Spoilers for the "Chuck" season two premiere coming up just as soon as I go on a hunger strike to prepare myself for a trip to Five Guys, then learn a language only cool people know...
I sang the general praises of all things "Chuck" in this morning's column, and I don't need to repeat those points -- that the different parts of Chuck's world are better integrated with each other, that the spy stuff is loads better thanks in part to the guest stars -- at length here. Instead, I want to go into some specifics on "Chuck vs. the First Date," which worked splendidly both as a reintroduction to the show for newbies (or people who forgot what happened almost a year ago) and as a kick-ass episode.
And maybe we should start with the ass-kicking. I complained from time to time about the fight choreography last season. The Emmys disagreed with me, as the show got its sole Emmy for stunt work, but I thought the various action scenes here were significantly improved, particularly the climax with Sarah flying through the air to kick Mr. Colt and Casey once again catching Chuck as he fell. (Which sounds horribly cheesey as I write it.) Someone built like Yvonne Strahovski should have no business staying in a fight with someone built like Michael Clarke Duncan if they both know what they're doing, and in the end Colt did have his way with her (both on the roof and at the dumpling restaurant), but the wire-work made the brief period where Sarah was hanging in look a lot more impressive than almost any of last year's fights.
Beyond that, though, the climax worked because it was one of the few times since the pilot (when the computer porn virus shut down the bomb) where Chuck's geek knowledge wound up saving the day, this time with the payoff of the seemingly random earlier scenes where Morgan discussed his new "Call of Duty" specs. Too often last year, the spy stories fizzled out at the very end, which would make the entire plot feel unsatisfying even if there was good material earlier in the episode. This climax felt well-planned, and it worked.
Beyond that, "Chuck vs. the First Date" was the funniest episode I think the show's ever done. I could do an entire post just listing all the things that made me laugh so long and so loud that I had to rewind the DVD so I could find out what I missed. What the hell, I'm going to list them anyway:
• The brilliant parallel use of Huey Lewis songs to show Chuck at his most ecstatic and then his most depressed.
• The even more brilliant use of Flight of the Conchords' "Foux Du Fafa" for our first glimpse of Sarah at her new place of employment. (More on that at the end of the post.)
• Chuck's horror at seeing what God gave Captain Awesome down there -- and, even worse, seeing his sister nekkid.
• The getting-dressed montage, which was a call back to the pilot but had some added value, including shirtless Chuck for the ladies, plus the comic brilliance of Casey winking at the Ronald Reagan target. (Also, putting Casey in the montage made clear that Casey is just as important to the show as the other two, when he was more of a third wheel in the early going until Adam Baldwin's angry genius asserted itself.)
• Captain Awesome responding to Ellie's request for more romance with "Tank's empty, babe."
• Chuck finally calling out Casey on the awful action movie kiss-off lines. ("Hey, maybe I'll say this after I crash through the window!")
• The entire job interview montage, from Anna and Jeff both putting their feet in Chuck's pantleg to Lester handing out a copy of his own WikiPedia page to Morgan handling Jeff's disgusting resume with tongs.
• Morgan turning the supply cage into Thunderdome, particularly the candid "One of them will be the assistant manager, and one of them will be Jeff!" introduction.
• The "Cool Hand Luke" homage at the end with Morgan lifting Chuck's spirits with the promise of Jeff eating 90 Twinkies. (Not as funny, but still a wicked pop culture homage: a poisoned Casey crawling through his apartment like Sean Connery after he gets shot in "Untouchables.")
So, so, so much comedy goodness, as well as some decent pathos with Chuck's chance at a normal life (or what he thinks is his chance) slipping through his fingers, and a reasonable explanation for why Chuck is still the Intersect after all this time. And, as I said in the column, I'm glad to see Chuck being less of a spaz both in his relationship with Sarah and in the spy work. Yes, he still gets held out of a window and trips over his own feet, but he figures out a way to save the day and also is reasonably charming before Colt's people interrupt the dumpling date. Chuck needs to grow, even if in small increments, for the show to keep from getting stale, and they've accomplished that.
All in all, a great first effort, and I'm just as pleased with the next two.
A few other random thoughts:
• Schwartz and Fedak originally wanted Chuck Norris to play a big bad guy this year -- in an episode that would, of course, be called "Chuck vs. Chuck" -- but they couldn't land their white whale. Still, when Colt started limbering up to kill Chuck, I couldn't help but think of the best scene of Norris' career, when he and Bruce Lee do some similar stretching before preparing to kill each other in "Return of the Dragon." (If you have the time, I highly endorse following the YouTube link. It is disgusting, it is fascinating, it is, to quote Devin, awesome.)
• The entire supporting cast -- including Big Mike, Captain Awesome, and the rest of the Nerd Herd -- makes their way into a slightly longer version of the still sweet main title sequence.
• Big Mike either found a way to fix his old, duct-taped marlin, or he ordered a new one from eBay.
• I have only one real complaint: like Chuck, I miss the Wienerlicious. Yvonne certainly looks great in the Orange Orange (or, as they call it behind the scenes, the Double-O) uniform, but the brilliance of the Wienerlicious outfit was that it was both hot and ridiculous at the same time. The Double-O uniform is just hot, and while I'd ordinarily never complain about hotness, the added ridiculousness was what made the old costume so memorable.
What did everybody else think?