Chuck: “Chuck vs. the Suitcase”

Catfight on the Catwalk

By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Stegall

Mondays on NBC at 9/8

“Chuck vs. the Suitcase”

Written by Rafe Judkins & Lauren LeFranc
Directed by Gail Mancuso

“Beautiful women have a lot of baggage.” —John Casey

Hey, Casey, news flash: all women have a lot of baggage. But then, he’s the last guy I’d go to for advice about women. In this episode, Chuck listens to Casey, to Morgan, to just about everyone, because he’s trying to figure out what’s going to go wrong with his involvement with Sarah. Not that anything is wrong, not the kind of thing that breaks up real romances. But this is sitcomland, where romances break up over whether the pasta was cooked al dente. Chuck is all worked up because Sarah, despite moving in with him, has not yet unpacked. He’s made closet space available, but she hasn’t hung anything up. The empty half of his closet is a daily reminder that she hasn’t really committed to him, that she is more interested in keeping her bags packed and ready for the next mission. Morgan warns Chuck to look for the Achilles heel in a relationship, the one thing that pops up after (or even during) the honeymoon period, the moment when one realizes that the beloved has feet of clay. And leaves his socks on the bedroom floor. (For a guy who can’t even buy a date for Saturday night, Morgan Grimes has a lot of opinions on human relations.) So Chuck, anxious to head off trouble even when it’s imaginary, starts obsessing over closets and suitcases and whether or not Sarah is fully into this relationship.

Beckman: Agent Casey, you are not going on this mission, not after that Yves St. Laurent incident.

Casey: You stab one person with a stiletto…

General Beckman, whose cover now has her managing the rebuilt Buy More, sends Chuck and Sarah to Milan to a fashion show, to track down and recover some smart (i.e., computer-enhanced) ammunition being sold by fashion model Sofia Stepanova (Karolina Kurkova, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra). Because, as we all know, those top fashion model gals are deadly. Chuck and Sarah head for Italy, chasing Sophia from bar to bedroom closet. Chuck notes that this particular spy not only unpacks, but fills an entire room with designer clothing. Just as they find the safe where she has stashed the goods, Sophia comes home, escorted by her lovesick bodyguard, played by Lou Ferrigno* (The Incredible Hulk). Assorted standard scenes from the tradition of farce ensue: hiding in a closet, watching a woman undress for a shower, jealous bickering. Naturally, when Chuck opens the safe, he gets caught by a naked supermodel. Sarah is annoyed not by Sophia’s gun held to Chuck’s head, but by the fact that Sophia’s naked—an interesting attitude considering Sarah’s predilection for skinning down to her underwear at no notice at all. Sarah and Chuck get away with the goods, go home to Burbank, and then discover they’ve been had. The ammo they brought home was fake. It’s Chuck who finally remembers that Sophia had unpacked everything in her suitcase—except one sequined dress. His obsession with Sarah’s unpacking pays off, and they retrieve the dress—until once again Sophia catches them. Boy, Chuck and Sarah are off their game these days. Since there is a supermodel in the cast, naturally there is a catwalk. And since there is a catwalk, there must be a catfight. How interesting and original. Sarah recovers the goods, everyone goes home, and Chuck walks in to find Sarah hanging up the last of her unpacked suitcase in his closet. Aww.

Welcome to As the Spy Turns. And excuse me while I go kick somebody for this lame excuse for a setup. Hey, Chuck, a beautiful, sexy, smart, and warm-hearted woman tells you she loves you, she moves in with you, she shares everything with you, is willing to follow you even to Burbank, and you start worrying she’s not committed to you because she hasn’t unpacked? Come on. Chuck is smarter than this, even in sitcom terms. I hate that the writers feel compelled to raise even this trivial an issue. I was really hoping that, having spent so long getting Chuck and Sarah together, the writers would write them as a happy couple and move on to the fun part. It’s not like the writers can’t do it—Chuck’s sister Ellie and her husband Devon are an adorable couple who are always in tune. Why can’t Chuck and Sarah have a happy, stable relationship as well? Why do writers feel compelled to throw obstacles in the path of twu wuv? It’s not like this relationship is the whole focus of the show.

Or is it? We started out with a nifty (if well-trodden) SF genre premise—Chuck has a computer in his head. From The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes through Johnny Mnemonic through the late, lamented Jake 2.0, we’ve been seeing explorations of the idea of a complete human/computer interface for decades. In an increasingly digital world, it continues to be a complex and fascinating subject. The audience for Chuck, according to NBC’s demographics, is male, techno-savvy, willing to experiment with new gadgets, unafraid of technology. So why is this show increasingly all about the boy/girl thing? If the audience skewed female, I might understand, but most polls show Chuck draws a strong male audience. I can’t believe it’s all for Yvonne Strahovski.

“I was in the Buy More. Everyone there was super-attractive and highly skilled. It was like I worked there!” —Devon

Me, I’m there for the funny, and this episode brought it in buckets—when the focus wasn’t Chuck Bartowski. Morgan Grimes’ savvy and dead-on analysis of the faults of the revised Buy More, complete with hilarious sight gags, proves that Chuck can deliver the laughs. Morgan (and later Devon) make it clear that nobody is buying these perfect, smart, and helpful people as actual Buy More employees. When even Captain Awesome gets freaked out, it’s time for a change. A serious change. In fact, as Morgan astutely proves, we need the Buy Morons back.
Lester: Cars have been following us for months!

Casey: How do you know they weren’t just driving behind you?

Nothing delighted me more in this episode than the return of the Nerd Herd. After watching squeaky-clean, smart, shiny Stepford Agents take over the Buy More, it was a welcome relief to see the disheveled, dirty, slovenly, and terrifically un-coordinated BuyMorons do their power walk back into the store. Ellie, who has come back to return some excess white-noise machines, is both astonished and relieved to find that all is as it was in Chuck’s workplace, right down to Lester blowing off her request for help (“I’m on my break.”) and Jeff’s skeezy innuendos (“Rumor says you’re pregnant. Is there room in that womb for two?”). Once we get Big Mike back on staff, I’ll be happy again. I thought last year that the producers would get rid of the Buy More, and that would be a logical step. But I’m happy they didn’t. Where once I was thinking I’d seen all I’d wanted to of this team, now I am even more delighted with the Buy More than I am with the rest of the show.

That’s not a good thing. This is supposed to be a show about a guy with a computer in his head. We got a couple of spy jokes—Chuck’s dainty little lapel dagger, his “trank gloves”. I’d love to see Chuck become an inventor like his father, coming up with odd yet useful gadgets like that. But increasingly, the most interesting parts of the show are the secondary characters and the Sarah/Chuck dynamic. After last week’s blockbuster opener, this one was a bit of a let-down. No more Spy Mom? No more dramatic encounters with world-wide bad guys (no, a skinny supermodel does not count)? I so don’t care about Sarah’s panicked reaction to Chuck’s mention of marriage and babies.

And seriously—not one single line for Bronson Pinchot? Not one? What a colossal waste.

“I think my water broke.” —Jeff

The geek love continues, however, on its same high level. The in-jokes get even more obscure. For example, when the Buy Morons are doing their slow-mo power walk, one of them trips, falls, trips the others, and everyone goes down in a tangled heap. This actually looked like the “outtake” from Monsters, Inc., where a similar slow-mo power-walk comes apart in a similar pratfall. That’s “outtake”, as in, you had to sit through the entire credits of the movie to see it. Talk about your cognoscenti. And then, of course, there is Chuck in a fake mustache. And Lester’s hilarious attempt to distract Morgan with the classic Star Wars line, “We’re not the boys you’re looking for.” And the fact that it takes an entire clip of tranquilizer darts to affect Jeff. Chuck in a fake mustache. Chuck slapping Lou Freakin’ Ferrigno with the trank gloves. And Lou getting the most romantic line of the night: “The strongest muscle in my body is my heart, and now it belongs to you.” Did I mention Chuck in a fake mustache? Aww. The high standard of funny on this show continues, if only in the throwaway lines and secondary plots.

And while we’re being shallow, I’d like to add a personal note to the producers: showing Yvonne Strahovski in her underwear is NOT balanced by showing us a shirtless Scott Krinsky. At all. Not even close.

Chuck fell 5% from last week’s numbers, capturing 5.26 million viewers for a 1.9 share. This isn’t necessarily an indication of viewer disinterest; ratings need to be considered in the long view of the show’s history and other network shows. But it is a little disheartening. Last week showed how carefully the producers have re-positioned Chuck, making it easy for new viewers to get acquainted with the storyline and the cast as “old” characters are re-introduced. I’m sorry to see so much good effort wasted. Here’s hoping some of the viewers who tasted Chuck last week decide to return next week for another helping.

* Okay, that’s funny. Lou Ferrigno recently starred as a bodyguard in the 2003 remake of Hulk.