Monday, October 01, 2007

Wiener-iffic

Spoilers for the second episodes of "Chuck" and "Journeyman" coming up just as soon as I boot up my old Apple IIe for a game of Choplifter...

Many regime changes ago, someone in NBC research did a study claiming that even the most devoted fans of TV shows watch, on average, only half the episodes that air each year. The executives change, but that one theory stuck, and so many decisions at the network are made with it in mind: airing episodes out of order because they think no one will notice, or making producers of new series thematically repeat large chunks of the pilot episode with show two just in case people weren't paying attention or newbies waited a week to sample.

There's a little of that going on with "Journeyman" (more below), and a whole lot with "Chuck," where the second episode is basically an extra pilot episode. We get more of Chuck unsure of his loyalty to Sarah, Casey, or both; so much talk about "secrets" that I hope to God Josh Schwartz has the word banned from all future scripts (it wouldn't be half as annoying if they changed it up now and then, or stuck to a more official-sounding phrase like "classified intel" or whatever); an A-story designed to explain why the government can't just extract all the secrets (grr...) from Chuck's brain, etc. It's not really until the third episode that the series proper gets going -- which somebody in NBC promo agrees with, given how many of the "Chuck" ads during last night's Giants-Eagles game featured scenes from episode three versus this one.

That said, I appreciate what's going on here, especially after watching the "Bionic Woman" pilot. While the tones of each show are polar opposites, the basic substance is the same -- ordinary person gifted with superhuman powers and forced against their will to work for shadowy government types -- and yet the series that's actually taking the time to hit all the emotional buttons on the journey is the goofy comedy and not the dark drama. "Bionic Woman" just zipped past almost all of its lead's reactions to almost dying, losing her baby, turning bionic, having to work for Miguel Ferrer, etc., and if "Chuck Versus the Helicopter" is occasionally repetitive and maybe a shade too frantic (particularly the farcical dinner scene), at least it's trying to help you understand and care about its hero's feelings. Yes, it's mainly a comedy, but I've always believed that the best comedies feature recognizable human emotion at their core, and Schwartz and company are working at that.

Plus, it has that awesome fight at the Wienerlicious stand, which was miles better than the big "Bionic Woman" catfight in the rain. It featured so many wonderful things, including everyday objects (plastic forks, wooden hot dog sticks) being used as lethal weapons, plus a pretty girl kicking butt in a ridiculous outfit (the secret to the early genius of "Alias").

Next week's "Chuck Versus the Tango" is better, but there was other good stuff sprinkled throughout, including the "Lost" joke during Dr. Zarnow's test of Chuck ("Oceanic Flight 815 was shot down by (garble garble)"), Morgan trying to role-play with Casey, Captain Awesome (real first name: Kevin) saying "Indeed!" in delight when Sarah describes Ellie as awesome, the notion of mini-quiches with tracking devices (lest anyone try to take anything about the show too seriously) and even the tablecloth running gag (though there is no excuse for them to not have Morgan say "The flowers are still standing!" when his attempt failed).

Meanwhile, "Journeyman" loses a good chunk of whatever small goodwill the pilot's closing scene built up by coming back in episode two with Dan's wife again thinking he's a nutjob and not a time traveler. Then it loses even more with some of the least subtle period cues you can imagine (the disco/porno airplane, the "INTERNET EROTICA CONVENTION" sign at the hotel) and that completely random explanation for why Dan was tracking that girl's life. Why spend an hour getting us to, in theory, care about what happens to the girl and then reveal that she was entirely besides the point, and the entire mission was about the pilot who we met for all of 30 seconds? There's a difference between being unpredictable and just jerking the audience around.

There were a few nice touches on the margins, with Livia giving Dan advice on how to survive on his trips to the past (though the olde-timey cell phone is only going to work when Dan travels to a year when he had a plan for it, no?), but barring a brilliant episode in the next week or two, I don't think there's anything to see here.

What did everybody else think?

26 comments:

jim treacher said...

"...having to work for Miguel Ferrer..."

Nice one!

Being the kind of nerd Schwartz is writing for, I turned on the closed captioning so I could hear the rest of "Oceanic Flight 815 was shot down by..." (NO SPOILERS!)

Matt said...

I thought Chuck was pretty darn excellent. Yes, the first 5 minutes were unneeded pilot recap, but Sarah knowing exactly how to handle Chuck ("It's just a video game!") was brilliant, the fight scene was great, and Casey's customer service training was spectacular.

bill p said...

The "secrets" thing was already out of hand in the actual pilot... couldn't they call it "intel" or something?

Maybe they want to give college kids a drinking game opportunity.

Anthony Foglia said...

I thought "Chuck" dragged a little. Not much but a slight let-down from last week. I didn't get why Chuck was at first so reluctant to distrust Sarah, given his flash at the end of last week's episode, and then so quick to believe Casey later on.

It is interesting the writers are setting up an escape route for six months by rebuilding the original computer. That would either allow an actual conclusion, or, more likely, force a more permanent solution for the "Chuck's data will be outdated soon" problem I've heard from others.

BTW, treacher, I, too, turned on the closed-captioning and on WNBC I got "Oceanic Flight 815 was shot down by surface-to-air..."

anon said...

"Chuck" sure does have a whole lot of setup, doesn't it? It seems like one of the main things I was supposed to get was that one agent worked for the CIA and the other worked for the NSA, though both were affiliated with DNI. And how hilarious is that!

I could have handled more dinner party and less quick cut editing of helicopter flying in circles. There wasn't a payoff to finding Morgan at Buy More after hours, and I thought there was barely a payoff to the "You two roleplay a sale" scene between Morgan and Casey -- sorry, I mean _John_ Casey. Because I think I'm supposed to remember that it is _John_ Casey.

So much fun stuff took place outside of or on the periphery of the spy stuff -- Captain Awesome's "indeed", the kids obsessed with the new (and only) waitress at Weinerlicious, Lester's little "we're artists" Mac vs. PC rant. I know the spy stuff is supposed to be funny -- the car driving behind a mountain and _then_ blowing up was supposed to be funny, right? -- but the gags take too long to set up and often don't land. And some great joke opportunities are missed -- Chuck's experience playing flight simulators wasn't played for a laugh at all.

This still feels like a show finding its legs. Since I like Zachary Levi I'm still in for episode three -- the episode I actually expected tonight, based on the ads.

Anon

Anonymous said...

I dug it. I thought it was funny, I liked the story and didnt know if maybe Sarah was going to be bad and or working with Bryce. Captain Awesome and Morgan steal every scene. The helicopter stuff went on too long but I loved the dinner party. I also appreciated the funeral and scene with Chuck's sister. I agree Alan they actually tried to make you care and I did. I want more Nerd Herd. Is there more of that coming up?

Jenn. said...

Not as good as the pilot, but I enjoyed it. I like the lead, the scenes with the images (including the shoutout to Lost and the random, oh, that's just a dog ones), the Weinerlicious fight, and a few other things. Plus, between the Shins song at the end of the first episode and the New Pornographers song at the end of this one, I'm very happy musically.

Nicole said...

I thought I heard "surface to air missle" but I could be wrong. It's not like Schwartz knows anyway.

Even though this was more setup, I still liked it. There is a mix of OC wit and Alias tech that works for me and I will keep on watching this one because it doesn't feel like a chore for me to do so.

jim treacher said...

"There wasn't a payoff to finding Morgan at Buy More after hours..."

I thought the idea was that Morgan is such a complete loser, if he's not breaking into Chuck's sister's house, he doesn't really have anyplace else to be besides work. Plus, the "woman screaming" fakeout.

Jeff said...

Meanwhile, "Journeyman" loses a good chunk of whatever small goodwill the pilot's closing scene built up by coming back in episode two with Dan's wife again thinking he's a nutjob and not a time traveler.

I think you need to go back and watch the beginning again. It's pretty clear that her frustration was more because she realizes that the time travel thing is going to be huge inconvenience rather than her thinking he's a nutjob.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Journeyman, I agree with Jeff: I didn't see any evidence that the wife didn't believe he was time traveling. She only said she fell asleep to cover for him-- she very clearly saw him get into the bathroom when they were already in the air. Also, the girl clearly is able to pull her life together after seeing her dad the second time, so even though she may not have been the primary mission, the journey did provide at least some emotional payoff.

Oz

Woodrow L. Goode, IV said...

I'm still trying to work out the difference between Journey from Journeyman and Monica, from Touched By An Angel. So far I have the following:

1. Unlike Monica, Journeyman has no idea who he's supposed to be helping or how. (Kinda liked last week's episode, where he nearly precipitated a murder-suicide.)

2. Unlike Monica (who tries to help people work out their problems), Journeyman is a walking Deus Ex Machina, who shows up and solves them.

3. Unlike Monica, we have no idea why Journeyman is doing this. (Much less why his long-departed sweet babboo is timehopping.)

4. Tess is pleased to see Monica return. Journeyman's S.O. and family are pissed when he comes back.

5. Monica knows enough to carry correct change. Journeyman doesn't.

I hope, in future episodes, Olivia warns Journeyman never to eat Mexican or White Castles ("Because you don't want to be going when you go..."), and never to use public toilets ("You don't want a Larry Craig incident.")

Part of me wants this turkey cancelled, so I don't keep watching to see how bad it gets (like I did with last year's entry in this simt slot). The other part wants it to run for years, so they have a "Series Finale" and I can hear the raison d'etre finally revealed. (I figure it's somewhere between Jacob's Ladder and Switch.)

BigTed said...

"Journeyman" has some interesting stuff going for it -- although the most interesting parts, about how a guy can handle suddenly disappearing from his present life and reappearing in other times, is stolen directly from "The Time Traveler's Wife." But if they want us to believe any of it, they can't have all these gaping plot holes. (No, his phone wouldn't work in virtually any other year. And Googling an apparently important businessman's name wouldn't bring up "no entries" after he's gone. And a present-day airline would know perfectly well if a woman was flying with her husband sitting next to her.)

Plus, his changing the past doesn't seem to have any effect on the present. Wasn't there supposed to be some, I don't know, "Butterfly Effect" dealing with this issue? (Okay, it's unfair to bring up that movie in any context.)

Bruce Reid said...

The directing and editing on Chuck was very disjointed I thought; the car chase was confusing, the dinner was way too hectic, and even the fun Wienerlicious fight scene had a completely offkilter, confusing ending.

Still a lot of fun, though, even with the catchup from last week slowing things down at first. Chuck's "let's do this" was a joy to behold.

linda h said...

Hi Alan,

I was almost ready to write Chuck off and devote my recording resources to HIMYM ... except for Adam Baldwin's Casey in this episode. Damn him.

Casey strikes me as a cross between Angel's Marcus and Firefly's Jayne. With Jayne representing his cuddly half. I laughed at his near-lethal handling of the shoplifter, his chick fight with Sarah and his annoyed responses to normal life "If it screamed, I'd be right at home."

But more importantly, I felt Casey had a character arc. He was beginning to see Chuck as more than just an assignment. He started to listen to Chuck. He even made a personal comment that had nothing to do with the job when Sarah stormed off: "Way to go, Ace." And his impassive expression when his boss basically told him he'd get to kill Chuck when he became redundant in six months hinted at something like the distant possibility of regret.

I would love it if Casey ended up spuriously justifying Chuck's continued existence just because he didn't feel like killing him.

Chuck and Sarah are on an inescapable march towards couplehood. But the way Adam Baldwin plays Casey, I can see him as either an enemy or a really annoyed ally. I'm hoping his path is not too predictable.

Me, I'm voting for him to eventually supplant Morgan as Chuck's bestest bud. (Sorry Morgan, but I agree with Chuck's sister about you.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

I want more Nerd Herd. Is there more of that coming up?

Episode three is pretty evenly split between Nerd Herd and spy stuff (which is one of the reasons I consider it the best of the three).

Alan Sepinwall said...

I think you need to go back and watch the beginning again.

I did.

It's pretty clear that her frustration was more because she realizes that the time travel thing is going to be huge inconvenience rather than her thinking he's a nutjob.

The whole "out of body experience" part strongly suggested to me that she didn't believe just yet, though once he disappeared from the bathroom she decided for sure he wasn't goofing around.

Jenn said...

I'm enjoying Journeyman immensely. Sure, some of it is over the top, but I'm invested in the characters of Dan and Livia and want to know more about Livia's current state. The days past sequences are a little heavy-handed, but I think they're fun, nostalgic trips, so I want them to keep coming. I hope this one sticks around. For me, it's better than anything else in its timeslot.

Plus, I'll alway love Kevin McKidd; I have unending Rome goodwill left over.

Jon Delfin said...

Boy, talk about time travel. Dan zaps back to the plane (the second time) and sees a newspaper whose headline screams about the Super Bowl victory -- and the paper is dated Sunday.

Anonymous said...

I've also been enjoying "Journeyman," though I hardly think its great television. I think I'll stick with it as long as it stays after "Heroes."

"Chuck," on the other hand, just seems drenched in flop sweat from Trying Too Hard. I ended up switching over to "Aliens in America."

Anonymous said...

Journeyman should follow what Quantum Leap and Early Edition did. Start out be revealing a bad thing that happens (even if it is subtle) like read a story about some woman dying. Then we he "helps" them, we'll care about him wanting to do it. I guess the show is going for something different with the reveals that what he does helps someone who we weren't expecting (pilot instead of the mother/daughter), but that is just....boring?

Ted F. said...

Based on Alan's recommendation that Episode 3 is the good one, I'll give Chuck one more chance.

But the scenes of an undressed Sarah (the upskirt shot as she does a flying kick at Casey; the fact that she needs to be tortured in a camisole) are so gratuitous that they're really getting on my nerves. I'm not that easily manipulated, or I'd be watching that stupid HBO series with the actual sex and nudity.

Homertojeebus said...

I really like Chuck, but I think that the score is sometines out of step with the atmosphere of the show, leaning a little heavily toward the zany. The should make the music dryer and trust the audience to know what's funny.

Christy said...

Watched Chuck for Adam Baldwin and he was the only interesting part. I'm still not getting the love. And, btw, I'm a seriously nerdy girl myself. I don't know if I'll give this another chance or not.

I'm perfectly okay with the way Journeyman's wife is slow to come to terms with the unbelievable and inconvenient new aspect of their lives. The save this week was lame, but I am willing to give it more time.

Number Five said...

For Chuck, I actually liked that they didn't jump right into mission of the week and spent another episode dealing with the fallout from suddenly having this enormous database in his head. My only problem is the relationship between Casey and Sarah (and indirectly as it relates to Chuck). Yes, I can buy that the CIA and NSA are huge rivals and disagree dramatically over the "Chuck problem" (and in real life they do fight all the time, as do the CIA and FBI, CIA and DOD, pick any two national security agencies and they despise each other). But in the two episodes so far, they've been depicted as actually trying to kill each other, which makes no sense and seems to be there for unnecessary conflict. Adam Baldwin is awesome, and he doesn't have to be an actual villain to play the antagonist. Hopefully, after this episode they can go in that direction.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed the episode...funny, good performances, awesome Lost reference. The action other than the Casey/Sarah fight was weak, but that's not as important as everything else being right.

I'm fascinated by Journeyman's ongoing storyline regarding Livia also being a time traveler, but the "case of the week" was awful. The problem is that with all the time jumps and dealing with Dan's struggles in 2007, they don't have enough episode time to have Dan do anything more than magically facilitate important life events amongst people who should think of him as a total stranger.

Also, the ethics of what Dan does seem kind of troublesome to me -- as you pointed out, Alan, in the pilot he almost gets several people killed. Will the show engage that, or just have him running around being a hero? I think the show would have been better serialized, but then I suppose it would have been canceled by now.

Oh, and speaking of references, if Billy Marble was a reference to Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, that was pretty cool.

jim treacher said...

I'm with Ted. Put the pretty girl in a burqa!