From 60 to Zero
By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall
NBC, Mondays, 8/7 E/C
“Chuck vs. the Helicopter”
Written by Josh Schwartz & Chris Fedak
Directed by Michael Duncan McNeill
Wow. Never have I seen a series hit the wall so fast. The second episode of Chuck was so bad I thought I would abandon it in mid-episode. I’m glad I didn’t, because the second half got better, but if I had already had some other show I liked in that timeslot, this would have been my last review of this show.
The opening five minutes are a recap of the pilot episode. Okay, I thought we’d moved past the point in TV culture where network execs still parrot the old adage that you have to show the pilot three times before the audience gets it. Chuck is so by-the-numbers, kindergarten children could tell you the plot. Of every episode. But I tapped my foot and waited out the recap, only to find that all the running and jumping was about nabbing a shoplifter. Nice takedown by Adam Baldwin’s Agent Casey, by the way. But what looked like a cute setup at the end of the pilot is not standing up to scrutiny: a CIA agent and an NSA agent are “guarding” Chuck, the human database, by going undercover as, respectively, a hot dog cook and an appliance salesman? This is beyond silly.
The plot seemed like a good idea when I read it in TV Guide: Chuck’s guardian agents Casey (NSA) and Sarah (CIA) team up to find a doctor who can “cure” Chuck by taking the secret images out of his head, the images that were downloaded into his brain via e-mail in the pilot (Yeah, I know. Bear with me.). Unfortunately, the doctor’s car blows up right after he examines Chuck, and circumstances point to NSA involvement. Sarah warns Chuck that Casey may be trying to kill him. Casey warns him that Sarah may have planted the bomb not only to kill the doctor but implicate him (Casey), to put Chuck off his guard in order to kill him. Meanwhile, Chuck’s sister throws a dinner party and invites Sarah so they can all meet.
This might have been comedy gold, but it turns into pyrite. The doctor’s fate is obvious from the moment Casey comments on the absence of a corpse at the crime scene. The dinner party is steeped in more cringeworthy awkwardness than a cavity search. Chuck’s attempt to pilot a helicopter had only one dimension: not-funny. My disbelief was not suspended. Yeah, I know this show is supposed to be a spoof, but that does not excuse lazy writing. The Pink Panther series, Spy Hard, and other spy-spoofs have set the bar too high for this kind of lame storytelling.
There are moments that worked. Adam Baldwin’s comic timing remains impeccable. His physical comedy during the chase scene, where he stumbles around suffering from temporary muscle paralysis, is as funny as anything Cary Elwes did in The Princess Bride. The fight scene between Casey and Sarah was not only funny but hot–these two have far better onscreen chemistry than Chuck and Sarah. I laughed out loud in the “exam”, where we learn that among the secrets in Chuck’s head is the true explanation for the downing of Oceanic Flight 815, the source of the TV show “Lost”. The gaggle of fan boys buying hot dogs from Sarah, taking her picture with cell phones to post on the Internet, and yelling, “I love you!” as they run out the door, was very funny. Chuck, however, was not. Even in his little conversation with Sarah, where he asks her to be his fake girlfriend, the timing was flat, the idea so clichéd, I almost yawned. Yeah, he’s socially awkward. We get that. It was funnier in their date in the pilot, when Chuck was genuinely funny and somewhat more at ease.
So far, the score is tied at 1-1 for Chuck: one winner, one loser. I’ll give it another episode to see what breaks the tie.