Chuck: “Chuck vs. The Fear of Death”

 Scared Straight

“Chuck vs. The Fear of Death”


Mondays, NBC, 8/7c PM

Written by Nicholas Wooton

Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill

“I haven’t been on a mission in a month. I wake up with my trigger finger itching”. – John Casey

Chuck has lost his ability to flash. Since, regardless of what Chuck tells himself, the Intersect is the only reason the CIA is interested in him, this spells disaster not just for Chuck personally, but for Team Bartowski as well. General Buttinski brings in a series of ineffective CIA shrinks to help our nerd-spook get his groove back, to no avail. Finally, she sends in the big gun: Jim Rye (wry?), played by veteran comic actor Rob Riggle (Gary Unmarried) to scare Chuck so badly he un-blocks himself so the Intersect can work. He takes Chuck on a solo mission to Switzerland to ferret out a weapon being sold by international arms dealer Adelbert de Smet (Richard Chamberlain, Leverage) – because arms dealers love to go to isolated locations to buy huge diamonds. Right. Chases, gunfights, and a smackdown in a cable car high in the Alps ensue, and in the end De Smet captures Chuck, whom he thinks has a working Intersect in his head.

“The air is so fresh, and the chocolate? So milky!”  – Chuck

Yawn. Been here, done this. We already saw a couple of episodes, a ways back, about how Chuck could not flash because of emotional blockage. We’ve even seen him in enemy hands before. Since the Intersect in Chuck’s head is the only thing that keeps this series from being a remake of Get Smart, it’s time to recharge this idea, and soon. Right now the series is starting to look like a collage of past episodes. What’s more, it’s predictable. I can’t possibly be the only person to suspect that the real terror of Chuck’s life, the one fear that will unlock that Intersect, will be when Sarah is in danger, not Chuck. That Rye never figured that out is proof that he really didn’t understand Chuck.

“I should get beat up more often.” — Chuck

What happened to the nerd I used to love? Chuck is desperate to prove his prowess and value as an international spy, but Sarah is just concerned to keep the man she loves—make that the nerd she loves—safe and sound, even if that means wrapping him in cotton wool. This is not going to end well for either Chuck or Sarah. Sometimes, when an A-story just is not happening for me, the B-story picks up the slack. Not in this case: Jeff and Lester’s stalking of the new Greta (Summer Glau, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) bordered on sexual harassment. I love Jeff and Lester, more than most I think, but this wasn’t funny.

Chuck: I am a spy!

Sarah: No, Chuck, you’re not!

Chuck and Sarah, and particularly Sarah, are showing their inexperience in relationships in a major way this season. It does not matter that they share a home, a bed, and a bottle of massage oil, not when Sarah doesn’t really believe Chuck is a spy. Her lack of respect for him as a spy drives him to accept his solo mission to Gstaad, even though even the General thinks it is dangerous. Where did this reckless daredevil come from? And what has he done with Chuck? And when did Sarah Walker lose all diplomacy skills? Why did she spend Season Two training Chuck if now she can’t believe in him?

The one thing we can count on in this show, of course, is an egregious piece of product placement in every episode. They get longer and longer, until with this week’s episode, we get Lester broadcasting a Subway commercial over the Buy More PA system for three minutes. The other thing we can count on is that, when the story weakens, the writers will throw in a shot of Sarah in her underwear. At least this time, we got a balancing shot of Chuck in his underwear. I wonder if the day will ever come when underwear is not funny.

Chuck: That was amazing, where’d you learn how to do that?

Rye: Star Trek

This episode wasted the talents of its guest stars. I cannot imagine a combination with more potential for comedy gold than Zach Levy and Rob Riggle. What we got were a few wimpy mutterings about milky chocolate, and some brightly delivered, impossible lines from Riggle. His character was supposed to be funny, but came off as stupid. Rather than change tactics when an approach failed, Rye simply repeated it, only louder. Richard Chamberlain, whose potential to play bad guys is only exceeded by his yet-undimmed charm, pretty much smirks his way through what few lines he was given. Since he returns in the next episode, one may hope he will be given something with a little more substance, something to take advantage of his talents. Some good moments: anything with Morgan and Casey, Alex confronting her father, and Greta’s growl-off with John Casey; besides being funny in itself, it was hilarious for those of us who remember Summer Glau and Adam Baldwin snarling at one another all through Firefly. Riggle taking down a guard with a Spock nerve pinch hit every funny bone I have.

Chuck pulled in 5.42 million viewers, for an overall 3/5 household rating. In the all-important 18-49 group, it brought in only 1.2/3 share. The show continues to leak viewers; last week the show totaled 5.5 million viewers. It’s a slow leak, but it’s a leak. I can only conclude at this point that NBC has no hopes for a better performance in this timeslot by any show. Yesterday, the network announced a shuffling of its comedy lineup, bringing back fan favorite Parks & Recreation in January, but left Chuck where it is. For the life of me, I cannot imagine why NBC has not stuck Chuck in with the rest of its comedy block. Maybe they’re hoping that Summer Glau’s new superhero comedy The Cape, launching in January after Chuck, will boost both shows. It will certainly take some serious anti-gravity devices at this point to lift Chuck out of the Monday night doldrums.