Monday, November 12, 2007

Chuck: The Summer of truth

Spoilers for "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I do a gymnastics routine...

A lot went on in the damned entertaining "Chuck Versus the Truth" -- the end of Chuck's (maybe not so) fake relationship, the beginning of a new (and potentially real) one, and sodium pentathol/near-death-fueled revelations by Chuck and Ellie -- but I want to start with the most permanent change:

Oh my god, they banished Harry Tang! You bastards!

While I'm sad to see the control freak go, the producers really didn't have any choice in the matter. In between pilot and series, C.S. Lee got promoted to regular cast status on "Dexter," and when you have a full-time job on one show, they're usually not wild about you moonlighting on another. That "Chuck" got to engage his services for this many episodes was kind of a bonus, and if Masuka should ever get as close to uncovering Dexter's secret identity as he did here with Chuck, he'd likely suffer a far worse fate -- which in turn would allow Lee to come back here.

(That Harry Tang -- and even in his farewell episode, it's a sign of what a vividly-etched character he was that I feel compelled to use the full name every time -- could stumble across Team Chuck conducting confidential government business in the middle of the Buy More illustrates what a contrivance it is for them to use the home theater room for that purpose instead of Casey's apartment, but at least it's a contrivance they've been using since episode two. If they'd dreamed it up just to get rid of Harry, I'd be annoyed.)

Not sure yet what I'd like to see happen with the assistant manager position. It could be a new character, or it could be Harry Tang protege Lester, but I feel like we've been given several hints now that Morgan will wind up with it, and that might be best. It would give Joshua Gomez a different color to play and also create some interesting tension between Chuck and Morgan. It's one thing for Chuck to sneak around behind that jerk Harry Tang's back to do his night job, but could he handle lying even more to his best friend -- especially after an episode in which the weight of all these lies and secrets (secrets and lies!) finally becomes too much to bear?

I'm glad the writers didn't string out Chuck and Sarah's cover relationship forever. Chuck's a nice guy and kind of a pushover, but that was just a cruel situation for him to be stuck in, with this blonde goddess blocking his access to other women and yet not allowing him access to herself. If the government needed an excuse for Sarah and Chuck to be spending so much time together, they could have had her move in to his building, or work at the Buy More (though it would have deprived us of the Wienerlicious uniform), or pretend to be Casey's girlfriend or whatever. This was unnecessary (in Chuck-world, though it created good tension in TV viewer-world), and good for Chuck for finally putting an end to it.

It helped that he had a good reason to end it in Lou the sandwich lady, AKA adorable and funny original Josh Schwartz player Rachel Bilson. Given the oft-discussed resemblance between Zachary Levi and Adam Brody (though I've realized it's mostly about the hair), there could have been a danger of this just turning into a rehash of Seth and Summer from "The O.C.," but Schwartz has written a character for Bilson that plays to her banter-y strengths without being the exact same person. Lou's passion for sandwiches reminded of of latter-day Summer's non-GE-mandated passion for the environment. But there's a straightforwardness and even a vulnerability to Lou that's new and appealing. I can't see Summer telling some guy she just met that she likes him so much she'd be into him if/when he dumped his current girlfriend, for instance.

What made "Truth" one of the strongest episodes yet (maybe not as funny as "Sandworm," but emotionally richer) was that it wasn't just about Chuck's bogus love life, but the larger question of him playing spy and lying to everyone about it. Chuck's angst would have worked even better if Ellie's situation could actually be blamed on his new life, rather than a coincidental case of wrong place/wrong time/loud-mouthed baby brother -- a point Casey or Sarah could have made more forcefully when he got too self-pitying -- but the scenes in the hospital were very strong.

In today's column, I talked about how the spy stories and villains aren't the series' strongest element, but this one was helped out mightily by the casting of Kevin Weisman, as he has more screen presence than most of the bad guys to date. Plus, it was bizarrely compelling to imagine Marshall from "Alias" as both an evil poisoner and a gymnast. And the gymnast thing led to that great Indiana Jones in Cairo moment where Weisman did a million backflips and then Sarah just shot him in the leg.

The sodium pentathol element to the poison provided several opportunities for good laughs, first with Ellie unloading on poor, unsuspecting Captain Awesome -- "If everything is awesome and nothing is unawesome, then everything by definition is mediocre!" -- then with Chuck and Casey being unable to lie about their plans to double-cross each other with the antidote. And of course it led to that sweet moment at the end where we find out Sarah was somehow unaffected by the truth serum. It wasn't exactly a surprise, as Yvonne Strahovski was playing the "Is this ever going anywhere?" scene like a woman madly in love with Chuck, but it was still effective.

Some other thoughts on "Chuck Versus the Truth":

  • The moment where Chuck finally called Captain Awesome by his real name felt both earned and well set-up. (In contrast, "Scrubs" a few years ago built an episode's emotional climax on Dr. Cox finally referring to J.D. as J.D., but it wasn't quite as effective if you remembered that he did it a few times in the early days before the writers decided it was important that he not.)

  • I will forgive the use of a Britney Spears song (albeit an on-the-nose one like "Toxic") because the episode also used Elmer Bernstein's soaring "Great Escape" theme (one of the most iconic film scores ever) as Casey talked Harry Tang into moving to Hawaii.

  • Again, I realize Morgan is an acquired taste for some, but I really liked his "Her hair looked so much like licorice" line about Lou.

  • Another funny, off-kilter line: Lou's "Our vast height difference intrigues me."
What did everybody else think?

29 comments:

Mac said...

Everything's better with Evil Marshall!

Alex R said...

Agree about 'evil Marshall' - it's always great to see Kevin Weisman again. He's been fun on "Moonlight" this year but even ,pre fun here.

That's really funny mentioning "Indiana Jones in Cairo" moment. I absolutely had the SAME thought when Sarah did that. Too funny how certain 'iconic' pop culture moments stick in our minds forever like that.

I don't watch "Dexter" so I had no idea we are being forced to lose a brilliant character like Harry Tang because of that show - what a damn shame. Thankfully, "Chuck" has enough great supporting characters to keep the fun going.

J said...

First of all, "Toxic" is just a great effin' song. And, as history has shown, one that will survive until the planet bursts into flames.

Marshall! Why bring in Marshall Marshall Marshall! only to give him no opportunity for yucks and the worst stunt double cutting ever?

Aloha, Harry Tang. May the show get renewed, may you return in a far more ominous role. Taaaaaaaaaaaaang!

I like Chuck, I look forward to Chuck, but I just have trouble liking and looking foward to Chuck. I want the guy to get the girl, but I want him to get punched in the face, too. Hard. It's difficult to get behind a hero who doesn't know better than to scream, "I found the codes!" at the top of his lungs.

Dumping Sarah was a good way to loosen a notch on the ninny belt, though. Like the Bilson character, but don't know how a non-spy relationship doesn't do anything but overcomplicate the cover-ups. He's already got the sister and the friends. Why not just sign up with SD6 and be done with it?

Taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaang!

Anonymous said...

Loved "Casey, your jaw was chiseled by Michelangelo himself."

filmcricket said...

My pop culture moment was when Sarah said she'd been "trained" to resist the truth serum (whatever that means) and I instantly thought: "I've spent the last five years building an immunity to iocaine powder." Well, and also of Veritaserum. And during the "my worlds are colliding" conversation, I was waiting for someone to shout "You're killing independent George!" Which just proves I'm several kinds of geek rolled into one.

Excellent episode, and I'm sorry to see the end of Harry Tang too; I hope that if Morgan does get the job he makes Lester pay for his treachery. Good for Chuck for saying to Sarah, in effect, I may be your most important weapon, but you don't get every part of me. I enjoyed the rapprochement between Sarah and Casey, and, in particular, Casey admitting he wouldn't kill Chuck, which is means things will get interesting when the new intersect comes online in six months... I mean, during sweeps... er, when the strike is over.

(Off that - excellent column on Save Chuck, Alan, I hope someone at NBC is reading.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

Two lines I forgot to mention until watching the episode a second time with my lovely wife:

"Mind-cheater!"

and, especially,

Captain Awesome's "Mazal tov!"

Alan Sepinwall said...

Also, Lester and Jeffrey's "Knowledge is powder" / "You don't talk about your mom much" exchange.

Eric said...

This episode vaulted Chuck over Reaper for me pretty solidly. Just the right amount of Morgan, great banter, and some significant forward momentum.

They've also stopped using the word "Secrets" as often as Angel used "Champion."

And I was never all that fond of Harry Tang anyway, so bonus for me.

They do still need a way to do a refresh on the Intersect for story logic.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Having gotten to the end of the episode, by the way, turns out that in between the rough cut screener I saw and airtime, the "Great Escape" music got replaced by a soundalike score. I wonder how much the Bernstein estate was charging...

Anonymous said...

Lady Tang.

Figgsrock2 said...

I've rarely laughed at any show this year (I'm talking all of 2007, not the TV year) as much as I did tonight. Kevin Weisman an evil gymnast? Harry Tang going to Hawaii? Ellie's "nothing is awesome" rant? Just a pure pleasure to watch tonight. I haven't liked a new show this much (non-Lost category) since, well, the first season of The O.C.

Which I'm sure means if this strike is ever settled it will be canceled ASAP. Sigh.

smm said...

Funny to have Kevin and Rachel in this episode since Felicity:Alias::O.C.:Chuck.

Sad to see C.S. Lee go, as I was thinking he was the only Buy More civvie I could stand. As their plots keep drifting further from Chuck's I can only hope they are all put in various "planes to Hawaii" (or go upstairs to wax their skis, I don't care).

Nonetheless this was an entertaining episode with some heart (jaw chiseled by Michelangelo. I'm glad he noticed). I hope everyone knows that must be Bryce in the coffin, er, magical sciency bring-back-from-the-dead tube. And not a moment too soon.

Number Five said...

That was a good episode overall and I still really like the show, but I think it still tends to be just a little too contrived and internally inconsistent. Probably the silliest thing was that to get Evil Marshall to Ellie, Chuck had to yell out her full name to the crowd at the beginning. I liked the way they used the truth serum with Ellie but when the spy gang all inhaled it, instantly they were all Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar. And only Chuck, not the two highly trained government agents, had the presence of mind to realize Evil Marshall wasn't giving them the real antidote? Finally, on a different note, the Buy More subplot was funny and the way they shipped out Harold Tiberius Tang was genius, but his wife was an awful, cringe-inducing caricature. Yikes.

I don't want to sound too negative -- I won't repeat all the stuff I liked because it's pretty much all been mentioned already. It's those things though, that are keeping it from joining Pushing Daisies at the top of the new show quality scale.

As someone who has never seen a full episode of The OC, I really enjoyed Rachel Bilson - she was a lot of fun and I hope she sticks around for a while. Kevin Weisman was awesome too, even if he was just playing a stock villain.

I originally thought the flashes would get tired, but I love watching them every week to see what they stick in there, from serious/cool images (this week, the Coliseum) to silly (dog in the Santa hat) to relevant (Sarah shot Evil Marshall in the same knee that he blew out as a gymnast, according to the photo of him on crutches that Chuck flashed). Good stuff!

Jarrod said...

Hey guys, I suck at writing webpages but I'm doing my best in the interest of save chuck at

http://members.cox.net/ishikawa7/index.html

Believe me, I know how bad it is, but I could use any pointers on something to add. It's still obviously a work in progress since some of the pages aren't even up yet. Take a look around. I've added it to google, but it hasn't been indexed yet.

Chris Littmann said...

Chuck's compliments to Casey and Sarah as they were going to get into the elevator completely cracked me up.

I'll admit, my heart sunk a little when he got shot down. What can I say? I related far too much to everyman Chuck.

Still, I like the twist. Really disappointed this didn't get a full order before the strike. I hope it returns afterward because it's the ONLY new show I'm watching.

drake leLane said...

I'd assumed from the start that Chuck was inspired by the 'fish out of water' scenes that Alias employed with Wiseman as Marshall when he was forced into the field. So knowing Schwartz, I'm more tickled then surprised to see Wiseman appear in a guest role.

But as a failed gymnast? That's pure pretty funny.

I guess it's good timing that you shined a light on C.S. Lee last week for Dexter.

jenmoon said...

Good episode (though yes, Chuck yelling Ellie's name was stoopid). I was rooting for Chuck to dump his fake girlfriend and move on to a real one. Awesome.

Kenrick said...

While I like Chuck, I don't really look forward to it each week. It's entertaining enough to keep me watching. At this point, I think Journeyman has replaced Chuck as my favorite new show.

My biggest pet peeve about the show, is Chuck's inability to stay calm when his super duper memory kicks in. Or any idea that he gets really. You would think by now he'd be able to not alert everyone, everywhere about his discoveries. He must be the worst poker player ever.

Haha, yeah I LOLd when Chuck told Sarah that she was pretty and then proceeded to comment on Casey's jaw.

Matt said...

Nice that an episode finally gave Sarah Lancaster a chance to flex her comedic muscles and inquire as to just why she's with Captain Awesome.

The one real problem I'm having is that Strahowski can't really do the comedy, the drama, or the action, and is just kind of out of her league when asked to do something other than look pretty.

Alex R said...

I think you're underrating Strahowski's acting ability, Matt. I think she's actually proven she's not just a pretty face and considering this role, she maybe a new generation Jenn Garner.

Certainly more Garner then the awful Michelle Ryan on "Bionic Woman".

Who knew "Chuck" would be better at the spy/action/humor mix and "Bionic" would miss the boat on the whole thing (not to mention how vastly superior the "Chuck" cast is to the dull "Bionic" cast save for the guy from "Friday Night Lights" or Katee Sackhoff).

In fact, I don't even necessarily think the writing is so vastly superior on "Chuck" over "Bionic". I think you have a better, more entertaining group of actors with far better chemistry.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The one real problem I'm having is that Strahowski can't really do the comedy, the drama, or the action, and is just kind of out of her league when asked to do something other than look pretty.

I'm with you that she's comedy-impaired. Levi was carrying the angry sleepover sequence all by himself, where if Strahovski had the comic talents of someone like Rachel Bilson, it could have been a much bigger, funnier scene. Comedy isn't really something that can be taught, but we're lucky that Chuck has two government handlers and that Adam Baldwin's funny, which minimizes any harm Strahovski's unfunniness can cause. Nothing wrong with one member of the mission trio being the straight woman.

Hard to say on the action, as the fight choreography has been pretty basic, but that's something that can be improved upon, either by Strahovski hiring Jennifer Garner's old fight trainer or by the show hiring Sarah Michelle Gellar's old stunt double.

And I think she's actually pretty good at the drama, as evidenced by how she played the episode's final moments.

Is she the second coming of Garner? No. But I don't see her as a big liability, either.

TuckPendleton said...

Well, I keep getting sucked in, and it is growing on me. I still wish they would tone down the pop culture references -- the Indiana Jones this week, Butch and Sundance from the Alma Mater episode, etc. One wonders what kind of life experience Schwartz and his team have had, since it mainly seems to be made up of watching other, better movies and TV shows.

It's equally disheartening because the show does have some great writing (the powder/mother exchange was priceless) and clearly they can be inventive when they want. But instead of doing the hard work to come up with an interesting final battle with Evil Marshall, they wimp out and put in some lame pop touchstone.

There's nothing wrong with light-hearted entertainment, but this shows wants to have moments of gravitas (a la Sarah telling Chuck there's no shot) but it is unearned because of the lack of a strong foundation. If we feel sympathy for Chuck, it's because of the show, it's because we ourselves have been the same situation.

Anonymous said...

Loved it, loved it, loved it. Charming, funny, romantic, exciting, clever and goofy. Zach and Rachel Bilson were adorable together, I think Yvonne can kick ass and emote and there's no need for her to be funny, and Adam Baldwin is amazing.

Such a great show, really hitting its stride. I"m sad to see Harry Tang go...

Kristen said...

I really liked when Sarah refers to Casey as her partner and he looks at her like he's truly touched.

It reminded me how much I love Adam Baldwin, both for comedy and drama.

Karen said...

I really do like this show better with every week and, despite my sadness at seeing Harry Tang go (really? no one's gonna comment on Big Mike and Lady Tang??), this was one of the best. I agree with Alan about Strahowski's dramatic chops: combining "Lisa. My middle name is Lisa" from a couple of weeks ago with her face as she told Chuck "No" last night, you're seeing some pretty serious emotional truths expressed.

I agree with @J about "Toxic" (which I had actually never heard before the "Doctor Who" episode, because I am OLD), and I thought it was beautifully used. I also simply loved how the truth serum affected Casey and Chuck together, as they seemed to have a bit more affection and respect for each other than their usual demeanor would indicate.

Rachel Bilson is always welcome and, despite grilled turkey, Muenster cheese, and egg bread (geez, it's called Challah, you goyim) not sounding like the best sandwich ever (seriously, she should check out these: http://www.seriouseats.com/tags/eating_out/Serious%20Sandwiches), I thought her character brought a lot to the show. She and Levi had a lot of chemistry together.

I really hope the strike doesn't deep-six this show....

Stef said...

Loved this episode, and as a long-time 'shipper I'm excited to see how the triangle of Chuck-Sarah-Summer (I mean Lou) develops.

I also love the pop culture references, cuz they're like a little candy treat for all of us similarly obsessed/saturated pop culture fans out there. I always smile when I catch a wink/nudge reference, and if a show can help fuel my feelings of pop culture superiority, I'll take it! :-)

Anonymous said...

To Karen:
The sandwich is actually a shout-out to a sandwich at LA's Canter's Deli. The sandwich is called Matt's Special and is named after Chuck producer Matt Miller. I've heard both Adam Brody and Rachel mention it as being a favorite sandwich of theirs and I giggled at it getting a shout out.

It also does sound disgusting but is quite awesome.

Alex R said...

The sandwich sounds delicious to me and yes, everyone should have heard by now of Challah ;-) It's a delicious bread that was served to me every Friday night as a kid.

Adam Baldwin is flat out fantastic. He can do comedy and drama, and you maybe right that Yvonne doesn't have the comedic chops of say Zack Levi and Baldwin, but so what, the 3 of them together in a scene are a thing of beauty.

This show may not be perfect, but one thing it really gets is how to cast charming actors who know how to play off one another. Baldwin is the type of actor who makes everyone around him better.

Also, the character of Casey is so similar to Jane on "Firefly" but I love it - maybe that's what baldwin always plays but he does it with such flare.

I also love the pop culture references...keep 'em coming. C'mon, if many of you on this Blog are fans of any Joss Whedon series and/or "Veronica Mars", you always have to appreciate pop culture stuff.

I am sure that's exactly what played into the casting of Kevin Weisman (Marshall) as evil guy this episode...the "Chuck" creators probably knew the majority of the audience watching "Chuck" at home were either fans or at least liked "Alias" (shows are similar in a lot of ways) and would really appreciate the site of Marshall...but then laugh that he was EVIL Marshall.

jim treacher said...

Words taste like peaches.