Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Chuck: Survey course

Spoilers for last night's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I put "Gotcha!" in my Netflix queue...

After last week's outstanding "Chuck Versus the Sandworm," it was all but inevitable that the next episode would be a letdown. "Chuck Versus the Alma Mater" wasn't a bad episode, necessarily, but it was probably my least favorite episode since "Chuck Versus the Helicopter" in week two.

As I've written before, I appreciate the attempts to make Chuck more than just a comic character, to make us care about him and his emotional journey, but "Chuck" as a series works better when the comedy and/or action quotient is a lot higher than it was here. So Chuck's not in a very funny place in this episode because he has to confront his Stanford past? Fine, but then give Casey more to do beyond the hilarious one-two punch of "Take a shower, hippie!" followed by "Leave the quips to me." Or involve Captain Awesome more in the trip somehow, or make the fight with the crossbow-wielding Icelandic dude more elaborate.

As it was, virtually all the comic load had to be carried by "Chuck" lightning rod sidekick Morgan, with some support from Harry Tang and the Nerd Herders. That stuff was funny, particularly all the guys once again getting overheated at any whiff of Anna's sexuality, but also Lester selling out Morgan for a yellow shirt, and Harry's "One remote to rule them all!" I don't understand the mechanics of the remote resolution, though; how did Morgan again get access to the thing to reprogram it? (On the plus side, I liked the callback to last week with Morgan pointing out that he can't be fired.)

Still, Zachary Levi did a good job with the pathos, and I figured Bryce sold out Chuck for more altruistic reasons, even if it doesn't explain why he then stole Chuck's girlfriend -- or why, four years later, he was willing to get Chuck involved in the espionage world when he had to do such a terrible thing to keep him out of it to begin with. But I imagine this isn't the last we've seen of Mr. Larkin, whether in flashback or some shocking return from death.

A few other odds and ends:
  • "Don't Look Back in Anger" was a big hit during my early-mid '90s college days, so using it as the music cue for Chuck's flashback to 2003 seemed odd. On the other hand, the lyrics fit, and I suppose I prefer that to the "Journeyman" and "Cold Case" approach of just playing the biggest hits of that particular moment in time.
  • Lots and lots of '80s references in this one, from Harry's remote code being OU812 to Morgan having ruined "Karate Kid 2" for Ellie (as if it didn't largely come pre-ruined) with his karoke take on "Glory of Love" to Anna seducing Harry to the strains of Hall and Oates.
  • I again want to sing the praises of the "hippie"/"quips" double-shot. The first line was lame, but then made hilarious by the second, and Casey's belief that he's a master quipster.
What did everybody else think?

25 comments:

Chris Littmann said...

This isn't so much a Chuck comment as an NBC/Universal comment. We get it. It's green week. I was half amazed Hiro didn't tell us to plant a cherry blossom tree in a PSA at the end of Heroes. Can't the PSAs stick to being in the commercials, not in the shows?

Anyway, on the show, I had to feel like I was sharing an inside joke with Josh Schwartz at the end when past Bryce says the new millennium will be for the nerds (or something like that) because now Schwartz has done two shows with the OC and Chuck that have these nerdy guys sort of ruling the day at times -- Chuck and Seth Cohen.

Thought it was entertaining, not great overall, and honestly my biggest chuckle came in the form of next week's tease with all the intimacy jokes (and Rachel Bilson!).

Question: Are we left to wonder now about Bryce's e-mail? Is there no question he intended to send the secrets to Chuck knowing his mental capacity, or is there still a chance it was pure coincidence?

Alan Sepinwall said...

This isn't so much a Chuck comment as an NBC/Universal comment. We get it. It's green week. I was half amazed Hiro didn't tell us to plant a cherry blossom tree in a PSA at the end of Heroes. Can't the PSAs stick to being in the commercials, not in the shows?

This week's "30 Rock" offers a hilarious biting-the-hand-that-feeds-it take on the NBC/green week, which I'm really looking forward to writing about.

I had to feel like I was sharing an inside joke with Josh Schwartz

Speaking of inside jokes, I neglected to mention Lester's "O.C. season two. Underrated." line during the Guess the Show game.

Question: Are we left to wonder now about Bryce's e-mail? Is there no question he intended to send the secrets to Chuck knowing his mental capacity, or is there still a chance it was pure coincidence?

The way the scene in the pilot was cut, there's some ambiguity there. He's thumbing through his address book frantically and hits send as he dies, so there's a chance he was looking for Chuck or that the cursor just happened to be on Chuck when Casey's bullet hit him.

Taleena said...

I was prepared for this episode to not be as comic as the last couple and the revelations were not surprising. I liked it and I also like how Morgan is becoming more autonomous from Chuck and is filling the role as rebel leader against Harry Tiberious Tang (Love that name) that Chuck is not there to fill.

I expect Morgan to become the new Asst. Manager when Casey takes out Tang for interfering in a mission through petty dictator-ing.

Alex R said...

Sorry, Alan, I thought this was another terrific "Chuck" episode and I loved the pathos. I think "Chuck" is showing (the way "Buffy used but certainly this is not "Buffy' level) that yuo can have action/comedy mixed with a certain amount of pathos.

I found it really intriguing that Chuck has a "more than accidental" CIA connection going back to his Stanford days.

I liked his interactions with Bryce and I have always liked the actor (Matthew Bomer) who plays Bryce (he was good on the short lived "Traveler" and as Tru Davies' boyfriend on "Tru Calling") and I for one think it would be a very cool twist if he were still alive and he showed up at the end of this season (hopefully as a cliffhanger leading to a much deserved season 2) still alive - and of course, predictably - just as Chuck and the hottie spy/Bryce's ex are about to get together.

I also feel at some point, they will cast and introduce us to the infamous girl that both dated Bryce & Chuck - 'Jill'. (as long as Josh Schwartz doesn't cast freaking Mischa Barton...uggg).

But great episode, great show...having a lot of fun with this hour.

J said...

Ugh. The less time we spend watching Chuck stand around whining, the better. Seriously, the entire campus has him emotionally paralyzed? And seriously, we have to see him reiterate that twenty times? I was rooting for crossbow guy, and that the show would return next week as Tang.

Actually, the show's crying out for a Tang-centric episode.

I hadn't really paid attention to the ep titles until now, but the "Versus" thing bugs me. The Tick cartoon did the same thing, and it was infinitely better than Chuck could ever hope to be. Plus, The Tick had Swiss assassins, Chuck's using Iceland. I smell the sweaty palms of prime time injustice!

Carrie said...

I loved this ep. I thought it was just amusing enough and had a lot of great character moments. Zachary Levi is really selling the role of Chuck, which I think is more difficult to do than he is making it seem. If that makes any sense.

I doubt Bryce sending the Intersect to Chuck was an accident, especially considering Bryce knew he remembered 98% of the subliminal photos in college. I have a definite feeling Bryce is still alive. Also, I think Bryce stole Jill from Chuck to make sure Chuck would be devastated and get as far away from Stanford as possible, thus avoiding the CIA for good.

My question is: Bryce discussed with the professor that cheating would make Chuck's test results invalid. This means the professor must have been complicit in Bryce's plan to get Chuck expelled, right? The professor knew Chuck didn't really cheat. Or am I interpreting this incorrectly?

Loved the Buy More subplot. It's nice to see that they can do completely independent Buy More scenes and have them work with no Chuck involvement. That bodes well for the future of the show.

"O.C. Season Two. Underrated." Ha! Yeah, right, Schwartzy.

Anonymous said...

I was too annoyed by all the Green stuff to pay attention to anything else.

Although, I never feel like I am paying attention to Chuck, and yet, I still enjoy it.

jim treacher said...

"I hate Stanford because they suck so much!" Awesome is awesomely logical.

Loved that the "hippie" was one of the CIA recruits. And the epilogue was kind of wistful. Back in 1999, what grade was Schwartz in?

"My question is: Bryce discussed with the professor that cheating would make Chuck's test results invalid. This means the professor must have been complicit in Bryce's plan to get Chuck expelled, right?"

Yeah, right after that Bryce tells the professor he needs to help get Chuck out of the program. The whole thing was a scam, which was why the prof said "I'm sorry" right before he got his back scratched with a crossbow bolt.

Patrick Wynne said...

I was disappointed that the Buy More subplot just sorta fizzled at the end. So Morgan has Tang right where he wants him and his only condition is that he get out of "the hole"? What about lifting one or two of the more onerous new rules? Say, the no overlapping lunch breaks thing so that Chuck and Morgan can once more have their Surf-n-Turf days.

I'm also a little disappointed that Chuck has a pre-existing (though unknown to him) connection to the spy biz. I suppose it was inevitable but I think I would have liked it a little bit more if he didn't. The professor didn't die, did he? I think the last we hear of him is that he is going into surgery. Maybe we'll get a conversation between him and Chuck later.

"O.C. season two. Underrated."

I thought Lester said "season three." I didn't watch that show, but Wikipedia seems to indicate that S3 was when the ratings took a turn for the worse and the writing quality went down so that line would make more sense (to me, at least) if it was referring to that particular season. I could be wrong, though. That looked like a fun game, by the way. I'll have to try it some time.

I was seriously distracted by the "Stanford" campus. It was UCLA! I know that shows have to use campuses close to where they nmormally film, but sometimes it can be a bit too much. Too bad they couldn't have filmed at USC, though; that would have made Awesome's line about wishing they were playing that school even funnier.

Still enjoying the hell out of this show. Best new show of the season for me.

filmcricket said...

The Bryce reveal had heart, but football in the groin had a football in the groin.

Sorry, couldn't help myself. I wasn't blown away by the episode either, but I do like that we were able to get a fair helping of backstory without everything coming to a standstill so characters could talk about it, unlike some other Monday night NBC shows *coughHeroescough*. I hope this doesn't turn Bryce into a full-on good guy, though; it's more interesting if he's still morally grey. Or rather, it's okay if Chuck and Sarah now think of him as a good guy, but I hope the writers don't.

The way the scene in the pilot was cut, there's some ambiguity there. He's thumbing through his address book frantically and hits send as he dies, so there's a chance he was looking for Chuck or that the cursor just happened to be on Chuck when Casey's bullet hit him.

I wondered about this too, but didn't Chuck have to start a text-based video game or something in order to open the email? And wasn't it the one referenced in the flashback last night when we see Chuck and Bryce meet for the first time? I get the feeling from that that Bryce knew what he was doing. Of course, by doing that he put Chuck in more danger than Chuck would have been in if he'd gone through the CIA training and become a proper agent. This is one of the reasons why I think Bryce's motives might still be dicey.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I thought Lester said "season three."

No, it was season two. Even Schwartz would admit that season three was bad, where to this day he defends season two as being the victim of a predictable but unfair backlash.

Also, Schwartz went to USC, which makes his decision to turn Awesome into a meathead UCLA fan another inside joke.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Back in 1999, what grade was Schwartz in?

Don't know for sure, but he's 31, where I guess Chuck is supposed to be 25 or 26 if he was a college senior in 2003.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The Bryce reveal had heart, but football in the groin had a football in the groin.

Sorry, couldn't help myself.


Never, ever feel the need to apologize for using that quote. It may be the single most useful "Simpsons" line ever when it comes to discussing pop culture.

I wondered about this too, but didn't Chuck have to start a text-based video game or something in order to open the email?

Derp. Forgot about that. Of course he intended to send it to Chuck, because who else would have any idea what to do with that Zork game?

jim treacher said...

"Don't know for sure, but he's 31, where I guess Chuck is supposed to be 25 or 26 if he was a college senior in 2003."

(Pssst! Joke!)

A few weeks ago somebody was saying that Chuck wouldn't use a White Knights reference, but I figured it could be explained by him working in a Best Buy (or whatever) with all those DVDs. Zork might be a little harder to explain, considering he was -1 when it came out.

Michael Sterling said...

I'm glad that they've tried to do something to explain how Chuck (his brain, really) managed to take in all those images from the intersect. I just hope that they don't try to explain it any more, given how ridiculous it is.

Number Five said...

Yeah that was kind of a dud. Way way way too obvious, on the nose writing, even in the otherwise fun Buy More subplot (yes the remote is like the One Ring....we get it!), not particularly funny comedy, and the action is never going to make up for it when it's just people shooting at each other. And while I can see the CIA recruiting Stanford undergrads to join up as agents when they graduate, the idea that they have already been supplied with machine guns and ammunition and are ready to go was the most ludicrous thing they've done on the show so far.

Which is too bad because I really liked that they delved into Chuck's background and came up with an explanation for his ability to store the images and flash on them. Chuck doesn't need a complicated mythology but it was cool to see them start out to branch out from missions of the week and I hope they keep that up.

I believe Awesome said something like "I wish we were playing USC" just before they cut to another scene, so I guess that completes the inside joke.

Anonymous said...

I liked this ep just as much as last week. I liked the nostalgic element. Thoroughly enjoyable, but pretty forgettable, like most of these eps.

Sigh. I guess I'm still waiting for some kind of new show to still rock my world a la Buffy, to bring the level from 'entertaining' to 'knocked-me-on-my-ass' good. (I guess Buffy is on my brain since a previous poster mentioned it.)

LoopyChew said...

Jim, I'm 26 and while I'm not the biggest Zork fan in the world, I at least get the reference. My little brother's 23 and I'm sure that if he were in a twisty little maze of passages, all different, he'd at least know it was an Infocom riff.

I don't doubt Chuck's Zork fanboyism one second. There are retrogamers born in the 80's, you know.

As for the episode...I think it was pretty high up there on my list so far (I'm partial to Klemmer, so "Sandworm" is still the top--but Hey! to the VM shout-out this week). It feels more like they're going to finally branch out into the season arc with this episode, as opposed to the more MotW-style eps previous. Also, you have to love an episode that directly comments about Chuck's inability to stay in the car.

BigTed said...

I thought this was a decent episode, but a lot of the back story didn't really make sense. If Bryce was enough of a fan of national service to join the CIA himself, why wouldn't he want Chuck to do it? Especially when Chuck is naturally well suited for one job. The idea that he's too nice to be exposed to danger or all that violence doesn't wash when there appears to be an entire Nerd Herd of sweet, geeky young agents on campus who can handle guns just fine. Would anyone really think that his current life as a washout who can't get into any other college is better than his life as a CIA operative would have been?

A lot of universities don't even kick students out for cheating anymore, even with solid evidence, because they know the students will immediately go calling high-priced lawyers. It's hard to imagine that Chuck wouldn't have done anything to fight back against what to him was a clearly unjust situation -- or that his sister wouldn't have done it if he was too depressed.

Now that we know there's something special about Chuck's brain that let him absorb all the special images, I wonder if this show will go the route of virtually every other show with a mysterious conspiracy, and have one of Chuck's parents turn out to be alive and well and fully involved in the whole thing?

Anonymous said...

The show really needs some more Tang/Casey reactions (and I think it's a real testament to the show, which has been my favorite so far this year, that I write Tang/Casey and not Tang/Jayne).

This means the professor must have been complicit in Bryce's plan to get Chuck expelled, right? The professor knew Chuck didn't really cheat. Or am I interpreting this incorrectly?

Which makes sense. I don't think you'd be kicked out of school on a first offense generally (even with the break-in/selling aspects of the frame).

jim treacher said...

"I don't doubt Chuck's Zork fanboyism one second. There are retrogamers born in the 80's, you know."

I didn't! But that's very cool. Tell them I said: HELLO SAILOR

filmcricket said...

It may be the single most useful "Simpsons" line ever when it comes to discussing pop culture.

The Simpsons are like Shakespeare, they have the apt word for every occasion. But I mis-typed, I should have written "Chuck's football in the groin had a football in the groin."

Would anyone really think that his current life as a washout who can't get into any other college is better than his life as a CIA operative would have been?

This is one of the reasons why I'm hoping Bryce is still going to turn out to be kind of a bad guy, or at least shady. The fact that there are lots of people like Chuck apparently being recruited might not be an issue - Bryce cared about Chuck, not any other random sweet nerds. But he did ruin Chuck's life and apparently never tried to use any kind of influence he might have had to make his friend's post-expulsion life any better. And there's still the question of Jill, and why Bryce went rogue in the first place. While I didn't love the episode, I did like that it seems to be setting up a longer arc.

Stef said...

I'm still liking this show more and more every week, and I think they're starting to hit a good balance of how to use the talented cast. Morgan's growing on me (not really like a fungus) and I'll take more Casey, anytime! I agree with the previous poster that it's a credit to Adam Baldwin and the show that we're starting to really see Casey rather than Jayne, or that bad guy from Wolfram and Hart.

Alan, I knew the heavy Oasis use was off time-wise, but I'm about the same age as you and it so instantly brought me back to my own college years that it seemed just right for this episode!

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of the show as well, but I thought this week's (vs Alma Mater) was sloppy. The story was interesting, tied up a few loose ends, but there were some continuity problems that really shouldn't have made it past editing.

For instance, the scene in the library, when Chuck gets tagged on late fees - one moment he's in danger of getting arrested, and the next, where's the library guy?

cgeye said...

Why did Chuck need to take an electrical engineering class to design *software* for a retro video game? Did he need to build the computer from the NAND gates, up? Sheesh. One nerd demerit, please.