Monday, November 10, 2008

Chuck, "Chuck vs. the Ex": Kiss me, kill me

Spoilers for tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I eat a pen cap...

"She kissed me. No spy stuff, no lies. Just me." -Chuck

"Chuck" is a very funny show. It has attractive people wearing ridiculous outfits getting involved in cool fights. It has plot holes you could drive a Hummer through (if you could afford the gas), but is so clever otherwise that nobody pays them much attention.

But if Chuck himself weren't so likable, and so recognizably human, none of the other stuff would work nearly as well as it does. "Chuck" without Zachary Levi providing the pathos would be fun, but it would be a disposable kind of fun. Episodes like "Chuck vs. the Ex," kicking off a big three-part sweeps arc featuring the return of Chuck's heart-breaker college girlfriend Jill, is a reminder of just how important Levi's non-comic skills are to the show.

Yes, there are a lot of great gags, highlighted by Chuck somehow getting it in his head that the only way to save Casey's life is to plant a big wet kiss on him -- followed by Jill immediately declaring it the stupidest thing she's ever heard -- but what holds the episode together, what makes the big moment at the end where Chuck saves the day, kisses the girl and gets applauded by surrounding law-enforcement work, is the vulnerability that Levi projects throughout.

This girl hurt Chuck, and Levi shows us that. This double life Chuck leads is awfully lonely, and Levi shows us that, too. He wants a normal life, and Jill's return -- even though she winds up entangled in another spy mission -- suggests he can occasionally have something like that. And you realize that as much as Sarah makes his heart skip a beat, Chuck wasn't totally lying in "Chuck vs. the Break-Up" when he told her he'd be better off with a "real," down-to-earth girlfriend. And Levi shows us all of that with a very expressive performance that in turn elevates the sillier stuff. Chuck planting one on Casey would be funny regardless, but because we believe in Chuck and therefore believe in this life-or-death situation, it's actually funnier to see him talk himself into this ridiculous path. And when Chuck gets his second standing ovation in as many episodes (he's on a good streak right now in spy world, isn't he?), his moment of triumph is all the sweeter.

Jordana Brewster did a solid job playing the girl of Chuck's dreams. Almost any actress would have a problem living up to the Jill described in previous episodes, but she was a good combination of smart (though the glasses did a lot of the heavy lifting there) and sexy (complete with a slo-mo entrance previously reserved for Sarah), and her reaction to Chuck's unraveling web of lies was convincing.

Just as good was Yvonne Strahovski. We know by now that the sensitive stuff is one of her specialties, so it's not a surprise that she would be strong in an episode where Sarah has to shut down any jealous feelings out of professional necessity (and out of her desire to let Chuck move on from his crush on her), but it still deserves mention.

I was a little concerned that a lot of people -- albeit mostly anonymous government agent types -- this season have gotten a look at Chuck in action as a spy, which seems to defeat the purpose of hiding him in his lousy job at the Buy More. Fedak and Schwartz's argument is that Chuck being the Intersect is the big secret, and that it's okay for cops and feds to get a look at "Charles Carmichael" in action as a spy type, or even for someone like Jill to know his real name and side gig, just so long as no one finds out about the computer in Chuck's brain. I still think that that gets in the way of the show's basic premise (if people can know that a guy who looks like Chuck is a spy, why does he need to be stuck at the Nerd Herd?), but, again, the parts of the show that are good are so good that I can't complain about this stuff for more than a micro-second.


Some other thoughts on "Chuck vs. the Ex":

• Casey's disguises don't usually amount to much more than slipping on a bartender's vest and bowtie or a limo driver suit, so it was nice -- and funny -- to see him get the goofy-looking wig and soul patch to go along with Sarah's Louise Brooks bob for Chuck's big date.

• Speaking of the big date, their entrance into the restaurant was clearly meant to be an homage to the legendary tracking shot from "Goodfellas," when Henry Hill takes Karen into the back of the restaurant and everyone knows who he is. I'd complain loudly about "Chuck" not attempting to do it in a single take ala Scorsese (or the "Swingers" homage to "Goodfellas"), but I also know how much preparation those kinds of shots take, and how difficult that would be to do on an episodic TV show schedule.

• The song playing throughout this episode, starting with the Stanford flashback, was Iggy Pop's "Pumpin' For Jill."

• Two weeks (and one episode) after Jeff's biggest showcase to date, our resident Missile Command master got one hilarious piece of business after another: asking for a donut after watching Big Mike almost choke on one, Jeff raising his hand in response to Captain Awesome's "Who's ready to pound some plastic?" (and Lester pushing Jeff's hand back down), Jeff and Lester flirting with their CPR dummies, Jeff following up Lester's "I was born ready" with "I was born premature," and, of course, Jeff reluctantly eating the pen cap so that Lester and Morgan could cheat off of Awesome saving Jeff's life. (So, does this mean that Jeff now has to take the much longer CPR course?)

• I have to say that, while a lot of funny stuff is going on in the Millbarge storyline, very little of it is coming from Millbarge himself. I had higher hopes for Tony Hale's guest stint than to see him turn out to be the straight man killjoy who inspires the others to do funny things.

• Okay, that's now two guest stars this season conspicuously named after sports figures, this time with Guy LaFleur. Can anyone come up with a thematic link between LaFleur and Von Hayes? And, if so, can you then extrapolate which athlete's name will be borrowed next?

• Unlike a certain bionic woman from a previous season on NBC, Yvonne Strahovski doesn't suddenly turn boring whenever she has to use her non-regional American diction, but it was still nice to hear her actual accent for a few moments when she was posing as an Aussie scientist.

• Funnier caller ID photo on Chuck's iPhone: Captain Awesome kissing his biceps, or Casey scowling? Somehow, it seems perfect that this is how each guy responded to Chuck asking to take their picture for the phone. I look forward to this gag continuing to run with wacky pictures for other characters.

What did everybody else think?

55 comments:

Anonymous said...

I loved Adam Baldwin in this episode. (Well, every episode actually)I loved Casey's douchebag costume in the fake restaurant. "She exercised her first amendment right to dump you." HA! At least until Lost or BSG come back, this is my favorite show.

Debbie

Anonymous said...

It's more than just the glasses; Brewster is a Yale alum. In double-checking that on wikipedia, it seems her mom is a former Sports Illustrated model and grandpa was once president of Yale. Life is cruel...

J said...

I was a little disappointed that this week's episode didn't have Chuck battling a Dutch punk band.

Much better this week. I guess Jill's emotional hokey-pokey was believable, but I've bought into the Chuck character enough that I'm just happy when he's happy. And now, of course, I feel bad for Sarah.

The "$12.50" phone moment was a riot.

Anonymous said...

Does Brewster have a first name? It is missing from this review.

erin said...

I must have missed Captain Awesome's iphone pic, but I laughed out loud at Casey scowling at the phone. Actually, I laughed out loud quite a bunch. The entire test-taking portion at the Buy More was terrific, especially seeing Lester and Morgan doing everything in tandem. Beautiful. I enjoyed Brewster, but still, her chemistry is no match for Chuck and Sarah.

And I totally forgot Strahovsky was from Australia--I thought she was doing a fake accent, but fairly well! Hee!

Andrew said...

Tony Hale's character isn't all that interesting, but Tony Hale is just inherently funny (or the way he plays Milbarge is)

Chuck is certainly the most improved show of aught-eight and may be the best show on TV right now. Or at least the show that has the best balance of comedy, pathos and action.

david said...

jordana brewster. i thought shed have a bigger career.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Does Brewster have a first name? It is missing from this review.

Typo. Fixed.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I must have missed Captain Awesome's iphone pic

Wasn't in this episode. They showed it sometime late last season.

Austin said...

The plot hole big enough for a Hummer this week ... How did the assassin get out of the hotel room after he evicted Guy?

Maybe I missed it ...

Other than that, I loved the episode.

Bobman said...

In double-checking that on wikipedia, it seems her mom is a former Sports Illustrated model and grandpa was once president of Yale. Life is cruel...

Well if Wikipedia says it, it HAS to be true... ;-)

Great episode. I was dying at Casey's costume. God this show is so fun.

Pamela Jaye said...

my eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee key is brokn

si?

anyway,ee i'm just so happy ethat they hav found soemthing for th buy mor crw to do teehaeete isee remotly intrsting, ase eeeeeeeeeo opposed to th stuff arlir in ethe sason.

lapeeetop weas esupposed to hav transplaente teonight, but my Cheucke coudln't get out ofee worke.eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

esigh.eee
eeeeeee\

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Pamela Jaye said...

a note from my external keyboard:

that line was supposed to be "*my* 'Chuck'"

i want my keyboard back! i hope this thing isn't systemic. (and i'm glad my windows password doesn't have an e in it)

aimee said...

Great episode, we laughed out loud a bunch. I also loved Casey's restaurant costume and the crazy kiss. Lester annoys me much less now, I'm glad he's not the Ass Man anymore.

Rachel said...

I feel like a broken record every week, but this was another pitch-perfect episode. The disguises were fun, the Buy More plot was funny and well integrated), and Brewster was a nice addition. I'm curious where this plot arc goes.

If it wasn't for The Office/30 Rock combo on Thursdays, Chuck would be my favorite hour of the week.

Alan - I know if you're not recapping that probably means you aren't watching anymore, but...any chance you are still watching Skins?

Sonia said...

And the name of the pharmaceutical company was the same one from the movie The Fugitive with Harrison Ford -- MacGregor Pharmaceuticals. I notice weird stuff.

Casey with that hair and the soul patch was a scream!

I do feel bad fro Sarah, but Jill is not that great...she was ragging on our Chuck when she was on the phone with her bitchy girlfriend.

Nicole said...

The 12.50 moment was awesome.

I was happy to hear them pronounce Guy the correct way, but Guy himself sounded more French than Quebecois. It was also a bit jarring to hear Sarah's Australian accent, but I guess it shows that YS plays an American quite well.

Jill is a good foil for now, but good things can only last so long for Chuck.

dave s said...

awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome

I love Chuck.

Best show on TV.

Anonymous said...

what are the implications of the assassin being cia?

kwig said...

Just this week I've been rewatching season 1, and I've been thinking when are they going to show Jill and when are they going to have Sarah do an australian accent. Both in the same week.

dez said...

I do feel bad fro Sarah, but Jill is not that great...she was ragging on our Chuck when she was on the phone with her bitchy girlfriend.


I'm guessing that Bryce seduced her as part of his plot to get Chuck out of Stanford. If so, chances are that will come out and she and the bitchy girlfriend will owe Chuck a huge apology.

Great ep, great Casey moments, great Chuck-as-sensitive-man moments. I love this show!

Anonymous said...

I was quite disappointed with the relationship between Jill and Chuck. Jill sucks, she betrayed Chuck and then only shows interest in him when she finds out he's a CIA agent. We were just starting to see Chuck grow up and stop being such a pushover and now he becomes a complete sissy again. They need to ditch Jill quickly and bring the Sarah angle back.

BigTed said...

I agree that it's a major step backward for Chuck to be going for Jill, who clearly only likes him when he's doing well. (As opposed to Sarah, who appreciates him for who he really is.) Jill's argument that she was right to dump him in college because at the time he seemed to have been guilty of cheating was the worst rationalization ever.

She's so awful that I actually thought she would turn out to be the bad guy in this episode. I guess that could still happen, but more likely she'll just continue to be a really bad girlfriend.

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see how they handle Chuck's family and friends finding out that he's a CIA agent. That has to come out if Jill's still in the picture, doesn't it?

Also, I know that Chuck said he had to move on from Sarah, but it's obvious that he can't, at least not totally. And yet, he never gave her a second look when Jill came back. That didn't ring true.

zodin2008 said...

I second Dave S. Love, love, love this show.

I laughed out loud hard a lot, and laughed even more than HIMY, which had a funny episode itself last night.

Other than Supernatural and The Shield, there's not a show I look more forward to each week.

Adam Baldwin kills in every episode and the iPhone scowl and douchebag waiter costume were utterly fantastic. The kiss rationalization from Chuck to Casey and then Jill's immediate dismisal of it literally had me rolling on the floor. I actually think I fell off my couch during that.

I do have to disagree with some of the posters on here. It's completely believeable for Chuck to turn back into a sissy with Jill.

We may not love that side of Chuck and we all root for Zack Levi to be the hero each week (and he still became the hero and saved the day at the end) and everyone's right to point out that Jill is a front runner and was a disloyal girlfriend - but Chuck falling into old habits and emotional reactions with her was completely real. I think everyone's had exes that you find yourself acting different around than other people, even after you think you've matured.

My heart broke watch Sarah's face. It's obvious she's completely in love with Chuck and it was a really good performance by Yvonne Strahovski sowing the restrained looks on her face in the appropriate scenes, especially seeing her eyes in those moments where Chuck was turning goofy again for Jill.

Because the Jill character represents the ONE girl who outdoes Sarah in Chuck's mind (at least right now), I suspect will see more of Jordana Brewster in the future, too, as an additional stumbling block to a Chuck/Sarah romance.

filmcricket said...

Unlike Alan, I'm finding it harder to ignore that so many people know Chuck either as the spy version of himself or as Carmichael. That point, and the SWAT team that Chuck showed up with at Jill's hotel, were the big problems for me this week. If those were real cops, how did he convince them to come along? If they were feds dispatched by Beckman, how come Chuck can't call for back-up in other sticky situations when a rescue op would be useful?

I know this is a fantasy and that I shouldn't look at it too closely, but there still needs to be some internal logic within the parameters that have been set up. Otherwise you just have Heroes, where the writers do whatever they want so long as it fits that week's plot.

The FULCRUM reveal at the end was a nice twist, as I was sure Jill was going to turn out to be the bad guy. I now can't figure out if Brewster was subtly signalling that there's something off about Jill, or if her performance was just a little weird.

What I really liked about last night was Chuck's final conversation with Ellie. We know by the rules of TV that Jill's not likely to be around long, but they planted the seed there: the relationship with Jill still isn't "normal." "Normal" would mean Jill hanging out with Morgan, coming for dinner with the family, being involved in Chuck's non-spy life. Chuck now has to lie to his friends and family about two girls, and I don't think he'll enjoy doing that for too long.

Eric said...

I'm hoping for a scene in the next two weeks with Jill, Sarah, Chuck and Bryce all in the same room. Which leads to the question - does Jill think Bryce is dead or alive?

Cathryn said...

I was wondering that too, if Jill thinks Bryce is alive/dead. Maybe they'll bring Bryce back, have Jill run off with Bryce, leaving Chuck to be with Sarah? Or maybe that's a little bit too soapie-like...

It was nice hearing Yvonne's Aussie accent. Was it her real real accent though? So many Aussies who end up overseas end up with weird accents, like Nicole Kidman or Kylie Minogue, so I was wondering how real it was.

I loved all the bits with Lester and Jeff. I didn't see Anna in this ep at all though? I was half studying at the same time though, so I might have missed her. Was she in it or not?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Was it her real real accent though?

Pretty much. Here's a clip of her on Craig Ferguson's show last year.

Chris Littmann said...

Thank goodness for Chuck, because the rest of Monday has really taken a turn. Loved tonight's episode. Had no idea about Yvonne's accent. Very much like the McNulty/Brit accent with the prostitutes on The Wire.

I'm sort of at a loss at what the FULCRUM agent was doing though. I like that we've got a little story going now, and not just some funny with eye candy.

James said...

Chuck has a CIA badge with the name Carmichael on it. He used that badge to get the swat team to come (and I'm assuming he used it to get the swat team on the roof in the season premier as well.

I too dislike that tons cops and the like know that Chuck is a CIA Agent. Don't these people ever shop at the Buy More? Wouldn't they recognize him?

Stef said...

I really liked how they handled it when Lester and Jeff busted Chuck on his "date." It's a small world, even in LA, and so it was bound to happen sometime that he would get spotted doing something otherwise hard to explain. But, in this way, it really can be explained to the Buy More folks about trying to impress an ex. Well done.

Adam Baldwin slays me. Just his little wink to Chuck on the other side of the glass while talking about men who fall stupidly for pretty girls was enough for me, but all the rest of the great Casey moments made it all the better.

Pamela Jaye said...

I was at youtube. Was it your fault? Anyway I found the Chuck Sandwich(es)

Apparently some of them aired during The Apprentice, so I missed those ones.

Thank you, youtube...

Pamela Jaye said...

btw, it's Awesome.

isaac spaceman said...

Her grandfather was not just president of Yale -- he was the greatest modern president of Yale, Kingman Brewster, who held the institution together in very trying times (including the takeover of the university by the Black Panthers). And Jordana Brewster is freaking hot.

Nicole said...

I think part of the reason that I think Jill is a secret spy is because she looks like Sydney Bristow. In fact, in some pictures it looks like Jennifer Garner with Chuck.

Mark B said...

Jill sucks, she betrayed Chuck and then only shows interest in him when she finds out he's a CIA agent.

The barrier to showing interest in him was that he was acting incredibly strange and creepy to her. When he told her he was CIA, saw his erratic behavior in an acceptable context.

Still, it would have to be tough to get back with an ex who believed the worst about you and dumped you for someone else.

Rachel said...

Jill's argument that she was right to dump him in college because at the time he seemed to have been guilty of cheating was the worst rationalization ever.

How is this necessarily a bad reason to dump someone? They found the tests in Chuck's room, and he was found "guilty" by Stanford and expelled. It is not as if Jill knew that the evidence was planted.

People often question why a person would stay with someone in the face of evidence that he/she is a cheater, bad person, etc., so why do we question an instance in which a person makes the "rational" decision to break up with that "bad person"?

Now none of this excuses her dating Bryce...

Anonymous said...

Casey is BY FAR my favorite character on this show. I cracked up at the scowling iPhone picture. Ugh, I love this show so much1 Thanks for the great commentary Alan!

david said...

next sports name(s)

arvydas sabonis
ilie nastasie
mosi tatupu

Brian said...

I loved Chuck's scowl through the 2-way mirror when Casey was describing to Jill what a loser Chuck was. Such a great show.

Geri said...

Chuck is by far the most entertaining show this season and definetly has the best episodes so far this fall. Season 1 is great but this season is even funnier, more sad and crazier...I didn´t think that is possible but Chuck proved me wrong.

This is show I am most looking forward to. When Jill looked at Chuck right after he kissed Casey and told him that the kissing idea was ridiculous I literally fell to the side on my sofa as I was laughing so hard. NEVER happened to me before!

Just love it.

Steve said...

I'm really hoping the arc over the next few episodes will be about Chuck realizing that Jill is bad for him, and he'd be better off with someone who believes with him and loves him for who he is.

My wife and I despise Ellie, and how she's constantly being passive-aggressive, domineering, and condescending toward Chuck. Last night, my wife was so irritated that it was getting in the way of her enjoying the show. So I suggested that in every future scene with Ellie, she should picture Ellie on fire. For the rest of the episode, whenever Ellie was on screen, one of us would say, "AAAUUUGH!!! I'M ON FIRE!!! AHHHHH!!" It made those scenes a lot more enjoyable.

That's probably less likely to happen in the show than Chuck figuring out Jill is bad for him.

Brian said...

My guess for next athlete names are either Herschel Walker (football) or Joe Barry Carroll(basketball) because like Von Hayes (baseball) and Guy LaFleur (hockey), they were 80s pro athletes involved in one-for-many trades where the one player never lived up to his billing/potential.

Ted Kerwin said...

Guy's prime was the 70's and he was never traded, he retired from the Habs and than came back to the Rangers and played with the Nordiques. But not a bad theory.

dvlman said...

There are so many funny moments in this show.

Casey clearing Jill's snot rags off the table and immediately windexing it was a brilliant throwaway gag. I was dying.

Buster's Anxiety Attacks said...

Yes, Casey windexing away the snotrags was the apex of the show! It was so Naked Gun-ish, like when OJ Simpson is in traction in the hospital and his wife is leaving strings of snot on Drebin's jacket.

Anonymous said...

You gotta love the attention to detail.

At the beginning, when they flash to Stanford in 2003, they show an old picture of Stanford Stadium, which was torn down in 2005, instead of the newly built one.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan - I know if you're not recapping that probably means you aren't watching anymore, but...any chance you are still watching Skins?

Rachel, I actually am still watching, but it's been one of those situations where I keep not having time in a given week to write the review, and so then I plan to review two or three episodes together, and the next thing you know, I'm most of the way through the second season.

Plus, the fact that the majority of the commenters had already watched the entire series made me want to wait until I was done, too before weighing in.

So I'll probably do a season finale post, but I'm not sure I'll write about it again until then.

Rachel said...

Cool -- thanks for responding, Alan. I'd definitely be interested in your end-of-season thoughts.

zodin2008 said...

I like the Ellie character because it further shows what a normal, insecure guy Chuck is, and he happens to be thrust into this world of spies. Her character and his relationship with her, along with his continued employment at the Buy More, add that element that Chuck still exists in 2 worlds.

That being said, if Chuck goes long term (we can only hope!) eventually his days at the Buy More have to end as he gets further sucked into being an official spy. But it doesn't mean the Buy More can't stay within the show since Morgan is his best friend? We shall see.

Ellie's best scenes are with Morgan, ebcause his unrequited love for her is hilarious.

Brian said...

I'll add another sports name guess to my list - Roy Hinson. Also keeps the three letter first name theme going.

AndyW said...

Regardless of whether Jill is a manipulative b---- who only likes cool CIA Chuck, or simply a confused ex who still has feelings, I give the writers mad props for creating a roadblock to the inevitable Chuck-Sarah romance that doesn't feel totally hackneyed and contrived.

Anonymous said...

I loved the heroic music playing when Chuck decided transferring saliva was the way to go. That music hilariously followed by by Jill's, "That's ridiculous..."

Sarah didn't get many scenes. But there each of her scenes made me feel bad for her... and hate Jill. That's good acting.

Withnail said...

Anyone else notice when morgan tried to steal the CPR test, he did a motion for motion echoing of harrison ford at when Indy tried to steal the Idol at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark?