Chuck: “Chuck vs. the Cubic Z”

Nerd of the Rings

By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Stegall

Mondays on NBC at 9/8

“Chuck vs. the Cubic Z”

Written by Nicholas Wootton
Directed by Norman Buckley

“Where’s the Chuck relationship neurosis? Where’s the hand wringing?” —Morgan

One of the reasons I love this series is because the writers, having finally gotten Chuck and Sarah together, allow them to work out minor issues without throwing major obstacles in the path of true love week after week. That kind of faux drama had a shelf life that ended with Friends; nobody needs a replay of those contrived “dramas”. So I was wary when this episode opened with Sarah fighting rising panic over the very idea of marriage and kids. An offhand remark from Chuck—so offhand even he doesn’t take it seriously—puts her so off her game she is beating Casey to a pulp in the workout room. Chuck, under no pressure, is serenely enjoying his bliss with Sarah. He’s so happy, he doesn’t even mind when a security snafu forces General Buttinsky to cancel his dream mission to Monte Carlo with Sarah.

Said snafu requires that the Castle be used as a temporary prison for two prisoners (rendition, anyone?) who were supposedly being transported before their truck broke down. The prisoners turn out to be Hugo Panzer (Steve “Stone Cold” Austin, The Expendables) and Heather Chandler (Nicole Richie, The Simple Life), both of whom have been on this show before. Hugo has a grudge against Chuck, whose Chuck-fu embarrassed and defeated him in an airplane baggage hold. Heather went to high school with Sarah/Annie/Jennie and has been taunting her ever since. Meanwhile, newly crowned Buy More manager Morgan must confront a crowd of rowdy fanboys who have queued up to buy the latest video game release, naturally called “Spy Attack”. Morgan, neatly togged out in gray flannel, dubs this his “managerial Bushido test”. Ready, set, pull the trigger on a fun and fast episode.

“You’re beyond De Niro. This is Russell Crowe serious.” —Chuck

This episode finally returns Big Mike to the cast. Three months of searching for his bliss have led him back to the Buy More in a humble frame of mind. He asks Morgan for permission to marry Morgan’s mother, and asks him to hold onto the cubic zirconium (one half carat, pear shaped) ring he has bought for her. As freaky as Morgan finds this, he’s distracted by more pressing issues—there are a hundred rabid fans lined up outside his store, and only three copies of the game! Chuck smilingly declares his faith in Morgan, and then high-tails it outta there; Chuck is a smart man. Morgan scrambles to obtain more games to hold off the horde, and tasks Jeff and Lester with the job of delaying the mob. Does Morgan not remember the last time he asked Jeffster to delay an event? An entire church was flooded. This time around, the Jeffster brainstorm is… a poetry slam. With kung-fu demonstration.

“What monkey flung this?” —Lester

The idea was hilarious, the execution not so much. Bad slam-poetry, like Vogon poetry, may be too dangerous to broadcast to unsuspecting audiences; this was one example of why that is. There’s no doubt that Scott Krinsky and Vik Sahay can bring the stone funny when they want to, but they just did not have the lines in this story. During the ensuing melee, Morgan loses the ring. Big Mike calms down the crowd, and even takes out the escaping Hugo, thinking he’s another rowdy. The ring, like the One Ring of The Lord of the Rings making its way down Anduin to Gollum, makes its way down the ventilation ducts to land at Chuck’s feet. A hint from the universe? Or just a clever parody? If I know my Chuck, it’s both.

Sarah: We don’t have the authority to interrogate Chandler.

Chuck: We don’t have the authority to use the supply closet for what we use it for, but we do, don’t we?

The primary story was a lot less fun. Sarah found it stressful enough last week to show enough commitment to Chuck to unpack her suitcase. Now she’s worried Chuck wants to settle down, marry, and start a family. Worse, her arch-enemy can see right through her. Sarah is content to ignore Heather, until Chuck’s flash reveals that Heather knows Mom Bartowski (anyone remember her?). During the interrogation that follows, Sarah goes off the rails in front of a bewildered but still loving Chuck. Chuck doesn’t even mind when Heather calls him a “wispy man-boy”, but when she calls Sarah a “bottle blonde with a daddy complex”, she hits too close to home for both of them. Heather is willing to make a deal, convinced that Hugo was sent to kill her. Snarky negotiations ensue, Hugo escapes and chases everyone through duct-work, which is conveniently provided with bright lighting and directional arrows. CIA architects think of everything. Casey gets roped into the manhunt, and a hefty chunk of airtime is spent fighting, chasing, fighting, and chasing. Hugo shoots Casey, Chandler switches sides, one more piece is added to the Mom Puzzle I don’t care much about.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t catch that?” —Computer Interface

As always, the fun is in the in-jokes. Casey struggles to get past defective voice-recognition software. Heather calls Chuck on the Tron poster in his bedroom. The game launch clock adds tension and a touch of wry humor. And how typical is it that Jeff is sweeping up the store behind a Roomba? Best moment of the night, however, was Big Mike’s very serious, very humble acceptance of the “sacred vestment”—the Assistant Manager’s vest. Big Mike, once the boss of everyone, is now Morgan’s ass manager. This time around, the BuyMorons really stole this show.

Chuck came in more or less flat, with little change from last week’s ratings. At 5.37 million viewers, it garnered a 1.9 share and, as usual, placed fourth in its time slot. Two weeks ago, Chuck was the second lowest-rated scripted show on NBC, after Outlaw. The week after that, it barely beat out Undercovers as the worst rated NBC show (spy stories aren’t doing it for NBC, it seems). This week, it eked past Chase. That’s three weeks in a row that Chuck has come in with the next-to-worst ratings. That’s not the kind of numbers that ensure a fifth season; at this point, I’d be happy just to see NBC order more shows. I loveChuck, but it’s hard to see it becoming anything other than a much loved niche show from here on out.