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.

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