Thursday, January 24, 2008

Chuck: Twice as Awesome

Spoilers for tonight's "Chuck" sandwich coming up just as soon as I work on strengthening my thighs...

So how does a "Chuck" sandwich taste, anyway? Kinda bittersweet, I have to say. On the one hand, I'm grateful to get any original "Chuck" at all after nearly two months. On the other, I had sort of made peace with its absence from my weekly viewing, and after two hours, it's gone again. Much as I enjoyed these, I'd almost rather NBC had stuck to the original plan of saving them until they had more episodes produced.

"Chuck Versus the Undercover Lover" was definitely the stronger hour of the two. It had a heavy dose of Casey, who's become the not-so-secret weapon of the show. ("Breathe, Casey! Breathe! Or grunt! Grunting is good, too!") It had that great fight scene with Chuck strapped to Casey's back (I've seen martial arts movies do variations on this, but it usually involves both people whooping ass, where Chuck's squealing uselessness was the best part). While both episodes used the ancillary characters a lot (hence the post title), I thought they were used better here, particularly Captain Awesome being trapped at the Nerd Herd strip poker game. (I was assuming that this was Morgan the amateur therapist's attempt to scare Awesome back into Ellie's arms, but no, the guys are just that sad and creepy.) And it had greater consistency than "Chuck Versus the Marlin," which was ragged in a way that lots of episodes written right before the strike have been.

If I had one real complaint with the first hour -- and it's hard to complain much about an episode that makes such hilarious use of "Love on the Rocks," or that contains a line like "I don't want to die a male stewardess!" -- it's that they should have used the "Casablanca" parallels back in the return of Bryce Larkin episode. If there's an analogue to Rick, Ilsa and Victor Lazlo, it's with our central love triangle -- which, oddly, would make the show's main character the Victor Lazlo stand-in. (Maybe they can do an episode soon where Chuck leads the Nerd Herd in a round of "La Marseillaise.") Also, I think there was a missed opportunity for a "Mr. & Mrs. Smith"-esque scene where Casey and his Ilsa, having discovered each other's true identities, get off on shooting bad guys together.

Where I really enjoyed the doomed romance at the heart of "Undercover Lover," the best parts of "Marlin" tended to be on the fringes: Chuck's cell phone photo of Captain Awesome is of Awesome kissing his own bicep, Jeff telling Lester how to deal with the "pigs" (and then folding under interrogation), Big Mike not noticing the emptied and/or restocked versions of the store until his fish came into play, the "Over the Top" reference in Lester and Jeff's thumb wrestling match, Big Mike literally turning up the heat on Chuck, and Awesome finally discovering a situation that was unequivocally not awesome.

The main story was funny in spots -- particularly Jeff and Lester's mammary cam video turning out to a plot point -- but what held the rushed script together was Zachary Levi's work in the scenes where Chuck tried to say goodbye to people, just in case. Levi's good with the jokes and all (see the weak thighs joke from "Undercover Lover"), but what really makes the show work is the vulnerable charm he brings to the part. I knew Chuck wasn't going to be sent to the bunker, but Levi at least made me feel recognize how lousy even the possibility was.

One other note: I hope Yvonne Strahovski has spent a good chunk of the strike hanging at the dojo, because she looked badly outclassed by the actress playing pita girl in the latest Wienerlicious throwdown.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

"Dammit ma, I got my headgear on!" -- Nice 16 Candles reference.

Bobman said...

Oh Chuck. I forgot how great it was to have decent television on... and now it's gone again.

A quick note - I almost missed them because of my DVR fast-forwarding, but there were some little intros between some of the segments of both episodes of Chuck tonight that were just castmembers saying silly things about the show. I found it interesting that they let Yvonne Strahovski actually be her Australian-accented self. I know how much the networks fear American audiences being confused by strange accents, I wonder if she had to fight for that ...

-M said...

I decided to give Chuck another shot tonight in the Marlin episode, but I really think Strahovski is too weak a link to be overcome by Baldwin's awesomeness. Let me know if she comes back from the strike wtih an iota of Bristow awesomeness.

Anonymous said...

Probably the most entertaining two hours of TV we'll be seeing for a while. There were a few plot flaws (in the first episode, I would have been surprised if Casey's girlfriend had turned out NOT to be a spy -- while the second recycled quite a few plot elements from past shows). But the mix of humor and action was spot-on as always.

(By the way, who wrote those interstitial spots with the cast? I guess the network must have some talented promo writers who aren't part of the WGA.)

Anonymous said...

I actually felt the second episode was the stronger of the two, largely because, as BigTed pointed out, it was so obvious from the first scene that Ilsa was a spy. I didn't even realize we were supposed to think she wasn't until near the end (if she wasn't a spy, how would Sarah know Ilsa was dead? I somehow don't picture Sarah and Casey bonding over their "dead" lovers during an evening of Bonsai clipping).

I definitely felt how rushed both scripts were. The Christmas episode ended with Sarah and Chuck agreeing to be friends, in "Undercover Lover" they don't talk about their situation at all, and at the end of "Marlin" Chuck's back to hoping they can start dating. I also thought it was a big jump from Ellie almost dumping Awesome over a washer and dryer to Awesome proposing.

But "Marlin," as you said Alan, featured so much of Levi's strengths, and the rooftop scene between Chuck and Sarah actually made me teary.

Can someone tell me who played Ilsa, by the way? She looked very familiar but I couldn't place her.

Anonymous said...

"Awesome! see you, Devon."

Was Undercover Lover the first time we learned the Capt.'s real name, or did I just miss it before?

I'm glad these episodes were on now rather than waiting for the end of the strike, but I'm definitely going to be pining for the return of Chuck and Pushing Daisies. Is there any reason they don't just start showing them again in their regular timeslot for those who weren't on board early the first time, or fans who just miss them?

I really enjoyed the interstitial bits. Whether they were written or ad-libbed by the cast, it was good to see them out-of-character and clearly having fun together.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Was Undercover Lover the first time we learned the Capt.'s real name, or did I just miss it before?

It's come up before, as early as the second or third episode.

Is there any reason they don't just start showing them again in their regular timeslot for those who weren't on board early the first time, or fans who just miss them?

Because, sad to say, American Gladiators is doing vastly better in the Chuck timeslot than original episodes of Chuck did, let alone how poorly reruns would surely do.

Anonymous said...

In a show with tons of connections to "Casablanca", I loved Chuck's reference to "White Nights" while dancing with the Russians.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Alan! As sad as it is to hear that American Gladiators scores a better audience than Chuck, that sounds accurate.

Love the reviews... I'm going to try to be less of a lurker. I haven't watched Cupid yet because it's just Youtube, but if it comes out on DVD I'll be grateful for your commentary. Can't wait until you do Sports Night.

Anonymous said...

I found both of these very enjoyable, but kept wondering where Anna was, especially in the Buy More robbery interogation plot. I think watching her get grilled by Big Mike could have been pretty funny. Did the actress get a job elsewhere?

Anonymous said...

I liked the subtle dig at the Patriots: When Chuck sees the first bug, one of the locations he flashes on is Foxborough.

Anonymous said...

Any word on the chances of Chuck's renewal?

Unknown said...

who played Ilsa

She has done quite a bit, but I remember her most from that horrible movie, Head Over Heels: Ivana Milicevic.

Pamela Jaye said...

I thought Chuck got an early pickup. Also, I too loved the institial spots and wondered who wrote them. The brother thought they were adlibbed, but I think they were written.

Also, was it Ilsa? no, it was Zach - he must be tall, as i got the feeling, watching Angej season 5, that Adam is quite tall.

I did notice the Foxbotough ref, being from Boston. Another ref i noticed just flew right out of my head.

I too was missing Mr& Mts Smith, but for me it was not the movie but the TV series. If only it could have been this good.