Spoilers for tonight's "Chuck" sandwich coming up just as soon as I work on strengthening my thighs...
So how does a "Chuck" sandwich taste, anyway? Kinda bittersweet, I have to say. On the one hand, I'm grateful to get any original "Chuck" at all after nearly two months. On the other, I had sort of made peace with its absence from my weekly viewing, and after two hours, it's gone again. Much as I enjoyed these, I'd almost rather NBC had stuck to the original plan of saving them until they had more episodes produced.
"Chuck Versus the Undercover Lover" was definitely the stronger hour of the two. It had a heavy dose of Casey, who's become the not-so-secret weapon of the show. ("Breathe, Casey! Breathe! Or grunt! Grunting is good, too!") It had that great fight scene with Chuck strapped to Casey's back (I've seen martial arts movies do variations on this, but it usually involves both people whooping ass, where Chuck's squealing uselessness was the best part). While both episodes used the ancillary characters a lot (hence the post title), I thought they were used better here, particularly Captain Awesome being trapped at the Nerd Herd strip poker game. (I was assuming that this was Morgan the amateur therapist's attempt to scare Awesome back into Ellie's arms, but no, the guys are just that sad and creepy.) And it had greater consistency than "Chuck Versus the Marlin," which was ragged in a way that lots of episodes written right before the strike have been.
If I had one real complaint with the first hour -- and it's hard to complain much about an episode that makes such hilarious use of "Love on the Rocks," or that contains a line like "I don't want to die a male stewardess!" -- it's that they should have used the "Casablanca" parallels back in the return of Bryce Larkin episode. If there's an analogue to Rick, Ilsa and Victor Lazlo, it's with our central love triangle -- which, oddly, would make the show's main character the Victor Lazlo stand-in. (Maybe they can do an episode soon where Chuck leads the Nerd Herd in a round of "La Marseillaise.") Also, I think there was a missed opportunity for a "Mr. & Mrs. Smith"-esque scene where Casey and his Ilsa, having discovered each other's true identities, get off on shooting bad guys together.
Where I really enjoyed the doomed romance at the heart of "Undercover Lover," the best parts of "Marlin" tended to be on the fringes: Chuck's cell phone photo of Captain Awesome is of Awesome kissing his own bicep, Jeff telling Lester how to deal with the "pigs" (and then folding under interrogation), Big Mike not noticing the emptied and/or restocked versions of the store until his fish came into play, the "Over the Top" reference in Lester and Jeff's thumb wrestling match, Big Mike literally turning up the heat on Chuck, and Awesome finally discovering a situation that was unequivocally not awesome.
The main story was funny in spots -- particularly Jeff and Lester's mammary cam video turning out to a plot point -- but what held the rushed script together was Zachary Levi's work in the scenes where Chuck tried to say goodbye to people, just in case. Levi's good with the jokes and all (see the weak thighs joke from "Undercover Lover"), but what really makes the show work is the vulnerable charm he brings to the part. I knew Chuck wasn't going to be sent to the bunker, but Levi at least made me feel recognize how lousy even the possibility was.
One other note: I hope Yvonne Strahovski has spent a good chunk of the strike hanging at the dojo, because she looked badly outclassed by the actress playing pita girl in the latest Wienerlicious throwdown.
What did everybody else think?