"Alright, who stole the urinal cakes?" -MillbargeBecause of the Super Bowl promotion and the 3-D gimmick (more on that at the end), "Chuck vs. the Third Dimension" was written under the assumption (or hope) that some new viewers might be tuning in for the first time. So much like the season premiere, there was a definite "Chuck 101" vibe to the proceedings.
And for the most part, that was fine. The mission of the week really had nothing to do with Fulcrum, or the rebuilding of the Intersect, or any of the larger arcs, but Dominic Monaghan was very funny as Tyler the rock star, who came across as an amalgam of Charlie from "Lost," David St. Hubbins and Keith Richards. (Seriously, who else but Keith could shrug off so many tranq darts so easily?) The story was entertaining, the flight in the glass elevator (with Chuck dangling outside in his boxers) continued the show's recent trend of injecting unexpected humor into cliched action scenarios, and the B-plot with the battle for the golden ticket was comic genius. (More on that in a bit.)
My one issue was one that couldn't be helped, given the way the schedule broke. "Chuck vs. Santa Claus" ended on such a strong dramatic note, and promised such interesting tension between Chuck and Sarah, that I'm sorry the very next episode had to be the post-Super Bowl attempt to reel in the newbies.
I credit Chris Fedak's script for addressing Chuck's fear of Sarah as much as he did, and also for having Chuck confront Sarah about what he saw by the end of the episode rather than dragging that part of the story out. (As I said at the time, even if Chuck had known why Sarah killed Mauser, it still would have freaked him out, because that's a line he's not remotely ready to cross yet, and one she did with relative ease.) But because the hour had to be relatively accessible to first-time viewers, Fedak couldn't get too deep into that issue, and instead had to center most of the episode's tension around Chuck's more generic desire to get a day off once in a while. The Tyler plot could have been plugged in at any point this season -- or even last season -- with almost no tinkering, and while that makes it ideal for this kind of hypothetical showcase, it also makes the episode slightly disappointing for us hard-core Nerd Herders(*).
(*) Is that what we're calling ourselves? Buy More-ians? Bartowski Backers? Up With Chuckers?
For that matter, I was slightly bummed -- slightly -- that the Buy More subplot never re-connected with the larger Tyler plot. One of the big improvements of this season has been the way that nerd world keeps inadvertently crossing over into spy world and saving Chuck's bacon. When the stories wind up having little to do with each other in the end, the whole venture feels a little more lightweight. I would have sacrificed the punchline of Butterman scalping the Golden Ticket if it had meant that some combination of Butterman, Lester, Jeff or Morgan wound up at the show and somehow helped Casey and Sarah take down the assassin.
But good lord was the rest of the Butterman story so funny that I will forgive its disconnectedness in a heartbeat. How they managed to combine Jerome Bettis, the underpants bet from "Sixteen Candles," a plethora of "Shawshank Redemption" references(**), Jeff eating both half a giant party sub and a urinal cake, and something resembling a complete version of Europe's "The Final Countdown" -- as opposed to the opening stanza that's been used to death in similar spoofs -- I will never know, but I will be ever grateful to the show for it. As I like to say, funny forgives a lot, and Jeff eating the urinal cake (followed by Millbarge's perfectly-timed entrance to complain about the theft) almost single-handedly erases any misgivings I had about the episode.
(**) Among other "Shawshank" refs: Jeff quotes Andy's warning about biting down hard on anything put in his mouth, the aria that plays while Butterman contemplates the vending machine is the same one Andy played on the warden's record player, Butterman escapes to Zihuatanejo (though it turns out to be Philly), and Jeff and Lester quote a bastardized version of "Get busy living or get busy dying." "That's goddamn right." All that was missing was someone trying to tunnel out of a cell behind a giant poster of Sarah in the lingerie from Chuck's nightmare.
Now, as far as the 3-D goes, I had to sacrifice a little bit of thoroughness in favor of getting this review posted as soon as the episode ended, as I usually do. I'm writing this based on my experience watching the DVD screener as opposed to watching it live. As I said in today's column, the screener didn't look very impressive with the 3-D glasses on, but looked just fine (albeit kinda fuzzy) when I took the specs off -- and I enjoyed the episode so much overall that I didn't really care.
Only a few of the shots that were clearly supposed to be in 3-D (Chuck's first flash, the knife flying towards him) really popped off the screen, and several other bits that I knew were supposed to be 3-D (like the close-up on Big Mike's donut) looked completely normal. Based on what I saw of the 3-D "Chuck" spot at halftime of the Super Bowl, the effects probably looked much better in high-def than they did on that screener. I'm curious how it looked to you all, whether you had the glasses or not, and/or whether you watched in HD or standard-def. Also, The episode's going to stream in both 3-D and 2-D versions on NBC.com and Hulu, so those of you without glasses will get to see the episode normally tomorrow if you want.
Some other thoughts:
• Whether Chuck's desire for a vacation was a bit remedial, I did like that he got into the Crown Vic at the end. It was another sign that he's stopped being a victim and is embracing this weird hand life has dealt him, and I prefer that take on the character, whatever his issues are with his handler/crush.
• Casey's itchy trigger finger with the tranq darts was like one of those Letterman running gags that's a little funny at first, then stops being funny for a while, then gets even funnier once you realize he's just not going to stop doing it.
• As Jeff, Scott Krinsky was definitely the star of the Golden Ticket plot, but Vic Sahay had his own great moment as a mortified and groin-injured Lester squeaked out "I'm a man!" after Butterman ripped off his underwear.
• One moment that was so random I wonder if it was improvised: Morgan offers to buy Jeff a keg of his favorite beer to make up for giving away the Golden Ticket, and Jeff explains, quietly, "It's called Beer. Beer brand."
• The couple in the elevator when Chuck lands on it is the same one whose romantic
• Chuck's fake cockney accent actually sounded pretty good to these untrained ears. I mean, it was no Terence Stamp in "The Limey," but it was much better than, say, Jerry Seinfeld talking about the apples and pears.
• I thought it was a nice touch that, as Tyler was saying his goodbyes to his new spy friends, he looked at Sarah and immediately forgot anything about her except that she was someone he'd like to have sex with.
• Would the "Back to the Future"-inspired "To Be Continued" gag at the end have been better served as part of "Chuck vs. the DeLorean"?
Finally, as I mentioned on Friday, if you're attending the New York Comic-Con this weekend, I'm going to be moderating the "Chuck" panel -- featuring Josh Schwartz, Chris Fedak and Yvonne Strahovski -- on Sunday at 11:15 a.m. Originally, it was just going to be Schwartz and Fedak, which would have been incredibly nerdy. I'd say Yvonne Strahovski significantly lowers the overall nerd factor, but you never know -- she could turn up espousing the genius of Box Office Poison or Kurt Busiek or something.
If there are any questions you've been dying to ask the "Chuck" creators, or Ms. Strahovski, post 'em here. I can't promise to work them all in (gotta leave time for audience Q&A, not to mention my ongoing inquiry into the history of the Wienerlicious uniform), but I'll give it a shot if they're interesting enough.
I'll either include a mini-report or link to one from a comics or "Chuck" fansite (there are bound to be a few) in my review of next week's "Chuck vs. the Best Friend." And if you can't wait for that, Fienberg did an interview with Schwartz where Josh discusses some upcoming things, and his feelings about the show's chances for renewal.
What did everybody else think?