By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Stegall
“Chuck vs. the Role Models”
NBC, Mondays 8/9 PM
Written by Phil Klemmer
Directed by Fred Toye
Chuck: You actually listened to me?
Sarah: I can’t quite believe it myself.
This is what finally listening to viewers buys you: good will. This episode of Chuck was nothing stellar, but I didn’t care. I am still riding the high I got off the last few episodes. If, instead, the last few eps had been handing me the same stale will-they/won’t-they romantic scenario, I’d have been disappointed and bored. As it is, I enjoyed this story as a good “B” level story. Better, it reinforced what I said before: Chuck and Sarah as a couple are vastly more entertaining than as separated lovers pining for one another. I can even forgive the shameless fan fiction quality of an episode in which General Beckman plays relationship counselor.
Beckman decides that, since Chuck and Sarah are “together” (although still trying to figure out if they want to move in together), they need role models as CIA spies. What, there isn’t a training module for this in Quantico? Amazing. Anyway, she assigns them to a team mission with spy spouses Craig and Laura Turner (Fred Willard, Castle and Swoosie Kurtz, Pushing Daisies). This is only slightly more plausible than assigning John LaRoquette as a love tutor to Chuck Bartowski, but I can live with it. The Turners turn out to be a disaster–bickering, drinking, blowing their cover as spies. Naturally, this being Chuck, the assignment takes them to a fancy-dress cocktail party. Who knew Burbank had this kind of nightlife? And would it kill the writers to put Chuck and Sarah in, oh, a picnic or a barbecue or something? I want the catering contract for Chuck. While the Turners fight downstairs, distracting their target, Chuck and Sarah sneak upstairs to steal some software. Which happens to be guarded by a tiger.
Sarah: Shoot it!
Chuck: I can’t.
Sarah: Why not?
Chuck: It’s a tiger! They’re majestic. And endangered!
I liked the tiger. It was funny. As was watching Swoosie Kurtz pull her patented growling sneer out again. Otherwise, the spy story was pretty much a wet firecracker. The Turners double-cross Chuck and Sarah to steal the software. There’s a four-way confrontation, with even Chuck and Sarah bickering a bit. Bad guy shows up with tiger. Triple cross ensues. Order is restored. The Turners retire and Sarah moves into Chuck’s place. Whatever happened to the “roommate rules” Morgan made up for Anna?
The charm of this episode lay mainly in the contrasts between the Turners and Chuck/Sarah, and the echoing secondary story in which Casey tries to teach Morgan to be a spy. Regarding the latter, maxims involving sow’s ears come to mind. But the A and B stories come together in a brilliant climax that has Morgan redeeming himself in Casey’s eyes as well as his own. Casey praising Morgan’s balls will never get old.
I can’t say I was bowled over by the C story: Ellie and Devon in Africa. I was especially not crazy about Ellie panicking because she was surrounded by black men with guns; it hinted rather strongly at a racism we have not seen in her before. The entire sequence added only a new enemy: handsome, insidious Ring operative Justin Sullivan (Scott Holroyd, One Tree Hill), who alternates flirting with Ellie with plotting to give Devon a terrible disease. And if that’s not bad enough, wait until Ellie sees what that Bengal tiger did to her apartment…
Overall, however, this was the kind of episode that new viewers can tune into and “get it”. All the important relationships were easy to figure out, the comedy was broad and funny, and the action was first class. Morgan taking on a Bengal tiger was wonderful. So was the sequence that intercut Morgan’s attempt to snag Big Mike’s key card with Chuck taking a collar off a dozing tiger. And the opening sequence, deliberately parodying the opening credits of Hart to Hart, was absolutely priceless. Could it be this was the producers’ answer to criticism that getting the leads together will “kill the show”? Because if so, it was the right answer. Chuck and Sarah as lovers, as a team, as partners was absolutely charming. I could watch these two smooch and spy together forever.
Besides, this episode had a tiger in it. A tiger. How can I not like it?
Chuck the roller coaster took a dive this week, after two weeks of adding viewers. Last week Chuck pulled in six million viewers for a 2.1 share. This week it dropped to 5.28 million, with a 1.9 share. Why? I have no clue. I only hope that NBC’s threshold for renewal is dropping below Chuck’s chronic low ratings. There’s still no word vis a vis cancellation/renewal. The suspense is killing me.