Monday, October 13, 2008

Chuck, "Chuck vs. the Break-Up": We're gonna stomp you out!

Spoilers for "Chuck" season two, episode three coming up just as soon as I quell a revolution with a fork...

We're now three-for-three on the new season. "Chuck vs. the Break-Up" wasn't quite the laugh riot of the previous two episodes, but that's because it had its mind on the romance part of the series' delicate balance of genres.

As justifications for postponing the inevitable end of a Will-They-Or-Won't-They? unresolved sexual tension scenario go, Chuck and Sarah's reason for backing off of each other is a pretty good one. On "The Office," Jim never needed to worry about getting killed because Pam was too distracted by love to shoot the bad guy, right? And because we've seen glimpses of Chuck and Sarah either dating (the dumpling outing in the premiere) or doing an incredible simulation thereof (their make out session in front of Roan Montgomery last week), we know they work together, and that they realize this, and that the show is going to have fun with their attraction and hopefully not annoy us along the way.

Like I said last year, Yvonne Strahovski may not be the funniest person on this show (though she's still at least ahead of Sarah Lancaster), but that's no sin when Zachary Levi and Adam Baldwin and the rest are around. She's there to kick ass and look great doing it (which she does a bang up job on), to have chemistry with Levi (ibid), and to ground the show a little in the more emotional moments (op cit). Yes, it's a contrivance that Sarah can date Bryce but not Chuck, but watching Levi and Strahovski in that final scene at the fountain, I didn't feel cheated the way that, say, "Ed" always used to when it dragged out a similar (but less lethal) situation.

And it's not like the episode was somber or maudlin or anything. There was still plenty of funny: Morgan and Lester's pathetic imitation spy mission (complete with special hand gestures and dive rolls) to chase away Michael Strahan and his pals, Chuck getting fed up with Bryce's condescending attitude (after Bryce calls him "Kid," Chuck protests, "We were born in the same year!") and, especially, Chuck's horrified reaction to Sarah and Bryce's spicy dance number. (The squeak in Levi's voice as he said "The Forbidden Dance?" was a highlight.)

I like that, although Bryce likes and respects Chuck enough to have sent him the Intersect, he also can't resist marking his territory and making sure his nerdy ex-roommate remembers who the real spy is and who's the amateur. (Bryce has a real bow tie; Chuck has a clip-on.) The tension between the two of them felt real, and it also made for yet another parallel with the Buy More subplot, as both Chuck and Morgan battle feelings of inadequacy around classic alpha male characters.

And Bryce coming back finally addresses a question most of us have had going back to the pilot: what happens when the intel in Chuck's head gets outdated? Now, thanks to a pair of magic sunglasses (which, really, is no more ridiculous than anything else about the Intersect concept), Chuck has a software upgrade, which should keep us from asking this question at least until next season. (And, boy, I really want there to be a next season.)

Some other thoughts on "Chuck vs. the Break-Up":

• As I mentioned in my review at the start of the season, I'm glad Chuck is getting better at the spy stuff, albeit in a Chuck way. He's not just a victim, not just someone who mopes in the car or cowers in fear (not much, anyway) when danger's about. Bribing the bad guys to go away isn't standard spy M.O., but it worked to defuse the situation -- and then it set up that wonderful, silent moment where, after Casey shoots the Fulcrum woman to save the day when Sarah can't, the camera panned down to show, without comment, that Casey also managed to get the cash back. Much more effective (and certainly easier on the budget) than actually showing him chase down and beat or kill the mercenaries.

• The show usually goes with '80s pop culture references for one-off character names (Melinda Clarke's character last week had the same name as the female spy from "Gotcha!"), but somehow a sports one snuck into the script, with Steve Valentine's character being named after Phillies outfielder Von Hayes.

• Not that there weren't any '80s pop culture references, as evidenced by Lester yelling out, "Sweep the leg, Morgan!" (By the way, if any "Karate Kid" fan has yet to see the "Sweep the Leg" music video, please stop what you're doing and go. You'll thank me after.)

• Not only does the CIA, as Bryce notes, have a knack for putting Sarah into cute outfits (the Orange-Orange uniform, the swank red dress), but they also apparently have a great makeup team on call for her, as her face was completely unblemished in the hospital after she almost got blown up trying to save Chuck.

• Strahan was, as usual, a natural on camera, though I could have done without those point of view close-ups whenever he was threatening Morgan. Felt like they were trying too hard to exaggerate the threat for comic effect, when Strahan is both intimidating and funny enough on his own to not need underlining that way.

• The Strahan story also gave us a couple of great musical moments: Lester and Morgan preparing to die at the end of their shift while the soundtrack shifted into a soundalike version of an Ennio Morricone spaghetti Western score (it reminded me a lot of the legendary "Ecstasy of Gold" scene from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"), and then Anna giving Strahan a gravity-defying, tripod-assisted beatdown scored to "Barracuda." (Or does Sarah Palin's attempt to make that her theme song mean you think of hockey moms whenever you hear it now?)

• I loved the gleam in Casey's eye as he watched Anna go to town, by the way. Question: would anyone actually want to see Anna become part of spy world in addition to nerd world, or do you want Chuck, Casey and Sarah to be the only people who get to walk in both?

• We only got one quasi-Parkour move from Bryce this time, when he slid under the table during the chase scene at the top of the episode, and since that wasn't enough to satisfy my usual Parkour jones, I'll point you to both the foot chase from "Casino Royale" and to one of the opening scenes of the French, all-Parkour action movie "District 13."

• No Huey Lewis this week (at least, not in the version I reviewed), but I wrote this review while playing Huey and the News' greatest hits on my iPod.

What did everybody else think?


Jesse said...

I'm always a sucker for "Grosse Point Blank" references.

This was my favorite so far, although like you, I've found all 3 to be fantastic.

Anonymous said...

One more possible 80s popcult reference: the "You got it?" "I got it." "Take it." reminded me a lot of a similar scene in The Untouchables.

Enjoyed tonight, and I'm so, so glad they dealt with the new intersect issue. I can't imagine Casey's going to be willing to put up with Chuck and Sarah's shenanigans much longer, though.

I also wondered why, in that lovely scene with the bow ties, Chuck didn't say to Bryce, "Hey, dumbass, my sister almost saw you today and in case you'd forgotten, you're supposed to be dead, so how about not sniffing around my girlfriend in public?"

Anonymous said...

Anyone happen to know what song was playing during the final talk by the fountain?

captnkurt said...

Yeah, that last song in the show really knocked me out. Loved it.


Rae said...

Last song was Skinny Love by Bon Iver.

Mac said...

Every episode should have a villain named after a former Phillie. Just because.

Alanna said...

Question: would anyone actually want to see Anna become part of spy world in addition to nerd world, or do you want Chuck, Casey and Sarah to be the only people who get to walk in both?

Maybe somewhere in the middle. While I don't want her to become an actual spy, I'd enjoy a storyline in which Casey is vetting her as a potential recruit, unbeknownst to her. Could be played for laughs and provide another way to mesh the two worlds. Plus, I'd love to know what the show's version of the CIA looks for in potential spies.

Karen said...

I think this may actually be my absolute favorite show on television; it just brings me so much delight. The mix of espionage, romance, and geek humor is so effortless, and the cast absolutely brings it.

Zach Levi's face, looking at his sister and Awesome canoodling on the couch as he returned from his fruitless trip in the white dinner jacket was...well, it was worth a thousand words. And Casey's initial reaction to Anna Wu--the raised eyebrows of piqued interest--also brilliant. I was laughing out loud.

But I'm confused: didn't Sarah also say, as she and Chuck sat down at the fountain, that she had something to say? I was half expecting her to confess that she realized her feelings for him were impeding her ability to do her job, and was asking to be relieved...or even deciding to quit. I don't see either Bryce or Casey letting go of her inability to take the shot, and it's got to get back to the General at some point. Sarah woButuld almost be better off taking it into her own hands before it's imposed on her.

But I'll say, in that scene, Strahovski really showed growth in her acting skills, as she let the play of her emptions wash over her face--that was all reaction, and she really sold it.

If this show doesn't get renewed it will be a sin and a shame.

Anonymous said...

RTVW, you are my hero.

Pamela Jaye said...

I have a great idea - first I'll check your blog, and then I'll decide whether to watch Chuck or HIMYM first!

(gee Mondays are tough!)

anyway, since a commercial is not a spoiler -

they reran that Sears ad, with "Penny" at the end of HIMYM and as she was standing there with the *laundry equipment* I finally realized she was standing there with laundry equipment.

Boy i'm slow. She "always" did like doing the laundry...
(great marketing move, Sears)

(and I watched two eps of Big Bang Theory, since I forgot last week)

I'll be back...

Karen said...

Re parkour: here's a nifty BBC commercial featuring David Belle, who pretty much invented parkour:

and an article about Belle:

Jon88 said...

I guess I'm not enough of a Karate Kid fan. (Or I'm just too old.) Who's the pizza guy?

Anonymous said...

I think this might be the best show of the fall 2008 season. The Office has been great so far, but I find myself looking forward to Chuck more. Such a wonderful mix of genres. I'm trying hard to get all of my friends to watch it. Although, all of my friends are not Nielsen family members, so...

Anonymous said...

Another fantastic show. Seriously, people need to watch. They've really nailed the balance of genres so well. And the Buy More storylines have greatly improved.

(I love the suggestion above to have Anna tested--unbeknownst to her--by Casey about becoming an agent.)

Something I think is YS's best asset is her athleticism. It's so important to her role. (I know she's been criticized here for her stunt fighting, but she's really improved. Stunts are technique that can be learned. Athleticism is not. Natural athleticism one of the reasons Garner was so good on Alias.) Anyway, YS really sells all the physical stuff. She was excellent in the dance scene too.

Capt. Awesome got a couple nice scenes this week too.

Really looking forward to next week. I actually heard Richie was good.

Pamela Jaye said...

Is Fulcrum new? I know I heard their name this season but so far, to me, it'd making as much sense as Strahan - i'm assuming "someone I'm supposed to know" (and the same for "parkour."

Oh well. Loved the ep anyway. There was so much in it that it seemed like it couldn't possibly be 40somthing minutes. Loved the last line. Loved Awesome "taking over" - both in what he said and in that if he hadn't, Ellie would have recognized Bryce.

I'm tired of Jeff though.
Otherwise? Awesome.

(now if Lixie Grey and Mark Sloan could come fix this pain in my head....)

Pamela Jaye said...

after much googling (and that was Lexie, not Lixie) I am significantly less uninformed (though I'll need to spend more time on Fulcrum).

Diane said...

This week's completely bizarre shout-out to a movie: the Paraguay/fork is a reference to "Grosse Pointe Blank," in which John Cusack's character killed the President of Paraguay with a fork.

Why can't I have any of the important stuff stuck in my head?

Anonymous said...

I really like this show, but last night I had my first real problem with it. Someone at NBC should be embarrassed when they allowed "Bogota Columbia 2005" to be plastered on the screen. Has anyone looked at a map of South America lately? It's Colombia not "Columbia". WOW. Great episode though.

Unknown said...

Chuck has quickly become my favorite show. I look forward to this show more than any other.

Anonymous said...

I liked when Bryce told Chuck that he's always been looking out for him and then proved it later with the update. He's got to know that once the new Intersect is up, Chuck's toast, so keeping Chuck updated is a good way to protect him. Or at least prolong Chuck's life a few more seasons :-)

yatesy said...

thanks for picking up the von hayes reference! i wonder who the phillies fan is on the writing team!

Anonymous said...

With South Park and HIMYM not living up to their former glory so far this season, I would say that Chuck is the best show currently on TV.

Some scattered thoughts on this episode:

Whenever they showed Mitt, I was thinking to myself, "Man, that gap in his teeth really reminds me of someone." I just now realized that it reminds me of Michael Strahan, so that makes sense.

I don't like the idea of Anna joining the spy world. A borderline psycho exerting her will over the Nerd Herd is a funny contrast. But a borderline psycho as a neophyte spy doesn't seem to have the same potential. I do like Alanna's idea of an episode where Casey is surreptitiously vetting her, but I think that ultimately she should stay in the Nerd Herd.

I really liked Awesome's way of getting Bryce to back off. Mainly because I loathe Ellie, and I knew she was going to be obnoxious, so I was pleased when Awesome handled things in a non-obnoxious way. (I still don't understand how Awesome can fail to be repulsed by Ellie, but I'm glad he's around.)

When the show first started, I couldn't stand Morgan. But I think that as the spy stuff has made Chuck stronger and more confident, exposure to the new and improved Chuck has made Morgan stronger and more confident as well. This makes him a much more interesting and less annoying character.

Anonymous said...

Chuck and Supernatural are the two shows this season I feel like I never have to worry about letting me down. I love Gossip Girl too, but when this is on, I have absolutely no problem missing GG (or HIMYM). The only thing I was upset about in this episode was that there was no Huey Lewis. I really want it to become a thing.

The last scene broke my heart, especially when they then had to put on happy faces for Ellie and Awesome. Speaking of Awesome -- I love that man. He really lives up to his nickname.

Is it wrong that "Why won't you just die for real, Bryce Larkin?" has become a running joke between me and my friends? And it's not so much a joke as it is a wish.

Anonymous said...

The French parkour movie was also released as "District B-13", which is the actual 'district' in Paris depicted in the movie (as screen shots show). Minor point, I know.

Anonymous said...

I've slowly come around to liking this show. I had to admit it had legs in season one.

With season two, yeah, it's won me over. The increase of Casey's presence works wonders (Yay browncoats!), Morgan is consistently funny, whereas last season he was too annoying half the time. Everything's starting to gel.

The only thing I'm not certain is working is the romance, but I have a low tolerance for endless will-they-or-wont-they romance plots. It's just been done to death in so many shows that I wish they would just shelve it for a long time, or find a way to make it unique and compelling, which is incredibly difficult.

Still, chuck's got me. I'm going to be tuning in for a while, looks like.

greebs said...

Question: would anyone actually want to see Anna become part of spy world in addition to nerd world, or do you want Chuck, Casey and Sarah to be the only people who get to walk in both?

Um, I'd pretty much want to see Anna doing just about anything. Hot and funny? I like that.

Anonymous said...

Parkour may have been created in the early nineteen-nineties by David Belle, but other guys (like Jackie Chan) were doing basically the same thing years earlier...

Anonymous said...

(I still don't understand how Awesome can fail to be repulsed by Ellie, but I'm glad he's around.)

Wow. Just wow.

Anonymous said...

this show isn't as good as last season.
and is it just me or does Chuck wear a shit load of make up? From what I can tell he's sporting a fake tan, some sort of eye makeup, super gelled and groomed hair, and some sort of cheek make up and i swear sometimes he looks like he is wearing glitter.

They need to demetrofy chuck. he's looking a little too perfectly coiffed for the "ldork" he's supposed to be

Anonymous said...

"Yes, it's a contrivance that Sarah can date Bryce but not Chuck..."

Didn't the opening scene show Sarah shoot without hesitation when Bryce was in danger whereas when Chuck was in danger she couldn't? I thought this explained why she can date Bryce but not Chuck--her feelings for Chuck are stronger or more protective.

I hope Anna doesn't become part of spy world.

Anonymous said...

^I noticed that, too. So did Bryce, which is one reason he warned Chuck away from Sarah. Also agree with not having Anna become part of Spy World (but the secret vetting idea is awesome).

Stef said...

Isn't it that Sarah and Bryce are equals, whereas Chuck is an asset that Sarah is supposed to protect? That's why I thought the former could date but the latter couldn't. In Chuck World, at least.

Awesome was just awesome. The heart is what he knows best!

Unknown said...

This scheduling was cruel. I missed Michael Strahan to watch the Giants! (The Giants missed him too.)

Anonymous said...

"Yes, it's a contrivance that Sarah can date Bryce but not Chuck..."

Didn't the opening scene show Sarah shoot without hesitation when Bryce was in danger whereas when Chuck was in danger she couldn't? I thought this explained why she can date Bryce but not Chuck--her feelings for Chuck are stronger or more protective

No, that's not Sarah's reason, or the show's. It was okay for Sarah to date Bryce because they were equals (...supposedly - we don't really know how their superiors reacted to their relationship). But Chuck is an asset that Sarah's assigned to protect, which makes it more problematic for her to date him.

And, on one level, I can see the point: Bryce can take care of himself no matter what Sarah does, whereas Chuck can't (yet). But the way the show has often framed it is "Chuck and Sarah can't date because they work together," which is clearly a false premise, as Sarah and Bryce worked together and dated. I think this is what Alan meant by "contrivance;" the show is equating the Bryce/Sarah relationship with the Chuck/Sarah relationship, which is a false comparison.

Anonymous said...

So I just watched Chuck and Bogota doesn't look like that AT ALL. It kinda ruined the rest of the episode.

Anonymous said...

I had my moment of sqee when the Fulcrum agent tured out to be Bianca Chiminello, who played Peacekeeper secret agent on Farscape's Look at the Princess.
I almost expected her to spear Chuck with a bolt coming from her hand.

velvetcannibal said...

Just caught up on Chuck. My favorite moment was when Casey shot the agent, and that not only did he take the shot and have the bag of cash, but he was also toting the recently fleeing Von Hayes by what looked like a necktie. Ha!

3333/afa said...

I also wondered why, in that lovely scene with the bow ties, Chuck didn't say to Bryce, "Hey, dumbass, my sister almost saw you today and in case you'd forgotten, you're supposed to be dead, so how about not sniffing around my girlfriend in public?"

I know I'm posting to this thread 13 months later, but I'm watching "Chuck" for the first time, and I've become so accustomed to reading Alan's take on so many other shows, I read his post and the comments immediately after watching the show.

Though I know the OP is very unlikely to ever read this, I want to say, for the record, that Sarah doesn't think Bryce is dead. I initially thought that, too: how Bryce was being fairly nonchalant about chatting Sarah up in her work. But then I remembered that Sarah thinks Bryce is "an accountant, or something." Sure, it would be extremely strange for Sarah to find that Bryce again stole Chuck's love interest (and it would be even weirder that Chuck never mentioned that it wasn't just any ex-boyfriend who was interfering with Sarah, it was the odious Bryce Larkin), but both of those things would be a lot less weird than Sarah thinking that Bryce resurrected.