't see things that way, and he's determined in his myopia to ensure that no one else experiences the love and affection that he once shared with his wife. As I said: increasingly aggravating.

So like "Operation Awesome", "First Class" gives us a generally fun spy caper with an abysmal Buy More plot line. That being said, the good definitely outweighed the bad, and I can't say that I didn't have fun watching it last night.

My Quick Thoughts

Intersect Control: One of the main plot lines running throughout Season 3 has been the ability (or inability) of Chuck to control the Intersect 2.0 inside of him. Up until now, we have mostly been shown that Chuck lacks the ability to flash when he's nervous or "freaked out". This condition is at least somewhat alleviated by Sarah, who allows him to calm down and fully harness the Intersect's skills. In "First Class", however, we see an increasingly nervous Chuck (one act break even has Chuck proclaiming out loud how "freaked out" he is) harness the Intersect without Sarah's support not once, but twice. Is this just lazy script writing, or are we to now assume that the Intersect is more or less random in it's ability to give Chuck powers?

UFO Identified: In "Three Words", Team Bartowski recovered what was intimated to be a Ring weapon in the form of a silver, UFO-looking thing in a golden suitcase. In this one, that UFO is revealed to be an elaborate safe deposit box holding information that Shaw's wife had gathered on the Ring. Why was Beckman so concerned about the UFO's impact on Team Bartowski in "Three Words"? How pertinent could the information be if Shaw's wife died a while back? Why was Chuck not allowed to examine it prior to this episode? Your guess is as good as mine loyal readers.

Superfriends: So, last week I jokingly referred to Agent Shaw as Agent Superman owing to the fact that he is played by Superman Returns' Brandon Routh. With the reveal at the end of the episode that Kristen Kruek (Smallville's Lana Lang, Superman's original love interest) would be joining the show for at least one more episode, it's getting to be a cross-media Superman extravaganza at the Burbank Buy More. Bring on General Zod!

Hannah for Anna: One of the casualties of getting NBC to pick up Chuck after last season was the loss of Anna as a member of the Nerd Herd. Ever since, the Nerd Herd has lacked that certain feminine charm that only Anna brought to the proceedings. Hopefully that charm will be restored and Hannah will stick around for a little while, though I am already fearful of the next in a long line of discussions between Chuck and Sarah explaining how he needs a real girlfriend. Oh the angst!!!

Luck be a Lady: Okay, so my wife enjoys a Zachary Levi smile as much as the next girl, but you have to admit that Chuck has an inordinate and somewhat unbelievable ability to charm beautiful women with little more than his charisma. I mean who needs John Laroquette if Chuck can pick up girls like Yvonne Strahovski and Kristen Kruek on a regular basis. Chuck should be teaching him!

Secret Identity: Maybe it's not that big of a deal, but I couldn't help but inwardly wince when Chuck was opening up so much to Hannah. Then, when, towards the end of the episode, he hands her Morgan's card at the Buy More, I thought he must be out of his mind. Even if he didn't use his "Carmichael" cover specifically on her, if she ever shows up in Burbank (as she did at the very end of the episode) there's too many things that won't add up, or otherwise put his operation in danger. I'm not saying that Hannah is a spy (because at some point not everyone in Chuck's life can "surprisingly" turn out to be a spy), but my God man, you have to be more careful with your identity, especially when you know there were at least two Ring agents on that flight.

Pilot Error: So this week's ridiculous spy activity centered around Sarah digitally taking control of the flight Chuck was on, and then rocking the plane back and forth to throw his enemies off balance. How did she know this would improve the ordinarily klutzy Chuck's position? I can't be sure. Of course it does, but that seems more lucky than prescient. How did Sarah know she wasn't going to knock a luggage rack onto Chuck's head rather than on those of his captors? I would have rather seen Chuck get out of his situation with ingenuity and resolve rather than by this cheap, nonsensical fix. Of course the whole thing was only compounded by Shaw's arrogant claim that the pilots would never even know they were there after it was all over. Never know they were there?!? The whole plane pitched forward to provide "negative Gs"?!? What do the pilots think happened? The rapture?

God Loves You as He Loves Jacob: My wife pointed out that the hypnosis Casey inflicted on Morgan reminded her of the mind-control room the Others had on Hydra island. Of course, the result of that mind control was a bit more "realistic" in that Alex's boyfriend wasn't immediately rendered mentally incompetent. Instead, the Chuck writers elected to go the Saved by the Bell route, and have Lester be utterly controlled by Casey and his subliminal messages. Not the choice I would have made.
More after the jump...

January 19, 2010

Chuck: "Chuck vs. Operation Awesome"

"One of them looks like a spy, the other looks like Chuck."

Now that was an enjoyable episode. Though it suffers a bit from a fairly lackluster ending, "Operation Awesome" is, for the most part, a twist and tension filled spy caper which fits in quite well with some of the best episodes of the series. Finally, we get to see Chuck take on the role of real spy (if only by comparison to the hilariously incapable Captain Awesome) and really succeed at it. Sure, he compromises the mission, but it's because of his love for his family, and that I can get behind.

More importantly, he didn't compromise the mission in any of the ways we've seen him do it in the past. He didn't get over-nervous, or dawdle, or leave "the car" simply because he wanted to be involved. He didn't get distracted, or anxious, or profess his love for his handler in the middle of a mission. Instead he took action to save Devon when it was apparent that the CIA/NSA was going to sacrifice his brother-in-law's life in the same way they sacrificed his. Sure his plan to lure the Ring's evil assistant district attorney (apologies to both Angie Harmon and Law & Order) out of hiding was ludicrous and ill-conceived, but he actually did something and he used his natural skill set to do it. That is a Chuck we can all get behind.

And while Agent Shaw (played by Superman Returns' Brandon Routh in what may be a long-lived guest stint) was no doubt perturbed by Chuck's apparent willingness to risk his handlers for his own personal gain, just what he was thinking leaving Chuck to die is anyone's guess. It makes you wonder if he really does "know everything" or if perhaps studying and obsessing over The Ring has lead to something a bit more dangerous for Team Bartowski.

Overall, a great episode, and I can't wait to see what's in store for next week.

My Quick Thoughts

Don't Talk About Fight Club: While I understand that it's relatively impossible for the writers to work in Buy More plot lines without making Burbank seem like the spy-equivalent of Sunnydale's Hellmouth, the Fight Club plot line in this one was ludicrous, and since the only impact it had on Chuck's story was to grant him an electric fence at the most opportune time, it simply wasn't worth it. It was nice to see Morgan take on a role of greater responsibility as Assistant Manager, but I would rather have seen him exert his authority in a better storyline.

Duck Hunt: In a show like Chuck, plot holes really aren't a problem, but I still can't help wondering, like I did in my review of "The Three Words", just how the Intersect 2.0 works. In this one, Chuck tranq-gun massacres a whole team of security guards using his Intersect 2.0 powers. When asked by Devon about whether his abilities came from his spy training, Chuck demurs by telling him instead that it was "Duck Hunt." Now, it seems likely that even though Devon knows Chuck is a spy, he doesn't know about the Intersect, and Chuck would want to keep it that way. Still, since Devon gave him the perfect opportunity to explain his prowess by asking about Chuck's training, why then does Chuck offer a video game as the explanation unless his Duck Hunt prowess has something to do with it. It's possible that as the season goes on we will see that the Intersect 2.0 can only get Chuck so far, that he still has to rely on certain portions of his own skill set to survive. In my opinion, that would be a pretty cool direction to take. (I recognize, by the way, that the exchange was largely in service to setting up Chuck's amusing response, but that doesn't stop me from thinking about these things.)

A Set-Up?: What exactly happened in that scene where a malevolent Angie Harmon passes directly in front of Sarah and Casey. It appears that the General locks the two in the van, before admitting that the whole thing is a set-up. Since this isn't further addressed on the show (and since Sarah and Casey are still listening to the General when she turns the reigns over to Agent Superman), I think we have to assume that the General was referring to Shaw's plan to get shot after taking a heart stopping pill (in order to get Devon into the Ring). Speaking of that plan, it doesn't really make a lot of sense for Shaw to ask Chuck to kill him, since the shot needs to actually miss the heart for the plan to work (the pill only prevents someone from realizing that Shaw's alive, it doesn't protect him from getting shot in the heart). This works fine once Shaw takes the gun himself, but what was he thinking asking Chuck to "kill him" without any further explanation? The whole sequence seemed pretty cool at the time, but it wasn't terribly well thought out (or explained by the writers) when you really think about it.

Superman Returns?: Since Agent "Superman" Shaw was introduced in this episode as essentially joining Team Bartowski, it seems safe to assume that he is going to be on the show for an extended stay (I don't look at casting rumors if I can help it, so if you know differently don't tell me). I don't mind the change in dynamic over the short run, but Agent Shaw is going to have to contribute a bit more if wants to make his guest stint permanent.

You were Attacked by a Bear!: I don't know whether this is a compliment or an insult to Sarah Lancaster's acting as Ellie, but when she gave the aforementioned exclamation as a response to a portion of Devon's long-winded and partially insane explanation for where he was the night before, I couldn't tell whether she was simply overacting or whether she was "acting" because she had ascertained that Devon was selling her a pile of BS. Her expression was great, and it was a relief when she came out and asked the boys if they thought she was an idiot, because otherwise I was a little concerned that the whole show had devolved into a true farce.

He Kind of Ruined It A Little Bit Didn't He?: Since the General fairly definitively prevents Team Bartowski from apprehending Angie Harmon by locking them in their van, it seems that the whole point of the events in this episode was to get Devon installed as a member of The Ring. Without a doubt Chuck destroyed that plan, first by stealing the phone, then by allowing it to be destroyed when he could have killed The Ring Agent. I wonder how the U.S. Government feels about that.

To Catch an Enemy SuperSpy: Nice symmetry to last year's Christmas episode when Chuck calms Devon by telling him that Team Bartowski caught the bad guys. In point of fact, poor Angie Harmon was shot in the stomach by Superman, and while you could call a point blank killing "catching" a bad guy, there's no question that Devon won't be envisioning it in his head the way it actually went down. Exactly the same as when Sarah killed the Fulcrum agent outside the Buy More to protect Chuck's identity, before telling him that the agent had been arrested. This time, though, it's Chuck who's protecting a loved one's innocence through deception. Like I said, nice symmetry.

The Ring's The Thing: Also a nice image in the last shot of Agent Superman. Though we know very little about Shaw at this point we know from that last shot that he once was married/to be married and that he still obsesses about it (he was carrying the ring with him on assignment). It seems that Agent Shaw just can't help obsessing over rings, whether comprised of enemies to the republic or otherwise.
More after the jump...

January 13, 2010

Chuck: "Chuck vs. The Angel De La Muerte"

"You're an adventure-sports cardiologist."
"Whatever, man. I could do that in my sleep."

And so we reach the final third of our two-day, three-hour Chuck mini-bender, and like the previous episode, Chuck vs. The Three Words, this one mostly finds Chuck in situations similar to those we've seen him in before but with an outside figure altering the team's dynamics. In "Angel De La Muerte", that outside figure happens to be Chuck's brother-in-law: Captain Awesome (a.k.a. Devon Woodcombe).

In truth, I don't have a lot to say in summary of the plot of this episode. It mostly revolves around scenarios we've seen plenty of variations on before: a black-tie dinner, an agent interrogated, doe-eyed admissions in front of the apartment complex fountain, etcetera, etcetera. Like yesterday's second hour, however, this familiarity doesn't really take away from anything if only because the show's writers are now so adept at playing to their actor's strengths. John Casey, afraid to enter an embassy due to his reputation as that country's "Angel of Death", is as humorous as it is fitting. While I could do with a few less scenes per week featuring either Sarah or Chuck (or both!) looking longingly at the other across a crowded room, this episode's emphasis on Awesome almost entirely made up for it.

Though I still can't quite kick the image of Awesome's lantern-jawed portrayer (spoiler alert) seducing a vengeful Betty Draper at the end of Season 2 of Mad Men, Devon himself spends the bulk of this episode trying ever so hard to be a dutiful husband to Ellie as she gets used to life-after-wedding. Unfortunately (but fortunately for us), he let's his need for adventure embroil him in much of the action, first surprising Chuck in his apartment with a Dr. Evil-style chair spin, then accidentally tackling John Casey thereby undermining the whole CIA/NSA Premier protection plan, all before finally winding up on the wrong end of a murder/kidnapping/maiming plot at the hands of the same assassin that tried to take out the aforementioned Premier.

At the end of the day, then, this middle-of-the-road episode (which by Chuck standards is still a fair bit better than the bulk of the rest of the shows on television) is mostly saved by the antics of one Captain Awesome and could work solely as a vehicle to bring Awesome into the fold on a regular basis. The truth is, however, that we won't know if that is the case until next week at least, owing to the fact that Awesome's fate isn't fully revealed in the slow-play of a cliffhanger that ends the episode.

So Chuck's grade for this week: incomplete.

My Quick Thoughts

Devon Terminated?: Like my question regarding Chuck's termination in the premiere, I just can't help but wonder when it was that the American government in Chuck's universe lost its taste for killing people that could threaten it. I mean, at the point in time when this episode begins, Team Bartowski is fully aware that Devon knows of Chuck's secret identity. His disclosure of it, after all, occurred at the end of last season (at least six months ago in the chronology of the show). Why hasn't the government made some move towards neutralizing Devon (even if it meant simply having him sign an overly threatening non-disclosure agreement). It just seems odd that Chuck wouldn't have to change up his routine (Buy More, Burbank, etc.) in some way, even after a "civilian" learned of his secret.

Crashing the Party: It may have just been me, but in watching the scene where Ellie and Awesome are invited to dine with the Premier, it wasn't obvious that Chuck was also invited. Sure he ran out in the courtyard in an attempt to gain access for Team Bartowski, but the way the scene plays it seems that the Premier dismisses him and his "feminine features." The next we see of Chuck, however, he and Sarah are following the Awesomes into the party, so I guess we are to assume that an invitation was extended. Still, it seems like a few lines, or perhaps even another scene were cut from the proceedings.

Intersect Explained: As we go through the season, I fully expect that the writers will continue to explain just how Chuck and Sarah manage to make the Intersect 2.0 functional. In this one we got perhaps our biggest clue yet. While at the Premier's party, Sarah tells Chuck (in a way that indicates that Chuck already knows this) that he needs to stay calm because it's his nervousness that prevents the Intersect from operating properly. If these really are the rules, that it is Chuck's nervousness above all else that truly gums up the works, than Sarah is really more of a therapist than anything else: the only person that Chuck trusts implicitly enough to believe it when she says that everything's going to be okay.

The Etymology of Awesome: One of my favorite moments of the night occurred while the team watched Awesome's post operation press conference. After receiving a question given to him in Spanish, Awesome responds in kind, prompting Sarah to ask Chuck if there's anything his brother-in-law can't do. Chuck responds by saying "Well, thus, the nickname." This short exchange epitomizes everything we've come to know about Devon Woodcombe, but its interesting how a joke in the pilot can metamorphose by the time a show hits its third season. In the pilot Devon is most obviously called "Captain Awesome" by Chuck as a derisive slight on the fact that every situation Devon observes is uniformly declared by him as "awesome." There are even a number of instances during the course of the show where it is intimated that Ellie views the nickname as at least somewhat of a put down. By the time the events of "Angel De La Muerte" go down, however, the implication is that the nickname has far more sincere origins. Awesome is "Awesome" because he's awesome. Fine with me.

Embassy's Sweet: Did anyone else have flashbacks to Seasons 4 and 5 of 24 when the team was discussing the implications of performing a mission at a foreign nation's embassy. I thought bringing in Jack's torture at the hands of the Chinese would have been a good pop culture touchstone to establish the dangers of the mission. Certainly Chuck could have been counted on to know that bit of trivia. Even without 24 in the background, it's easy to see why the notion of an embassy is so fertile ground for all kinds of spy shows and movies: an embassy is a location that is easily accessed and by all outward appearances a part of the United States (or whatever home country the spy is operating in), but is, against all logic, actually foreign soil, and as such operations on that soil have immeasurably higher stakes. As I said, it's easy to see why Chuck, 24, Casino Royale, the Bourne movies, Alias, and I'm sure plenty more, have all had some of their action take place at an embassy.

One Ring to Rule Them All: So we learned last season that what we once thought was the ultimate evil in Chuck's universe, Fulcrum, was in fact only a portion of a much bigger consortium of evil, The Ring. What we still don't know, however, is just what the Ring's purpose is. Like the oblique references to Jacob, the Others, and Dharma in the middle seasons of Lost, the Chuck writers seem intent on answering questions about this mysterious villain entity only with more questions. And when, as in this episode, a character like Casey deigns to actually ask a Ring operative about his nefarious intent, he is met only with a Ben-like "you wouldn't understand." Still, since Chuck is less dependent on its mythology than a show like Lost, this lack of transparency doesn't really detract from anything.

More after the jump...

January 12, 2010

Chuck: "Chuck vs. The Three Words"

"Sarah, I love you."

Now that the team is back together, the show has no problem resuming the rhythm of its previous seasons. So much so, that the writers decided to throw in one small twist: the return of Corina, the femme fatale DEA Agent that always seems to have one foot in the dirty end of Spy World, but who also generally proves herself to be on the up-and-up by the end of the episode in which she appears.

The plot is well executed, but relatively unimportant: Team Bartowski is sent to support Corina as she acquires a weapon of unknown origin from an arms dealer whom she happens to be engaged to (as part of her cover). Antics ensue, the weapon is recovered, and Morgan gets lucky. The end.

What's more interesting in the episode (as belied by the episode's title) are the character beats between Sarah and Chuck.

In the critical scene of the episode (the beats of which are played out of order and at various points through the use of a security recording of the incident) Chuck stands alone in a vault with presumably poisonous gas pumping in, pouring his heart out to Sarah. At the very end of his speechifying, Sarah saves him, and Chuck, undone by the poison gas, collapses in her arms while saying those three words at the top of this post.

It isn't until the very end of the episode that we (and Sarah) realize that Chuck's admission wasn't simply more puppy dog-eyed crushing from our favorite Buymorian, but instead the conclusion of an impassioned explanation for why Chuck chose not to run away with his lady love.

It's a bittersweet moment in that we know that (for the time being at least) Chuck's decision will keep him and Sarah apart, but it's also the moment when Sarah realizes just how much Chuck was willing to give up for her. It's really well played by Yvonne Strahovski, and a great conclusion to a really good episode.

Here's hoping for more next week (read: tomorrow).

My Quick Thoughts

The Three Words: While Chuck's admission that he loves Sarah is certainly important from her character's stand point, the fact remains that both Chuck and Sarah have been quite open about their "love" for one another, in as much as they could be throughout the previous two seasons. So more than offering a "major revelation", the vault scene served really to provide context for what I called Chuck's "interesting decision": to forgo more Sarah-time for more zip-lining. Essentially, the reasoning behind his decision was this: Chuck just wants to make a difference in the world, and he has for too long felt that he was wasting his life. Chuck left Sarah on that train platform not because he doesn't love her, but because he does. It maybe doesn't make the most sense in the world, by Zach Levi sells it, and you can definitely feel the earnestness of Chuck's admission.

The Moonlighting Effect: While some critics have complained that the Chuck/Sarah relationship is played out (or at least that the show has run out of legitimate obstacles to prevent the couple from consummating their love), this whole angle of what it means to be a "real spy" is working well for the show, I think. Clearly Sarah and Chuck still have feelings for each other, but as has been demonstrated on the show so often in the past, those feelings can get you killed in Spy World. In a very real way, Chuck had to choose between becoming a spy and truly being with the one he loved. The more he moves towards one pole or the other, the more he loses the other side. It's a nice dichotomy, and I think it works.

Intersect 1.9?: It was played for terrific comedic effect, but why would Chuck's fully functional Intersect 2.0 finish his gymnastic move set only 90% out of the vault? Are we to understand that Chuck was given only gymnastic prowess, but not some greater understanding about the layout of the room? That Chuck was, in essence, calculating angles on his own, on the fly. I find it difficult to believe that he didn't get information regarding the ideal route through that particular security system, and since the Intersect essentially takes control of his body, shouldn't he have finished his moves completely outside of the room? If Chuck did "solve" the room on his own (albeit with the benefit of augmented physical acumen), it actually creates an opportunity for some interesting scenarios in the future, where Chuck has the knowledge and ability to perform physical feats, but actually needs to implement them using some skill he brings to the table. That's probably not what was intended by the scene, however, as it merely served as a good situation for allowing Chuck to express his feelings to Sarah.

UFO of Deaaaath: It's funny, but as much as I love Chuck I can't ever help but feel that the show's "mythology" is just there to take up time. While the question of the nature of the weapon recovered by Team Bartowski (some kind of chrome UFO-looking thing) is somewhat interesting, I never really care about these kinds of plots vs. the personal and comedic interactions that really make the show hum. So when the show includes a mysterious scene about the danger the weapon (and "The Ring's" plans) could pose to the team, I'm simply not taken with it, the way I would be if a similar scene appeared in a show like Lost or Fringe. I guess I just don't consider that kind of thing to be a strength of the show.

No Intersect required: Perhaps one of the best things about the climax of the episode is that Chuck receives absolutely no help from the Intersect whatsoever. Clearly when Sarah tosses Chuck the tiki torch she expects him to flash on some kind of bo training. But that doesn't happen. Instead, the writers remind us just how smart and intuitive Chuck is by having him set a fire in the fountain (recently filled by Jeff and Lester with highly-flammable "Jail Juice") which in turn distracts their captors. One of my favorite parts of Chuck has always been seeing how the writers can have Chuck's unusual skill set save the day in novel ways. It's good to see that we won't be losing that aspect of the show even post-Intersect 2.0.

A United Buymoria: The show is always at its best when it can successfully integrate the more comically oriented plot lines at the Buy More with those of Spy World, and this episode was a good example of that. From the moment we see Jeff and Lester teasing Morgan about Carina, we know that the major plot lines of the show are bound to intersect (pun intended), and it's a testament to the show that even after the flyer with Chuck's address is introduced (which will obviously lead the bad guys to Chuck in the final act), the twists and turns of the episode remain entertaining primarily because everyone on both sides is involved.
More after the jump...

January 11, 2010

Chuck: "Chuck vs. The Pink Slip"

"Whoa, Wait. This is really you?"
"Maybe we should be introduced. Hi, I'm Chuck Bartowski: Total Loser."

We're baaack! Like Chuck, the namesake of what may be the best (and certainly the most fun) show currently on television, "Rick's Flicks" is making a triumphant 2010 return. In this new iteration, my hope is that I will be able to blog about what I truly love, while still affording myself time for work and family. Bible-sized Lost posts notwithstanding, I intend this blog to be a repository of "quick hit" style opinions, thoughts, and observations on what interests me most in the world of pop culture (predominantly TV, Movies, and Video Games). We'll see how well I can keep it up this time, but my hope is that I will be able to continue to provide keen insight, witty banter, and provocative questions, just in bite-sized doses more plentiful than before.

With the (re)introductions out of the way, let's talk about the return of the most fun you can have in front of your TV screen (at least on network television): NBC's Chuck.

When we last left our pocket-protector packing protagonist, he had just pulled a full Keanu and discovered that not only did he possess a full complement of government secrets in that head of his, but also that he now "knows kung-fu." That gift was bestowed upon him by the Intersect 2.0, a new iteration of the super-computer that started all of his mad dash escapades, this time imbued with the power to grant its user physical prowess in addition to mere information.

Last year, I questioned whether or not this new plot twist would destroy the show's carefully constructed triangle of nerd (Chuck), love interest (Sarah), and heavy (John Casey). After all, if Chuck becomes entirely competent, aren't we just watching a slightly more comedic Alias? I needn't have worried.

In only a few short scenes of the premiere, the Chuck writers clearly establish that Intersect 2.0 is not all that it's cracked up to be. Chuck, a normal guy, is, unlike his predecessor Bryce (or apparently any other spy in the country's service), a man ruled by his emotions. And those emotions get in the way of the new Intersect operating properly. And so, just like that he's "let go".

While the premise doesn't make a lot of sense the longer one thinks about it (more on that below), the writers and Zachary Levi in particular play Chuck's post-spy descent into madness brilliantly and for plentiful laughs. Without Sarah, Chuck is almost literally nothing. From his raggedy "homeless man" bath robe to the beard that is so over-the-top ridiculous that it all but has to be real, destitute and unemployed Chuck is almost completely unrecognizable. Add cheese puffs to the mix, and that my friends, is a recipe for comedy.

Later in the "plot" of the episode, we find out that the reason Sarah won't return Chuck's calls is because he jilted her on a train platform in Prague when he elected to become a "real spy" rather than run away with her. An interesting decision. On the one hand you get to be with the woman you love (who looks like Yvonne Strahovski). On the other, uh...your life is threatened on a daily basis, and that's only by Col. Casey. Maybe he needed the health care? Regardless, Chuck elected to live out his spy fantasy rather than fantasies of a different nature, and so was devastated when he was let go from his dream job.

The rest of the episode basically revolves around Chuck getting his old job back and the zany adventures that ensue. Throughout its length, Chuck proves himself to be an accomplished guitarist, bare-handed brawler, zip-liner, and, most importantly, TV star. There is no question that Chuck is back, and with it, a sense of joy on television that only a nerdy mid-air fist pump and "Yesssssss!" can possibly convey.

It's good to have you back Chuck, I can't believe they almost canceled you.

My Quick Thoughts

Sarah, Chuck Whisperer?: The actual problem with the Intersect 2.0 inside Chuck's head is left ambiguous at the end of the episode. We know that Chuck struggles to control it, but we don't know why and how he gains control in specific instances. It certainly seems tied to Sarah (as indicated by the fact that he "flashes" zip line powers when he has to rescue Sarah), but it's unclear what effect her presence will have in the long run. After all, maybe Chuck's training in Prague went poorly because of the decision he had to make regarding Sarah. In other words, is Sarah the answer to Chuck's problems, or is the cause?

Chuck Terminated: While the writers used it to create some artificial suspense in the middle of this episode, the notion of Chuck getting fired doesn't really make sense if the CIA or NSA doesn't have some kind of "contingency plan" for taking care of Chuck. I mean, these are the same people that ordered Casey to terminate Chuck when all he had was simple government information. Now they're simply going to let him run free with the ability to hijack tanks/assemble nuclear weapons/coach the USC Trojans? I don't think so. And while the universe of Chuck is broad enough that a contingency plan could be in place outside the framework of the episode, it's pretty clear from the context of his scenes that Col. Casey was not asked to carry one out. Perhaps they think Casey has become a full-fledged softie for our favorite Nerd Herder. Nah!

Music, Music, Music: While I am entirely unequipped to in any way detail the indie rock that show creator Josh Schwartz selected for Chuck's return, it is worth noting, in that it is both good and plentiful. The music really sets a great stage for emotions to play over each of the cast members. If there is a caveat (and it is a small one), it is that the musical montage-style scenes were coming so fast and furious at one point that the show felt almost like a pseudo-music video. I mean, Thriller had more dialogue in it.

Too many violent video games?: While I trust the writers to avoid this trap, it certainly seems like the Intersect 2.0 is most useful for fighting/weapons training/etc. The guitar playing interlude was fine, but I do wonder if the show can avoid having Chuck "know kung fu" at the climax of almost every encounter. Like I said, we'll just have to trust the writers on that one.

Casey at Bat: You had to know when they introduced the never-before seen minigun that it would have a role to play in the triumphant finale of the episode, but even that couldn't take away from the sheer joy of seeing Casey use it to save Sarah and Chuck from certain doom. Nicely played by Mr. Baldwin.

More after the jump...