Don’t Freak Out, v. 2.0
By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Stegall
Mondays on NBC at 9/8
“Chuck vs. Operation Awesome”
Written by Zev Borow
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill
One of the things I loved about the character of Chuck Bartowski from the beginning was his honesty. Chuck the Geek was virtually incapable of lying, even in his own best interests. Life and the spy game have taught him to lie, a little, and he’s not quite as naive as he was before. If there was any doubt about the change in his fundamental character, it was erased by this episode. Chuck’s new brother-in-law, Devon “Awesome” Woodcombe (Ryan McPartlin), appears to be everything Chuck is not–handsome, buff, self-assured, capable, and confident to an absurd degree. In his relationship with Chuck’s sister Ellie, he is loving, faithful, sensitive and steadfast. He is almost the anti-Chuck.
Until Awesome is mistaken for Chuck the spy, and kidnapped by an agent of the Ring (for those of you who napped through the last episode of Season Two, the Ring is the new Fulcrum). Tipped over an abyss and threatened with death, Awesome breaks into a cold sweat and babbles. Through the ensuing caper, Devon proves to be a terrified, clueless mook who freezes at the first sign of trouble. He cannot lie, cannot improvise, and is constitutionally incapable of hurting someone; he can’t even fake it. In all of this, he retains those characteristics of openness, genuineness and trust that endear him to the audience. Awesome may not be cut out for the spy game, but he’s still aces as a brother, buddy, and wingman.
To help rescue Devon from the Ring’s agent Sydney Prince (Angie Harmon, Women’s Murder Club), General Beckman sends in a new operative, specially trained to fight the Ring. He’s Agent Shaw, played by the smoking-hot Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) as a low-key, results-oriented mastermind. He immediately alienates Casey by his dislike of guns, and Sarah Walker distrusts him from the get-go. But of all the people who have been assigned to “help” Chuck Bartowski, Shaw is the first one who seems to actually want Chuck to learn something. Casey wants to bully Chuck, Sarah wants to mother him, and Bryce, when he was around, wanted to shield him from the realities of life as a spy. But Shaw seems to be content to guide Chuck, is relaxed enough in his role to stand back and let Chuck have his head when necessary, and doesn’t hold a grudge when Chuck does not obey orders. Of all the operatives now working in the basement under the yogurt shop, Shaw seems to be the only one who believes Chuck can actually, eventually, step up and be a spy. I look forward to more from this enigmatic and intriguing character.
Chuck is more lovable than ever, even as he slowly acclimates to his new role. I love the way the on-again/off-again Intersect will occasionally kick in, and confer (momentarily) super ninja assassin skills on our lowly geek. His inability to control the Intersect, which I thought would be one of those frustrating quirks some shows develop, has actually turned into a reasonable and believable plot device, which adds tension to every confrontation Chuck must face. Will he use the Intersect to get out of this jam, or will he have to fall back on his considerable wit and charm?
The B story, as usual, involved the Buy More, which is looking more and more like the blue-collar version of The Office every episode. In this one, Chuck’s inadvertent assault on Lester, triggered by a flash, humiliates Lester so much that he initiates a “fight club” among the store’s personnel. This is a problem for Morgan, who has been promoted to Assistant Manager in Big Mike’s new nepotism scheme. Morgan faces a dilemma common to those who have been promoted from the ranks: how to gain the respect of subordinates who used to be your peers. He finally has to pull the nuclear option–firing Lester–to make his point. Lester, of course, grovels and is re-hired. Jeff and Lester are two of the funniest characters I’ve seen on TV, and I am so glad the producers kept them on for Season Three.
No brief recap or review can really capture the charm of the writing for this show. This episode in particular was packed with innumerable in-jokes, geek jokes, and pop culture references. Some of them, like the Fight Club homage, are fairly obvious. Others, like the faint echo in the soundtrack of the trumpet theme from Patton, are more subtle. I caught references to Animal House, Under Siege, The Warriors and An Officer and a Gentleman, among other movies. I love it when the B story intersects (heh) with the A story, as when Lester’s fight club cage is used to take down Sydney’s bad guys. This kind of tight, fast-paced, witty writing is what makes this show a keeper.
One thing only continues to drag down the show: the Sarah/Chuck romance. This drawn-out drama is so last century. I would enjoy this show much more if those two finally got together, in every sense of the word, and formed a team. A sizzling love scene or two would in no way detract from the main story, which is about a geek making his way in an alien universe of spies and counter-spies. And Chuck desperately needs an ally right now. However, with the distraction of a new agent, and the possible further involvement of the awesome Captain Awesome, it makes sense to put that romance on the back burner for a while. I just hope it moves to the front pretty soon.
Chuck maintained its good numbers from last week, scoring a 2.5 in the 18-49 age demographic. Total viewers were down to 6.7 million, a little less than last week but still respectable. In fact, Chuck was the winner in NBC’s total lineup, as both Heroes and Jay Leno experienced serious fall-offs after the show. Heroes is essentially dead and Leno has been canceled, so if NBC is paying attention it will see that viewers are turning to the network just to see Chuck. With luck, that means more episodes will be ordered.