Spoilers for "Chuck" season two, episode three coming up just as soon as I quell a revolution with a fork...
We're now three-for-three on the new season. "Chuck vs. the Break-Up" wasn't quite the laugh riot of the previous two episodes, but that's because it had its mind on the romance part of the series' delicate balance of genres.
As justifications for postponing the inevitable end of a Will-They-Or-Won't-They? unresolved sexual tension scenario go, Chuck and Sarah's reason for backing off of each other is a pretty good one. On "The Office," Jim never needed to worry about getting killed because Pam was too distracted by love to shoot the bad guy, right? And because we've seen glimpses of Chuck and Sarah either dating (the dumpling outing in the premiere) or doing an incredible simulation thereof (their make out session in front of Roan Montgomery last week), we know they work together, and that they realize this, and that the show is going to have fun with their attraction and hopefully not annoy us along the way.
Like I said last year, Yvonne Strahovski may not be the funniest person on this show (though she's still at least ahead of Sarah Lancaster), but that's no sin when Zachary Levi and Adam Baldwin and the rest are around. She's there to kick ass and look great doing it (which she does a bang up job on), to have chemistry with Levi (ibid), and to ground the show a little in the more emotional moments (op cit). Yes, it's a contrivance that Sarah can date Bryce but not Chuck, but watching Levi and Strahovski in that final scene at the fountain, I didn't feel cheated the way that, say, "Ed" always used to when it dragged out a similar (but less lethal) situation.
And it's not like the episode was somber or maudlin or anything. There was still plenty of funny: Morgan and Lester's pathetic imitation spy mission (complete with special hand gestures and dive rolls) to chase away Michael Strahan and his pals, Chuck getting fed up with Bryce's condescending attitude (after Bryce calls him "Kid," Chuck protests, "We were born in the same year!") and, especially, Chuck's horrified reaction to Sarah and Bryce's spicy dance number. (The squeak in Levi's voice as he said "The Forbidden Dance?" was a highlight.)
I like that, although Bryce likes and respects Chuck enough to have sent him the Intersect, he also can't resist marking his territory and making sure his nerdy ex-roommate remembers who the real spy is and who's the amateur. (Bryce has a real bow tie; Chuck has a clip-on.) The tension between the two of them felt real, and it also made for yet another parallel with the Buy More subplot, as both Chuck and Morgan battle feelings of inadequacy around classic alpha male characters.
And Bryce coming back finally addresses a question most of us have had going back to the pilot: what happens when the intel in Chuck's head gets outdated? Now, thanks to a pair of magic sunglasses (which, really, is no more ridiculous than anything else about the Intersect concept), Chuck has a software upgrade, which should keep us from asking this question at least until next season. (And, boy, I really want there to be a next season.)
Some other thoughts on "Chuck vs. the Break-Up":
• As I mentioned in my review at the start of the season, I'm glad Chuck is getting better at the spy stuff, albeit in a Chuck way. He's not just a victim, not just someone who mopes in the car or cowers in fear (not much, anyway) when danger's about. Bribing the bad guys to go away isn't standard spy M.O., but it worked to defuse the situation -- and then it set up that wonderful, silent moment where, after Casey shoots the Fulcrum woman to save the day when Sarah can't, the camera panned down to show, without comment, that Casey also managed to get the cash back. Much more effective (and certainly easier on the budget) than actually showing him chase down and beat or kill the mercenaries.
• The show usually goes with '80s pop culture references for one-off character names (Melinda Clarke's character last week had the same name as the female spy from "Gotcha!"), but somehow a sports one snuck into the script, with Steve Valentine's character being named after Phillies outfielder Von Hayes.
• Not that there weren't any '80s pop culture references, as evidenced by Lester yelling out, "Sweep the leg, Morgan!" (By the way, if any "Karate Kid" fan has yet to see the "Sweep the Leg" music video, please stop what you're doing and go. You'll thank me after.)
• Not only does the CIA, as Bryce notes, have a knack for putting Sarah into cute outfits (the Orange-Orange uniform, the swank red dress), but they also apparently have a great makeup team on call for her, as her face was completely unblemished in the hospital after she almost got blown up trying to save Chuck.
• Strahan was, as usual, a natural on camera, though I could have done without those point of view close-ups whenever he was threatening Morgan. Felt like they were trying too hard to exaggerate the threat for comic effect, when Strahan is both intimidating and funny enough on his own to not need underlining that way.
• The Strahan story also gave us a couple of great musical moments: Lester and Morgan preparing to die at the end of their shift while the soundtrack shifted into a soundalike version of an Ennio Morricone spaghetti Western score (it reminded me a lot of the legendary "Ecstasy of Gold" scene from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"), and then Anna giving Strahan a gravity-defying, tripod-assisted beatdown scored to "Barracuda." (Or does Sarah Palin's attempt to make that her theme song mean you think of hockey moms whenever you hear it now?)
• I loved the gleam in Casey's eye as he watched Anna go to town, by the way. Question: would anyone actually want to see Anna become part of spy world in addition to nerd world, or do you want Chuck, Casey and Sarah to be the only people who get to walk in both?
• We only got one quasi-Parkour move from Bryce this time, when he slid under the table during the chase scene at the top of the episode, and since that wasn't enough to satisfy my usual Parkour jones, I'll point you to both the foot chase from "Casino Royale" and to one of the opening scenes of the French, all-Parkour action movie "District 13."
• No Huey Lewis this week (at least, not in the version I reviewed), but I wrote this review while playing Huey and the News' greatest hits on my iPod.
What did everybody else think?