I watched the first three episodes of the new season of "Chuck" over the weekend, and they lived up to everything Josh Schwartz promised in our interview. Very funny, much better integration of Chuck's real life and spy life, better action beats, etc.
I'll offer no spoilers, but I'll say that I really dug the second episode, "Chuck vs. the Seduction." As Schwartz said, it's their homage to "My Favorite Year," which is one of my favorite movies. And whether you're a "Chuck" fan, a comedy fan, a fan of great acting or simply a movie fan, I advise you to get yourself to your nearest DVD purveyor (brick-and-mortar or virtual) to get a copy of that film. After the jump, I'll go into a little more detail about why...
"My Favorite Year" was one of several fictionalized versions of the legendary writers' room on Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows," this one inspired by the experiences of Mel Brooks. (See also Carl Reiner's "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor.") The favorite year in question is 1954. Mark-Linn Baker (whose work here inspired me to watch "Perfect Strangers" far longer than was necessary) plays Brooks stand-in Benjy Stone, the junior writer on a hit TV sketch comedy series hosted by beefy Stan "King" Kaiser (Joseph Bologna, hilariously uncouth without ever being vulgar). The special celebrity guest this week is Alan Swann, a legendary swashbuckling movie star, now a bankrupt alcoholic, who's a mix of Errol Flynn and Peter O'Toole -- and is conveniently played by O'Toole himself.
Without O'Toole, "My Favorite Year" would still be a very funny movie about the golden age of live TV comedy. Bologna is, like I said, priceless as King Kaiser, who has a generous streak tempered by the weird gifts he chooses to give. ("Tires are nice. Get him some tires. Whitewalls.") Linn-Baker has great interplay with Bill Macy (this guy, not this guy) as the show's pessimistic head writer, as well as a marvelous dinner-and-a-movie date scene with the WASP-y object of his affection. And the set piece at the apartment of Benjy's mother (Lanie Kazan), filled with a variety of Jewish caricatures that are both over-the-top and right on the mark, still makes me laugh after the 100th time I've seen it.
But with O'Toole, "My Favorite Year" becomes something special. It's still funny as hell -- no actor may have ever played drunk as hilariously as O'Toole does here, and he could have given Lucille Ball lessons in slapstick -- but it's also this wonderful meditation on the nature of heroism, real and imagined, and the magic of the movies. Again, I don't want to spoil anything -- though if you haven't seen it yet, I'd be careful about reading the comments, as anyone who has can feel free to talk about the film -- but there's a scene towards the end where Benjy demands that Swann try to live up to all those heroes he played on screen, and it's a perfect encapsulation of why entertainment matters.
Hell of a movie. Up there with "Midnight Run" among my all-time favorites for pure entertainment value every single time I watch it. And it was cool to see "Chuck" pay a little tribute to it. But we can talk more about that when the episode airs in about a month.