Chuck: “Chuck vs. The Tango”

Happy Little Clouds

By Sarah Stegall

Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Stegall


Mondays on NBC

“Chuck vs. The Tango”

Written by Matt Miller

Directed by Jason Ensler

The third episode of Chuck puts Chuck back on track, thank goodness. Tasked with identifying an international arms dealer named La Ciudad who is expected to attend an art show, Chuck must confront one of the worst fears of the American WASP male: dancing. With a girl. John Casey (Adam Baldwin), the NSA agent ordered to protect Chuck, warns him that his undercover persona might be compromised unless he masters the tango. Reluctantly, Chuck allows his sister’s boyfriend, the irrepressible Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin), to teach him to tango. Naturally, Awesome is, well, an awesome dancer, and Chuck learns the tango—from the woman’s position. It says something about Chuck that he’s perfectly comfortable letting a woman take the lead later in the show, and puts on a hilarious tango sequence just because, dammit, it’s funny. Who cares if it has nothing to do with the plot?

The arena for this comedy is actually a disguised version of something familiar to every viewer: high school. Once my eyes were opened to this schema, it all came clear: Chuck is the school nerd, John Casey is the school jock/bully, and Sarah Walker is the perky cheerleader. Against the background of the tyrannical boss (vice principal) and tight-lipped co-worker (hall monitor), Chuck and his Nerd Herd square off against another clique, vie for territory in the A/V room, and spend most of their time cutting class/taking long lunch breaks. No wonder Chuck looks so very, very familiar. And no wonder I find Chuck both appealing and vaguely disturbing; he’s a high school nerd with the body and poise of a man of nearly thirty. Chuck’s way too sexy for his pocket protector.

This, the third episode of Chuck, improved enormously over last week’s near-disaster. Funny, upbeat, witty, and well-balanced, it kept my interest from start to finish. Once again, Adam Baldwin stole every scene he was in, from trimming a bonsai tree with deadly intensity to taking out a bad guy by throwing a microwave oven at his head (ding!). If it weren’t for his black shoe-polish hair, he’d be the best thing on this show. As mentioned, Ryan McPartlin’s Captain Awesome lived up to his name; one of the best things about this character is that he should be the anti-Chuck, the nemesis of the hero. Instead, he’s played as a genial, friendly ally to Chuck, and that adds a lot of warmth to this show. Sarah Lancaster, playing Chuck’s sister Ellie, comes across again as supernaturally supportive—in fact, suspiciously so. Don’t Chuck and his sister have any of the usual Issues From Childhood to work out? Morgan, Chuck’s best friend (played by Joshua Gomez) emerges as an actual personality for a few moments in this show—he overcomes his fear of old computers and shows every sign of being a better leader of the Nerd Herd than Chuck himself.

Only the character of Chuck himself seems to be lagging in development here. I liked Chuck when he was not gibbering like an idiot; when he transforms from Happy, Confident Chuck to Quivering Jell-O Chuck, he loses a lot of my sympathy. It’s hard to root for a “hero” who seems to be on the verge of peeing himself every time danger looms. Granted, Chuck’s new at this, and this is a comedy, but given that we’ve seen strength in him at other times, he seems to be very inconsistent right now, changing personality at the whim of the plot. Not good. Right now I like most of the yin/yang that is Chuck Bartowski, but I’d like to see him stop acting like Scooby-Doo’s Shaggy.

Any show which refers to the late, lamented Bob Ross of PBS’s The Joy of Painting fame gets points from me right out of the gate. The girl-fight between La Cuidad and Sarah Walker put anything I’ve seen on Bionic Woman to shame, and was hilarious to boot. Who doesn’t love a sorority girl smackdown? I had to love Zach Levi in a tux; who says Chuck can’t be a stealth hottie? I loved his reunion with an old classmate—who turned out to be in Chuck’s database-brain as a con man. (Between a former classmate involved in securities fraud and Chuck’s cheating ex-roommate Bryce, Stanford University is getting a really bad rap in this show.) La Cuidad was deliciously over-the-top, and the developing personalities of Chuck’s posse, er, Nerd Herd, was very welcome. The comic potential of this show increases. I only wish Chuck and Sarah had more onscreen chemistry; I get a better vibe between Sarah Walker and John Casey than I do the two leads.

I’ve got a better feeling about Chuck this week than I did last week, so I’ll give this episode a big round of applause and hope the next one is just as good. Formulaic as it is, Chuck still has wit and charm to spare, and I look forward to next Monday.