"Great. Most annoying romance of my life is over." -CaseyI am not a 'shipper. My enjoyment of a TV show rarely depends on whether a potential I like gets together, or stays together. I can be happy if the moment of coupling is done artfully (*) or annoyed if the rationale for keeping them apart feels artificial (**), but the actual answer to Will They Or Won't They? doesn't matter to me in and of itself.
"When Chuck is around Sarah, he has the potential to do anything." -Morgan
(*) See Jim finally asking Pam on a date -- and Pam's reaction to that -- at the end of "The Office" season three.
(**) See Ed and Carol on "Ed," where I didn't even care about them as a duo but got sick of the show becoming so much about reasons why they couldn't be together.
I say this all as preamble so that when I have some negative things to say about "Chuck vs. the Beefcake" and the way the show is starting to run in place on the Chuck/Sarah relationship, it'll be clear that I'm not some outraged 'shipper whose ire won't subside until those bastards Schwartz and Fedak finally put those two destined lovebirds together.
It's clear by now that Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski have all kinds of chemistry together, that Morgan is right about what Sarah's love for him does for Chuck's confidence, and that Chuck and Sarah would each love to be with the other if circumstances were different. And I think that episodes like "Chuck vs. the Break-Up" and "Chuck vs. Santa Claus" have done a very good job of showing very convincing practical and emotional reasons why they aren't together now, and why maybe they should never be.
With all that in mind, an episode like "Chuck vs. the Beefcake" feels a little unnecessary -- entertaining, but unnecessary. Having just done another "Chuck and Sarah lament what can never be" episode with "Chuck vs. the Suburbs" (which was supposed to air last week), I'm okay with leaving the subject alone until the writers are ready to do something new with it. And good as guest star Jonathan Cake was as swaggering Cole Barker, the dynamic between him, Sarah and Chuck wasn't new -- it was Bryce Larkin with an accent and a five o'clock shadow.
Maybe Sarah and Chuck moving in together -- Into her apartment? Into Chuck's bedroom at Ellie's? Into a new place? With Morgan? Without Morgan? -- will, in fact, lead them to a different place, but if not, I, like Casey, could really use a break from this fake-but-not-quite romance for a while.
Again, on a micro level, the beefcake story had a lot of good things in it, particularly Cole doing the archetypal Chow Yun Fat two-handed shoot-out with the helicopter (a higher production value than we usually see on "Chuck"), and the running gag about Chuck's pain tolerance for torture. Though "Chuck vs. the Best Friend" was supposed to air a few weeks ago, the two episodes worked well back-to-back in that we saw Chuck humiliate Morgan to save his life last week, and tonight we saw Cole and Sarah do the same to Chuck.
But there were also some plausibility problems in the way Alexis the master torturer didn't start right in on the blatant squealing wimp instead of the trained and hardened Cole, and in the way that Sarah and Casey basically shrugged off Chuck letting his wounded pride get in the way of orders not to hack the Fulcrum chip. One of the best parts of "Chuck vs. Santa Claus" was the reminder that the stakes of spy world are much higher than Chuck often wants to accept -- that, while this show is mostly a comedy, it's not content to just be about gags and '80s references, but to occasionally go darker and deeper -- and I would have loved a scene where one of Chuck's handlers read him the riot act about what he did. If anything, the final scene would have been much more interesting if Sarah be the one to (justifiably) yell at him, right before she announced that they had to move in together and pretend to take their relationship to the next level.
Some other thoughts:
• It also would have been very interesting if Casey had been the one to yell at Chuck. This was, oddly, a stronger Casey episode than it was a Chuck or Sarah episode, in the ways it showed what a pain in the ass it is for this trained professional to have to constantly account for Chuck and Sarah's puppy love, but also that Casey is begrudgingly a member of Team Chuck and would rather see the geek get the girl than some outsider from another country. Some nice, nuanced work from Adam Baldwin, and also some broader, sillier stuff like his impressed reaction to seeing the naked beefcake.
• Levi had his own assortment of hilarious reaction shots, from his horror at Morgan's description of Big Mike's bedroom sounds (Vik Sahay had a similarly funny one when Lester had to listen to Big Mike discuss the laying of pipe) to Chuck squirming as he watched Sarah slice and dice the banana. A cheap joke, but an effective one.
• Morgan naked sojourn at Ellie and Awesome's place didn't really work, and not just because it reminded me of "Austin Powers." But if Chuck does wind up living with both Morgan and Sarah because he promised the little guy first, I think that has some promise. We've seen a lot of Ellie being annoyed by Morgan over the years, and very little of Sarah having to make nice with Chuck's weird best friend.
• Our other comic relief subplot had little to do with anything, nor did it rise to the heights of last week's Jeffster! jam, but it was still painfully funny to watch Jeff and Lester try to use the casting couch, including Jeff's own "Basic Instinct" moment and Lester's '70s sportscoat. And it allowed NBC to promote the episode as featuring the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, and hopefully that'll tick up the demo ratings by a few percentage points.
• Cole telling Sarah "Come with me if you want to live" was a reference that probably seemed better in theory than it was in execution. For one thing, he makes the offer after he's already saved the day, and for another, it works much better if it's coming out of Chuck's mouth, as something a geek thinks he should say in that situation. I doubt Cole has ever actually seen "Terminator" (or, if he has, has given it more than a pico-second's thought in the years since).
• I see that Chuck has updated Sarah's caller ID photo on his iPhone, which means we no longer get a glimpse of the Wienerlicious uniform in any form. Clearly, this is just Schwartz sticking it to me.
• Strahovski had a really nice moment showing Sarah swooning as she looked through Cole's file and saw what a bad-ass he is.
• Pop culture question: when you hear "beefcake," does your mind go to Cartman from "South Park," or to Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake? And do you think the episode was titled before or after they cast a guy named Cake? (I have to admit to referring to him as "the beefy Cake" in my review of his ABC gladiator miniseries "Empire"; if that's his real name, it's very apt.)
• Chuck injuring himself trying to break down the door was a good gag, though I preferred the "Burn Notice" take on it a few weeks ago, since they showed Bruce Campbell injuring himself repeatedly while failing to break down a door.
Finally, the gang from "Chuck" appeared at WonderCon yesterday, and Kimra from BuzzSugar, who moderated the panel, has a recap. At one point, Schwartz asked the crowd if they'd be ready to mobilize and harass NBC into giving the show a third season, which begs the question: if the "Jericho" fans sent peanuts, and the "Moonlight" fans donated blood, and the "Roswell" fans sent Tobasco bottles, what symbolic gesture should "Chuck" fans make?
What did everybody else think?