Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Chuck: The pineapple incident

Spoilers for "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I practice my hurdling...

So on the same night that NBC announced that "Chuck" was getting a full-season order (the number of additional episodes will depend on how long the strike lasts), the show presented a strong example of why it deserved the extension. Maybe it wasn't the life-altering hour promised by the promo monkeys (more grousing about them in a minute), but it was the usual amount of fun, and in at least one area improved on what the show had done to date.

As a blend of comedy, drama and action, "Chuck" has been consistently good at the first, often good at the second and usually just acceptable at the third. Doing cool action with the budget and, more importantly, schedule of a weekly TV series is hard ("24" and, especially, "Alias," are the only recent shows I can think of where the fights and shoot-outs rarely felt perfunctory), and outside of Bryce's parkour-flavored escape from the Intersect lab in the pilot and Sarah and Casey's spork-off at the Wienerlicious in episode two, the action on "Chuck" has been just north of okay. Sarah throws a couple of high kicks, Casey fires off a couple of shots, and... scene. Fortunately, those sequences are usually over so quickly that it's not a big deal, and I'll take funny jokes and likable characters over kewl martial arts, but the action was definitely lagging behind the other parts of the show... until last night.

I'm not saying the big showdown at the Buy More would have fit seamlessly into a John Woo or Jet Li movie, but moments like Casey two-fisting a pair of semi-automatics or Sarah and Bryce fighting back to back looked a lot more impressive than what this show has typically given us when it's time for a bit of the ultra-violence. It helped to have Matthew Bomer back as Bryce, since he's clearly more assured with this stuff than Yvonne Strahovski.

And yet, in typical "Chuck" fashion, the most impressive bit of action was comic. I went back and replayed Big Mike's vault over the counter three or four times, both because it consistently made me laugh and to make sure there wasn't an obvious edit or other kind of cheat in there. But no, that was actor Mark Christopher Lawrence, invoking the old comic book cliche of "How can anything so big move so fast?" Maybe he had help from a hidden trampoline, but I don't care. That was just a splendid moment, and one of those lighter bits that reminds me not to take the show seriously enough to start nitpicking the reality of stuff like Casey's weapons cache in the home theater room. (Plus, Chuck did a good job of pointing out the silliness of that one.)

I worried that bringing Bryce back so soon wasn't the wisest decision, that it was something Schwartz and Fedak could have saved for down the road when the episodic stories were wearing a little thinner. But there's always this weird dance a new show has to do, especially one that didn't get much love from the network until late in the game: you can't pull a Lou Piniella and try to save your big guns for games that might not get played. Bryce's return led to a solid episode with nice dramatic work from Strahovski and Zachary Levi (who was superb in the moment where Chuck recognized what a perfect match Sarah and Bryce were), and they wrote him out in a way that will allow him to come back and cause trouble for Chuck down the road, if need be. (Maybe even as someone who's gotten too deep into his cover identity and gone rogue for real?)

And not that I was exactly panicked about which phone Sarah would answer -- the show's called "Chuck," not "Bryce" -- but the promo monkeys once again did a splendid job of ruining the fun with their ad for next week's episode. I guess they thought the promise of Strahovski in a bikini was a better hook than finding out who she chose.

Some other quick thoughts on "Chuck Versus the Nemesis":

-Much like Ellie, I think it's time for a moratorium on the big family dinners. Captain Awesome trying to bond with Casey was funny as the Captain always is, but the Thanksgiving dinner scene, like a similar sequence back in "Chuck Versus the Helicopter," was more labored than this show usually gets.

-I always like Julia Ling (in her brief appearances as the drunken viola player, she was one of the few genuinely amusing parts of "Studio 60," and she made a great band geek in the otherwise forgettable Chris Brown guest arc in the final "O.C." season), but there needed to be some kind of explanation for why Anna is back with Morgan after he humiliated her with the public dumping last week.

-I loved that Jeff has to fix the cash registers because he's the only guy in the store old enough to remember the '80s, and I loved him and Lester cowering under the Nerd Herd desk while Morgan tried to talk them out.

-You make the call: was the use of "pineapple" as the safety word another lift from "How I Met Your Mother" (where one of the show's best episodes revolved around a pineapple incident), a bit of friendly ribbing (Schwartz and the HIMYM guys have been photographed hanging out together on the picket line), or a complete coincidence?

-I'm enough of a nerd to immediately recognize that Bryce and Chuck were speaking Klingon, but not enough of one to be able to translate any of it. Any of you who are nerdier than me: did the dialogue match what they said it was supposed to be, was it one of those "My Name Is Earl" things where they were saying something else entirely for the audience's benefit, or was it just gibberish?

What did everybody else think?


brian said...

I read Sarah not answering the phones at the end as choosing neither. Was it supposed to be a cliffhanger? The promo for next week also make it seem like she's done with Chuck, romantically.

Anonymous said...

I thought the "pineapple" scene was the single funniest scene on the show this season, and there have been a lot. Re letting the phones ring at the end, it perhaps would have been more interesting if the scene ended with the screen going blank and Sarah saying "hello" (but to whom?). Great to hear the show got a full season pick-up (hope they can make them).

Taleena said...

Yeah I am nerdy enough to recognize Klingon when I hear it, but not to speak it/understand it.

I would lay money on them speaking correct Klingon because the producers obviously have enough affection for geeks to understand that it would be important for their words to be close enough to the gist of what the dialogue should be.

Casey, I love him. "Don't worry we'll get you another girl."

Robin said...

Yea! for the full season pickup. At least one of the shows I like this season has made it.

I don't watch HIMYM, but I think there are enough references to pineapples in other geek-type things to assume that Schwartz wasn't ripping off HIMYM. The most obvious I can remember was that pineapples are big in the Xanth fantasy books (yes, I'm really outing myself as a nerd here).

However, I'm not a big enough nerd to translate the Klingon. :)

Anonymous said...

This episode was fantastic... the kind of thing that makes paying my DirecTV bill worthwhile. I never would have thought they'd be able to use the Buy More setting as well as they did this week.

I was a little annoyed by the "secret rogue group within the CIA" plot line. It's the kind of thing they used to do on "Alias" so that virtually anyone could turn out to be a mole at any time, just because they felt like it. And the "Sara's decision" scene at the end was straight out of "The O.C.," or any nighttime soap. But those are minor quibbles compared to the, er, awesomeness of the entire hour.

Anonymous said...

"24" and, especially, "Alias," are the only recent shows I can think of where the fights and shoot-outs rarely felt perfunctory"...

Hey, what about the kick-ass fights on Buffy? Wait, were you even a fan of BTVS?

Shawn Anderson said...

Alan... I think "Pineapple" is probably a reference to a codeword used in an infamous Tonight Show sketch featuring Steve Irwin and Ross the intern.

"Pineapple... Pineapple... PINEAPPLE PINEAPPLE!"

Shawn Anderson said...

A quick googling of the top Klingon language sites (I can't believe even wrote those words) shows that there's not currently a klingon word for 'vest,' so there was probably some liberties taken. However, they at least sprinkled in some 'real' klingon, like 'yes? no?' question seemed valid

"HIja'? ghobe'?"

Perhaps they created a legitimate new word... maybe someone on the staff is a Friend of Maltz?

RandomRanter said...

Well, I could fanwank that that was part of why Chuck had trouble answering because he was trying to figure out what Bryce mean by "special top" or something.

Unknown said...

Clearly the phone cliffhanger was supposed to represent Sarah's ambivalence toward technology. Analog or digital? ANALOG OR DIGITAL?

This one was too messy for me. The Bryce thing hokey-pokeyed a bit too quickly. The Fulcrum thing might have been a good long-term plan... on another show. But I don't need Chuck to get all deep-spy and stuff. It's not good at it. Stay light and upbeat and try not to get too whiny. That's all.

Best thing about the whole ep was Casey, when asked what he was thankful for, saying "Pass."

The PA break-up last week basically turned me off Morgan for life. He should die a slow, agonizing death. And Anna now seems wholly pathetic.

Shawn Anderson said...

J - I know you're joking, but there is something to the analog vs digital angle. Bryce (old phone) is Sara's past, and Chuck (iPhone) is Sara's now and future.

My favorite Casey quote: "Well, should I pop some popcorn, or beat the answer out of you?"

Chris Littmann said...

I was a little disappointed with this one. Especially the sort of corny Mr. and Mrs. Smith moment in the double fight.

It was OK. I guess I could've done without Bryce ever coming back. I never saw it as the inevitable occurrence other people did.

Anonymous said...

I thought the spoilers included in this post and comments would be for this episode. I like many avoid promos for these exact reasons. I don't understand why they need to be brought up in the discussion of this week's show.

Anonymous said...

What rhymes with "Chuck" and begins with the letter "S"?

This show is starting to feel like a SNL sketch. They hit the same notes again and again, hoping a week in between beatings is enough time to heal and make you think it's new material.

I think they destroyed the mystery of Bryce too quickly. Bryce seemed heroic in the Stanford Flashback episode. Now he seems like another wacky Casey-type agent, too close to see the forest from the trees.

Strahovski has one good emotive ability - looking out at a distance longingly when thinking about Chuck. Otherwise I don't find her a strong enough actress to make any of her scenes believable, action or drama (and forget comedy). I wish they would have cast Sara Lancaster as the female agent lead instead of as the sister.

I find Capt America, Ellie, and Casey to be much more interesting than Chuck, Sara, or especially Morgan. I have to resist fast forwarding through the Morgan / Buy More scenes. I guess if you are friends with Morgan, you will find him quirky and amusing, but if not (and I'm not) you will find him insufferably annoying. With the show already trying to do too much at once (drama/comedy/romance/action), can we lose the brake-screeching Morgan scenes? Even Chuck doesn't seem to really like him, but just tolerates his pain-in-the-ass-ness.

The spy stuff always feels rushed and stupid because all the tasks have to be done in the short time frame of when Chuck gets off work and when he meets Ellie for dinner, it seems. Who knew you could be a part-time agent and hold another full time Buy More job, meet stifling family commitments, and still save the world every week? Sounds like a fun little hobby.

Karen said...

I, too, was geeky enough to know they were talking Klingon (tho' I'm having a hard time buying Bryce as a genuine geek, frankly), but am proud to say I had no idea what they were saying. I thought it was a brilliant device for the climax, though.

Alan, as happy as you were made by Big Mike sliding across the counter--and, yes, that was FINE--I have to say that Jeff's continual falls cracked me up. There were what, three of them? Morgan's bullhorn blast, Anna dropping a box on his head during the initial PINEAPPLE attack, and then being hit with the actual bullhorn later? I'm not usually a huge fan of slapstick or physical comedy, but there was just something about the way that actor dropped that SLAYED me.

I, frankly, didn't follow the whole Fulcrum plotline so well, but as I said last week, I care more for the characters than the plots, and this episode was aburst with character love. Although I agree that we needed some explanation of why Anna let Morgan back in--last week was cold.

afoglia said...

brian wrote, "The promo for next week also make it seem like she's done with Chuck, romantically."

There's another simpler explanation that I'm sure is the case, but I won't risk ruining it for those who want to avoid spoilers.

Both "Chuck" and "Journeyman" featured iPhones this week. Does Claire or any of the "Heroes" have one as well to make it an Apple hat trick? :-)

Anyway, good episode. I'm not a fan of conspiracy storylines, so I could do without Fulcrum. But it is good that Bryce is still in the background, and could pop up once a season or so to screw with Chuck.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Hey, what about the kick-ass fights on Buffy? Wait, were you even a fan of BTVS?

I liked Buffy quite a lot (high school years in particular), but I would argue that the fight scenes were rarely special as fight scenes, but rather elevated by the snappy patter they gave Sarah Michelle Gellar. The fight choreography was good given the show's teeny budget (especially compared to something like Chuck), but I rarely watched a Buffy fight scene and went, "Damn!"

Anonymous said...

I was going to say that I was glad that Matthew Bomer and Anthony Ruivivar had a scene together because it was a litle Traveler reunion, but did they ever have any scenes together on that other show before Ruivivar was killed off? *Sigh* I kinda miss Traveler now.

Byron Hauck said...

I always thought Angel's fight scenes were a little cooler, though I will NOT compare the two shows in any other way. But Angel fought a little more brutally, and he wasn't as frequently fighting with more-or-less worthless helpers.

Toby O'B said...

There's one other possibility for the pineapple inspiration - most of the episodes of 'Psych' mention pineapple.


(Some TV nerds know Klingon; others count pineapple references.)

Then again, maybe most of these writers have kids at home who watch 'Spongebob' and it just naturally seeps into their work....

You know what this show could use for the next big Sweeps event? A visit by Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott!

Stef said...

I'm a little surprised at the mixed reactions to this episode. I *loved* it, and watched the whole thing with a smile on my face. I agree, the action was definitely ratcheted up and more fun this time. I saw the major Buy More fight more as an homage than a rip-off of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," cuz these folks know we viewers would recognize that instantly.

I wasn't sure how I would feel about Bryce, but I really liked having him around... he's slippery, and having a somewhat unpredictable AND geeky bada@@ around was a lot of fun. I hope he comes back. (And he's hot!)

Anonymous said...

I could not understand how Bryce could forget how he ruined Chuck's life.

A man smart enough to be a double agent within his own organization forgets how he ruined the career prospects and romantic life of his best friend? If the world of CHUCK were ruthlessly consistent, Chuck would have been within his rights to kill Bryce himself, for his sheer lack of clue or compassion.

(I'm sorry, I just cannot get over how Bryce asked Chuck why he wasn't a computer tycoon by now, when he should have done some research before jamming our nation's secrets into his head.)

Anonymous said...

Yeah I am nerdy enough to recognize Klingon when I hear it, but not to speak it/understand it.

I am not a big trekkie, haven't watched it in years, and im not nerdie enough to speak klingon, but i am good at working in other languages. So, I'll give my best guess as to what they may have said:

Bryce,"Tlhingan choq je law'" (Klingons preserve and feed many). (From what i can remember from the show, this phrase sounds familiar, I think it was used when a ship's commander was requesting access to enter space (but i may be way off).

Chuck,"HIja, pegh pegh chaw' logh"(Yes, secrect secret permit space.) the first part possibly a secrect code phrase and the second part acknowledement of recognition and confirmation of grranted access? any ideas anyone?

The vest part I can't make out, except that chuck apparently does have difficulty in grasping what bryce is trying to communicate. He pauses without response with a confused look. Bryce goes on to ask, "Hija Ghobe" yes or no?