Chuck: “Chuck vs. the Couch Lock”

Taking the Fun Out of Funeral

By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Stegall

Mondays on NBC at 9/8

“Chuck vs. the Couch Lock”

Written by Henry Alonso Myers
Directed by Michael Schultz

It usually takes years before an agent is willing to put his teammates in harm’s way. Good tactical thinking, Bartowski! —General B

When you take the chili powder out of chili, you wind up with something edible but bland. Same goes for this show: take the funny out of Chuck and you wind up with a bland spy show. While I don’t expect perfection on every Monday night, this story racks up as a pretty major disappointment. It should have worked—it had action, romance, danger, drama, and a few attempts at humor. But somehow it just did not jell for me, so I put it down to a first-time Chuck writer and post-premiere slump.

Do you think it’s kind of sad that the only people who showed up for Casey’s funeral are the agents we planted? —Chuck

John Casey’s years as a special ops agent come back to haunt him when Chuck’s search for his mother turns up a lead on Casey’s old, mutinous unit: Packard (Eric Roberts, Sharktopus), Mackintosh (Zach Levi’s best friend Joel David Moore, Bones), and TI (Dave Batista, WWF Raw)—an entire black ops team named for computers. They once failed to kill Casey, and wound up court-martialed for it. Now they have escaped, and are looking for payback. One has to wonder about John Casey’s leadership skills, with a history like this. Chuck learns that they know the inside of Volkov’s private prisons, and may have information about his mother. Clearly, these people all need to meet one another. Years of game playing pay off as Chuck devises an excellent strategy for drawing Casey’s old team into a trap: stage a fake funeral, with a paralytic Casey as the centerpiece. Morgan prepares to deliver a eulogy in a funeral comprised only of CIA agents. Sure enough, the rogue team shows up on schedule, but when the trap is sprung, the mice have taken off with the cheese—Casey’s immobilized body is missing.

Be careful how you break the news to him. He might kill you accidentally. —Chuck

Morgan is more deeply involved than usual in this story, for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that he’s dating Alex (Mekenna Melvin, Three Rivers), Casey’s daughter, and is desperately trying to figure out a way to tell him that before Casey finds out on his own and kills him. He tries several times, most comedically during the eulogy itself. It’s clear that Morgan has finally outgrown his infatuation with Ellie; he’s committed to Alex. At one point, he even fake-breaks up with Alex to keep her out of harm’s way. Josh Gomez steals the story from everyone else, with his nervous stuttering, his panic, and finally a scene in which his feelings for Alex overcome his hesitation and he mans up. It was a nice outing for the little man, and I am glad to see Gomez getting some extra screen time.

You don’t have any friends. I happened to notice that at your funeral, the only people who showed up wanted to see you dead. —Morgan

The best pairing of this episode was Morgan/Casey. These two unlikely partners work better together every episode. Interestingly, Morgan actually has a virtue that Casey can appreciate: total and unquestioning loyalty to his friends. I have to admire the character arc that has brought him from being Chuck’s annoying sidekick to a brave and resourceful wingman who only says “Ow” when grazed by a bullet. In the past he has made himself into tiger bait, broken his thumbs, and now he risks electrocution to save his friends. He may be small, he may be hairy, and he may have a disturbing obsession with video games, but he is definitely worthy of Alex, as even Casey has to admit.

Frost isn’t a prisoner. She’s our boss. —Mackintosh

The bad guys tell Chuck bad news about his mother, code named “Frost”. Yawn. Just once, I wish Chuck would stop angsting over someone he loves. Or thinks he should love. Or wants to love. Or maybe just wants to like a lot. First it was Sarah Walker. Then it was his dad. Now he’s searching for his mother. Get over it, Chuck. Move on. This theme is boring. Like Bartowski, Senior, it appears that Mama B is in deep in the spy game. Which means nothing anyone says about her—particularly anything said by one of the Bad Guys—should be taken at face value. Yet that is exactly what Chuck does, week after week. His one Achilles heel is this need to recreate his broken family. What he does not seem to understand is that he can never heal it, it is broken forever, and like Ellie, his only hope of sanity is to move on, preferably with the beautiful and loving Sarah at his side. I would be happy to see the end of these parent-chasing episodes.

This is Agent Bartowski. Target needs assistance ASAP. Move in right now! —Chuck

Chuck pretty much takes over from the General in this episode. He’s all snappy orders and crisp delivery. He concocts a pretty good strategy for drawing out the rogues, he marshals his forces to pursue them, he uses the all-too-typical cop lingo to order his SWAT team into action. Walking through an alley with Sarah, wearing a flak jacket and carrying a handgun, he looks like a real spy, not a computer nerd. There’s not much of the Nerd Herder left in Chuck Bartowski, at least not this episode, and I have to confess I miss him. Surely there is a middle ground between the Chuck man/boy who almost wet himself in the pilot, and this grim operative with the ninja skills we have today. I will say, however, that I was glad that most of the relationship scenes were short and to the point. We’ve had several weeks of dwelling on the Sarah/Chuck love affair, and I’m fine with that, but I was also very ready for an episode that focused on something else. The most loving couple in the world does not sit around holding hands and making goo-goo eyes all day, so seeing Chuck and Sarah in action together was every bit as fun as watching them stroll through Paris together. As was, of course, Chuck telling Sarah how much he loves her as she is defusing a bomb. Something about Sarah in bomb-defusing mode really does it for Chuck.

Don’t worry, Casey! I know that dumpster! —Jeff

Adam Baldwin didn’t have much to do but lie around looking dead in this episode, but as always, he infused it with grim humor. I could go into detail about his ability to act with just a glare, but nothing can top the scene where Morgan conceals Casey’s identity by putting a Star Wars Imperial storm trooper helmet on his head. The fact that Morgan has one lying around is hilarious enough, but Casey dressed as a storm trooper is just too on-point not to be funny. Perhaps the funniest sequence in this entire episode was Lester and Jeff rescuing Casey. It’s also funny that Lester and Jeff already have keys to Morgan’s apartment. I have to give props, however, for all the A-Team references. Very cute. I have to say that the music in this episode was downright intrusive—it was beginning to feel like an ad for MTV. Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” was so obvious a choice as to be a cliché; “Have You Ever Had a Day Like This” was way too upbeat for the scene it scored. Songs by Fleetwood Mac overrode too many scenes. In short, these musical highlights have gone from subtle hints as to the emotional temperature of a scene to overwhelming them, a major distraction. I hope future episodes can tone the jukebox down a bit.

Although this was not the best episode of the season, there is good news. NBC has picked up Chuck for another 11 episodes, giving it a full third season. Chuck is still not guaranteed another full season after this one, as its ratings have leveled off at around 5.25 million viewers per episode. It consistently comes in at fourth place every Monday night. So why keep it? Pretty much because everything else NBC debuted this year went over like a lead balloon. Chuck succeeded not on its own considerable merits, but on the mediocrity of everything behind it. Like the joke says, you don’t need to outrun the bear, you only need to outrun the next guy.