Chuck: “Chuck vs. the Mask”

Night of Masks

By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Stegall

Mondays on NBC at 9/8

“Chuck vs. the Mask”
Written by Phil Klemmer
Directed by Michael Shultz

I’m starting to feel a little queasy about Sarah Walker’s private life. In this episode, she first repels, and then encourages the advances of Daniel Shaw. By the end of the episode, she seems to be sliding—sideways, perhaps—into a new relationship. She even tells Chuck she has a “type”. Yeah, the “type” seems to be “co-worker” and “spy”. First Bryce, then Cole, then Chuck (on and off) and now Daniel—doesn’t this girl ever date outside the office? Maybe she sees all non-spies as potential victims, people she has to seduce (like Manoosh last week), rather than people she wants to seduce. I surely wish she exhibited the common sense God gave geese, and dated outside her work environment. There’s a saying about performing certain bodily functions where you eat…

Chuck seems to be considerably more normal in this regard. At least Chuck seems to be attracted to women who don’t routinely carry knives and guns. As I suspected, Hannah has been introduced as a potential romantic interest and Love Obstacle ™ to the Chuck/Sarah romance. Yawn. Been here, done this so many times it’s annoying. Hannah is cute, engaging, and a heck of a lot better fit than Sarah (she actually understands and appreciates what Chuck does with computers), so it’s a pity their relationship is doomed by the conventions of TV romance.

It’s also a pity they have to keep dumbing her down. No red-blooded woman worth her salt would give Chuck a pass on his behavior at the museum opening. From Hannah’s point of view, he listened to her declaration of her feelings, then callously ditched her to run off to play footsie with his “ex”. Even though he appears to save Hannah’s life, there’s some ‘splainin’ to do, Lucy. And I absolutely, positively did not like the speed with which Chuck Bartowski went from a poignant “good-bye” to Sarah to a passionate makeout session with Hannah in the Buy More. Nope, nope, nope. This is looking more contrived than an arranged marriage.

I know how this is supposed to work: Sarah and Chuck engage in half-hearted, sloppy “relationships” with others, while secretly pining for one another, until fortuitously (probably in the season finale) they re-connect and gloriously kiss. Yeah. Except, what happens to their erstwhile romantic interests? Do Daniel and Hannah get hung out to dry, broken-hearted and depressed, because Sarah and Chuck have been lying to everyone in sight, including themselves? This may be a time-hallowed plot, but it’s manipulative as hell, and does not cast either Sarah or Chuck in a good light. Someone is bound to get seriously hurt in this scenario—and this is supposed to be a comedy!

The two characters I was most in sympathy with this episode were Casey and Hannah. Poor Casey, he never gets to blow anything up. God knows I wanted to blow several things up before the hour was over, starting with Morgan’s hang-dog attitude. The guy who fearlessly pursued Anna Wu cannot even start a conversation with Hannah? (What’s with the Anna/Hannah name similarities? Can’t the writer’s room afford a book of baby names?) But then, that would be a workplace romance again, and goodness knows that’s off limits in this universe, right?

Hannah, poor Hannah. I have every sympathy with this character. First she loses her job, always a stressful situation. She lands one at the Buy More, a step down for her, but with the bonus of an attractive co-worker who shamelessly flirts with her. She goes on her first “mission” with him, declares her feelings, and gets ruthlessly jilted. Then she faces a technical nightmare when the software appears to break down at the museum opening, and she finds herself, unknowingly, fighting the CIA and the Ring and the Museum’s proprietary software. Kudos to Hannah for overcoming such overwhelming technical obstacles. Then she comes back the next day and appears to inadvertently (from her point of view) trigger a life-threatening emergency closure of the vault. As she sees it, Chuck saves her life, then tumbles her in the home theatre section at work (don’t any of these people have boundaries?). I feel sorry for Hannah because almost nothing in her life is as it appears to be, and the revelation of that is going to be as messy as it was for, oh, Lou back in Season One.

Then we close with a cold-blooded assassination. This is comedy?

I’m really not sure where Chuck is headed this year. I’m not sure the writers do, either. Apparently they feel that the premise of the show so far—a geek with a database in his head—is not enough to carry a plot, and they are loading it up with all kinds of romantic angst. The spy plots, even the Buy Morons, have taken a back seat to this soap opera romance, and it’s killing the show. Or at least my interest in it. There are far more interesting ways to exploit the idea of the Intersect, without dragging in Friends-style, on-again/off-again sexual tension. Fake breakups, all the chatter in the last five minutes about breaking up the “team”, the constant dangling of potential Love Obstacles ™ in front of Chuck and Sarah—it’s tedious. It’s annoying. It’s been done. Get over it. Move on. I find myself increasingly disinterested in this “romance”; I want to know more about this mysterious Ring, more about the Cylons that our Ring smuggler reported to at the end. I want more Ellie and Devon. I emphatically want more Casey—Adam Baldwin says more with one grunt than most actors with a whole paragraph. I want more Buymoria. I want more of Chuck’s special expertise in computers, more of Chuck solving cases on his own, more of Chuck trying to deal with the secrets that are spinning his life out of control. If I want agonizingly long, drawn-out romances, there is always daytime soap operas.

After all, Chuck is up against a real romantic melodrama, The Bachelor, and a drama with almost as much romantic subtext, House. Given that those shows play this game so much better, why can’t Chuckconcentrate on its own strengths—comedy, geek culture, witty dialogue? Why the need to compete on a foreign playing field, against better-established competition? Viewers hungry for sloppy, sentimental fake romance will be watching The Bachelor, not Chuck.

Chuck did better than any other NBC show last night, coming in with 6.6 million viewers overall, a 2.2/6 share in the 18-49 demo. Frankly, I don’t know why NBC has not already renewed Chuck for another season. The network has already greenlighted Parks and Recreation for another season, and that show does not perform nearly as well as Chuck. But as I’ve said before, network programming is a black art. I doubt even an Intersect would help me figure it out.