Spoilers for "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I practice my hurdling...
So on the same night that NBC announced that "Chuck" was getting a full-season order (the number of additional episodes will depend on how long the strike lasts), the show presented a strong example of why it deserved the extension. Maybe it wasn't the life-altering hour promised by the promo monkeys (more grousing about them in a minute), but it was the usual amount of fun, and in at least one area improved on what the show had done to date.
As a blend of comedy, drama and action, "Chuck" has been consistently good at the first, often good at the second and usually just acceptable at the third. Doing cool action with the budget and, more importantly, schedule of a weekly TV series is hard ("24" and, especially, "Alias," are the only recent shows I can think of where the fights and shoot-outs rarely felt perfunctory), and outside of Bryce's parkour-flavored escape from the Intersect lab in the pilot and Sarah and Casey's spork-off at the Wienerlicious in episode two, the action on "Chuck" has been just north of okay. Sarah throws a couple of high kicks, Casey fires off a couple of shots, and... scene. Fortunately, those sequences are usually over so quickly that it's not a big deal, and I'll take funny jokes and likable characters over kewl martial arts, but the action was definitely lagging behind the other parts of the show... until last night.
I'm not saying the big showdown at the Buy More would have fit seamlessly into a John Woo or Jet Li movie, but moments like Casey two-fisting a pair of semi-automatics or Sarah and Bryce fighting back to back looked a lot more impressive than what this show has typically given us when it's time for a bit of the ultra-violence. It helped to have Matthew Bomer back as Bryce, since he's clearly more assured with this stuff than Yvonne Strahovski.
And yet, in typical "Chuck" fashion, the most impressive bit of action was comic. I went back and replayed Big Mike's vault over the counter three or four times, both because it consistently made me laugh and to make sure there wasn't an obvious edit or other kind of cheat in there. But no, that was actor Mark Christopher Lawrence, invoking the old comic book cliche of "How can anything so big move so fast?" Maybe he had help from a hidden trampoline, but I don't care. That was just a splendid moment, and one of those lighter bits that reminds me not to take the show seriously enough to start nitpicking the reality of stuff like Casey's weapons cache in the home theater room. (Plus, Chuck did a good job of pointing out the silliness of that one.)
I worried that bringing Bryce back so soon wasn't the wisest decision, that it was something Schwartz and Fedak could have saved for down the road when the episodic stories were wearing a little thinner. But there's always this weird dance a new show has to do, especially one that didn't get much love from the network until late in the game: you can't pull a Lou Piniella and try to save your big guns for games that might not get played. Bryce's return led to a solid episode with nice dramatic work from Strahovski and Zachary Levi (who was superb in the moment where Chuck recognized what a perfect match Sarah and Bryce were), and they wrote him out in a way that will allow him to come back and cause trouble for Chuck down the road, if need be. (Maybe even as someone who's gotten too deep into his cover identity and gone rogue for real?)
And not that I was exactly panicked about which phone Sarah would answer -- the show's called "Chuck," not "Bryce" -- but the promo monkeys once again did a splendid job of ruining the fun with their ad for next week's episode. I guess they thought the promise of Strahovski in a bikini was a better hook than finding out who she chose.
Some other quick thoughts on "Chuck Versus the Nemesis":
-Much like Ellie, I think it's time for a moratorium on the big family dinners. Captain Awesome trying to bond with Casey was funny as the Captain always is, but the Thanksgiving dinner scene, like a similar sequence back in "Chuck Versus the Helicopter," was more labored than this show usually gets.
-I always like Julia Ling (in her brief appearances as the drunken viola player, she was one of the few genuinely amusing parts of "Studio 60," and she made a great band geek in the otherwise forgettable Chris Brown guest arc in the final "O.C." season), but there needed to be some kind of explanation for why Anna is back with Morgan after he humiliated her with the public dumping last week.
-I loved that Jeff has to fix the cash registers because he's the only guy in the store old enough to remember the '80s, and I loved him and Lester cowering under the Nerd Herd desk while Morgan tried to talk them out.
-You make the call: was the use of "pineapple" as the safety word another lift from "How I Met Your Mother" (where one of the show's best episodes revolved around a pineapple incident), a bit of friendly ribbing (Schwartz and the HIMYM guys have been photographed hanging out together on the picket line), or a complete coincidence?
-I'm enough of a nerd to immediately recognize that Bryce and Chuck were speaking Klingon, but not enough of one to be able to translate any of it. Any of you who are nerdier than me: did the dialogue match what they said it was supposed to be, was it one of those "My Name Is Earl" things where they were saying something else entirely for the audience's benefit, or was it just gibberish?
What did everybody else think?