Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chuck: I find the pastrami to be the most sensual of all the salted, cured meats

Spoilers for "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I sharpen the knife in my shoe...

For a long time, the NBC promo department was unsurpassed at two things: 1)Getting better-than-expected (or sometimes deserved) tune-ins for shows, and 2)Ruining all the big surprises for the people who tuned into those shows. Based on NBC's perennial cellar-dwelling these days, they're not so good at the former anymore, but man do they still kick butt at the latter.

There was a major development (Chuck and Sarah kiss!) and a major surprise (Bryce lives!) at the end of "Chuck Versus the Hard Salami," and of course, the ads ruined both of them with overly-strong hints. Grr. Argh.

Fortunately, the episode's A-story was strong enough that it didn't need to rely on the "Holy crap!" factor, as the writers and actors had a lot of fun with the all-too-brief Chuck/Sarah/Lou love triangle. Among the many things Josh Schwartz proved with "O.C." season one is that he can give good triangle: the Seth/Summer/Anna trio were written well enough that, even though the audience had been geared up to root for Seth and Summer, I think most of us would have been okay had he stayed with Anna longer. Similarly, there were obvious pros and cons to Chuck being with either Lou (beautiful, normal, funny, overtly into him, but someone he'd have to lie to all the time) or Sarah (beautiful, in on the secret, but also scary and still hung up on Bryce) -- which oddly, makes Rachel Bilson the Anna, not the Summer, in this scenario.

I'm not sure what it is about sandwiches that makes them both so good and so funny, but making Lou a sandwich impresario remained an inspired choice -- not so much in the fake orgasm sound gag at the beginning (one of several predictable jokes in the episode; more on that when we get to the Morgan story) than for Chuck making his sandwich order sound like dirty talk. ("This is a hot sandwich, sweetheart. In the reuben family.") I'm going to miss Lou, but it's not like she could never resurface, what with her store being in the same strip mall and the break-up having been fairly amicable.

Meanwhile, I know there's been some debate about what value that Yvonne Strahovski brings to the show -- besides looking great in the Wienerlicious uniform, of course. I had recently concluded that she brought enough dramatically and in chemistry with Zachary Levi that it didn't much matter that she wasn't funny. Turns out, she can be -- at least, in a way that plays off of how good she looks in the Wienerlicious uniform, as her terrifying seduction of Lester may have been the episode's comic highlight. ("What about that movie?") Some actors are inherently funny, while others need material tailored to their strengths. Based on that scene and the "Out of Sight"-esque argument in the car trunk, it looks like the "Chuck" writers may be figuring out what Strahovski's strengths are.

I know there's also been a lot of debate about what value Morgan brings to the show. I've generally been agnostic to favorable about Morgan, with "Chuck Versus the Sandworm" being a symbol of all the good things he can add to the show. This episode was the flip side of that, the first time I actively disliked the Morgan/Buy More portions, which so telegraphed all their punchlines (Morgan wrongfully assumes Anna is telling the guys about the kiss and blabs it himself, Morgan dumps Anna way too soon) that even the NBC promo department couldn't have ruined them any more.

(Again, the A-story had some telegraphed jokes of its own -- see also Lou's crate of smuggled salamis -- but enough good things were going on around them that it didn't matter so much.)

We all figured Bryce would be back sooner or later, so I doubt my jaw would have been on the floor whenever he turned up, but it would have been nice to find out without any help. I wonder if it's a one-time-only return or if he'll be some kind of recurring nemesis.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I've ignored NBC's promos for so long (thanks, PeeBeeOne!) that I didn't catch the Bryce hint, so that was a pleasant surprise. I hope he's a recurring nemesis (or requisite misunderstood spy genius), and not just because the actor is hot :-)

This is the first Chuck ep I flat-out enjoyed from beginning to end. I think they've really hit their stride and things will just keep getting better. I hope. Also, I didn't have a problem with Yvonne's comic timing--she's seemed fine all along to me (though she pales in comparison to Adam Baldwin's Casey, as do all the other "funny" sidekicks, including Morgan).

Casey needs to smoke stogies more often :-)

Bobman said...

I'm getting carpal tunnel from gripping my DVR remote so tightly so as not to let NBC spoil anything for me. I honestly don't know how people without DVRs ever get into shows that are constantly spoiled. I actually let down my guard last week and saw the Chuck and Sarah kiss and have been annoyed ever since; I'm glad at least there was something else (the Bryce reveal, even though it was really predictable).

Benaiah said...

How creepy is it that Sarah got Chuck laid? NBC kind of put ellipses around the actual sex, but here is my recreation of the events.

Chuck runs out of the club and says: "Is it just me, or does our government never want me to have sex again?" Sarah makes a weird face.

Sarah gives Chuck flowers, which he uses to get back into Lou's good graces. And for once he has the night off (thanks Sarah) so the next day he wakes up and does his wink wink brushing my teeth and talking about how I did well last night thing.

Sarah took pity on the Chuck, that is some freaky freaky stuff.t

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this episode, except for two things:

The "danger" plot line was based on a really stupid mistake: Using that large, ridiculous-looking and memorable guitar pin as a bug. Did anyone not see that leading the bad guys right back to Chuck?

And the other was making the romantic triangle so brief. I would have enjoyed seeing Rachel Bilson stick around for a while longer, and then letting Chuck and Sarah have a chance to explore their feelings for each other a little -- and showing how their jobs and their own personalities would get in the way -- before (apparently) shoving another major obstacle in their path.

Anonymous said...

The biggest disappointment about Rachel Bilson leaving is that now we won't get to see how Ellie and Awesome react to Chuck dumping Sarah. I was really looking forward to that.

Anonymous said...

No love for Casey's bon mots, Alan? As great as Sarah's seduction of "Larry" was, I have to say Adam Baldwin was pretty much carrying the comedy this week.

The only thing I'm worried about right now is that "Chuck" is moving at the pace of a show that hasn't been picked up, in the face of a long writers' strike. By that I mean, if they keep using up plotlines this fast, they're going to have nowhere to go when (yes, WHEN, not IF) the show's renewed. This was a major problem with "The O.C." - it blew through so many twists by the end of season one that season two sucked.

I don't think Chuck got laid. Lou says at the end that the kiss they shared was one of the best she'd had in a long time - unless Chuck's really lame in the sack, that seems to indicate they didn't go any further.

Karen said...

I just enjoy all these characters so much that I don't care if the plot lets me down a little. I confess I didn't entirely follow what was going on with the bomb-that-wasn't or who made Bryce reappear--I was just having such a good time with the dialogue and the acting and the characterization that I blipped over the rest.

I loved Casey's analysis of Sarah's professional problem; I loved Chuck and Lou but did feel happy when Sarah and he grappled before the non-explosion; I loved Chuck's morning-after buzz that really did seem to be based on nothing more than a great kiss...I dunno, that stuff works for me. Everyone was smart and funny and odd. Even Morgan didn't bother me as much as he clearly bothered Alan (and I was happy to get the extra Anna time). Sarah and Lester was just screamingly funny; clever of her to gauge his level of bluster, and that two-footed leap onto the counter in uniform was damn impressive.

I just deep-down enjoy this show so much. I hope it survives and keeps up its quality.

Anonymous said...

I'm really going to miss Rachel Bilson. She just HAS it; whatever it is, the actress who plays Sarah just plain don't. I loved Bilson's Lou and rooted for her and Chuck in these two brief episodes (and saw more sparks) much more than I ever did for Chuck and Sarah.

I can't stand the Morgan sidekick and hope to see a lot less of him in the future. Plus it was nice not having the sister in this episode. Again, not sure if its the actress or character or a mix of the two, but she is dead weight.

All in all a strong, thoroughly enjoyable ep.

Unknown said...

Alan, I think you are giving the show too much credit for call the trunk scene "Out of Sight-esque": it's a direct rip off.

There was also a more subtle appropriation from Marathon Man, and I am fairly certain one of the terrorist/arms dealers guys was named Szell, or something like it.

In regards to Bryce, if the promo's images didn't ruin the "surprise", (gee, doesn't that cylinder look human-sized) and if the promo's overblown voice over didn't give it away, then Matthew Bomer's name in the credits certainly would have. Ugh.

And is it a sign that the show is bereft of ideas when we are what, seven eps in and they are already bringing back someone from the dead?

Not to mention the one millionth lame take on the "boy meets girl..." joke, the one millionth lame take on "you had me at hello"
and the absolutely horrid "big misunderstanding" with the salami, that was straight out of Three's Company, or a bad 80s teen romantic movie. Which is not suprising, given the writers' complete lack of interest in originality.

So why the hell do I keep watching?

Well, my girlfriend likes it. And I like to get to watch football on Sundays.

Levi does great work with subpar material. Dude makes me laugh. Ditto with Morgan. Sara is just gorgeous, and funny. Baldwin is great. If the writers could just write up to the talent of their stars, this show would have pretty unlimited potential.

Alas, we're only in November and they're already bringing back dead people and making lame Jerry Maguire jokes. The end cannot be far.

Anonymous said...

I think the show is settling into a groove, for better and for worse. In the latter category, I would put questionable plot machinations (as previously observed, the guitar pin and the salami confrontation, plus I would add Sarah and Chuck's failure to actually try to disarm the "bomb", unless they were suggesting that Sarah had already figured out there was no way to disarm it), uneven writing, and Morgan (I liked him initially, but he's been getting worse and the Buy More subplot definitely suffered with no Tang and more Morgan).

But it's still a lot of fun and there's always plenty to like. Zachary Levi and Adam Baldwin are great (my favorite exchange this week: Is there nothing sacred to you people? Only the right to bear arms.) and I think Yvonne Strahovski, much like Sarah Shahi on Life, is not great but is doing fine. I liked the smuggling plot and loved Chuck's two tiered approach to getting Lou back. Rachel Bilson was excellent and I hope she'll be back later.

Finally, Bryce returning would have been much less annoying if they'd just been slightly more circumspect about his death in the pilot to the audience. I guess we're just trained to think that onscreen deaths are the ones that are actually real. I hope that next week they use him for an interesting spy plot and not just as an obstacle between Chuck and Sarah.

Anonymous said...

I thought the episode was excellent and am surprised at some of the mixed reviews here. Other CHUCK fans seem more pleased and perhaps the lower comments are due to holiday travelers or a dimunition of passion for Chuck on this site. That said, I thought Tvonne was as a good as she's ever been - both in the deli encounter with the Nerd Herd guy and at the end where you could feel her palpable heartbreak and surprise. I think she is the find of the fall, as fun as Zachary Levi is and solid as Baldwin is. Sarah is giving this world weight and it seems the last couple of episodes have been as (or almost as) interested in shading her emotional journey as Chuck's.
Last week even ended on her watching Chuck - it was her episode. And not the firs time they've done that.
I was unspoiled and found Bryce reveal surprising and emotional, if not nonsensical. They are moving very quickly through story which makes me nervous but at the same time its exciting and fun to watch now.
With other new shows having faded into white noise, Chuck seems to have pushed its concept and its characters the farthest. It may not always hit its target - but its an ambitiously small target to hit.
I'm impressed with this show and don't remember an action comedy working this well since the 80s. If someone can think of a show in this genre thats been more successful please comment.