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Spy Game: An Advance Look at the Next Two Episodes of "Chuck"

I've been fairly blunt about my love for NBC's new action dramedy, Chuck. Perhaps it's to do with my own geekish leanings and the fact that NBC has found in Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, and Adam Baldwin the perfect dramatic troika, but I'm already hooked by this tongue-in-cheek spy drama. Sydney Bristow and Alias, this isn't.

Which is why I was so disappointed by Chuck's second episode, "Chuck Versus the Helicopter," airing tonight on NBC. It's not that it's a bad episode, per se, but it lacks the tension and suspense (not to mention taut storytelling) that made the pilot such a treat on several levels. But before I put you off from sampling this superb drama, I will say this: Episode Three ("Chuck Versus the Tango") made me fall in love with the series all over again and reminded me what worked so well in the pilot: that perfect blend of wink, wink humor, workplace drudgery, punchy dialogue, and, well, actual punches.

So what doesn't work in tonight's episode? (Spoilers ahead, so beware!) One of my main problems with "Chuck Versus the Helicopter" is that it doesn't really advance the plot at all. Sure, it's set up that Sarah's cover will be that she works at the shopping center's Wienerlicious, so that she can keep an eye on Chuck from nearby (along with Casey, who's been employed as a rather gruff salesperson at Buy More) and that everyone--from Chuck's fellow Buy More drones to his sister and Captain Awesome--believes that Chuck and Sarah are an actual item. Which couldn't be further from the truth. Second, the episode detracted a bit from the characters they had just introduced: Sarah seemed less mysterious and dangerous; Casey seemed slightly neutered, rather than the vicious killer he appeared to be. Therefore, much of it didn't really ring all that true to me.

The plot of the second episode concerns the government's efforts to see just how much Chuck knows and what information from the Intersect he's actually assimilated into his brain (answer: everything) and they send their top specialist, a creepy doctor called, well, the Doctor to probe his brain and see. Along the way, the Doctor goes boom, someone tries to kill Casey and Sarah, and there's a dinner party hosted by Chuck's sister Ellie, involving a possibly poisoned soufflé. One saving grace, however, are three little words thrown into Chuck's test by the Doctor that made the geek in me gasp aloud: "Oceanic Flight 815." Now if that isn't the coolest shout-out ever (okay, second to "Rob Thomas is a whore"), I don't know what is. And the brawl between Sarah and Casey? Okay, pretty kick-ass too.

Anyway, my confidence in the series was completely restored by the series' third episode, "Chuck Versus the Tango" (so, please, please, please, don't give up after Episode Two), which was just as quirky, funny, and action-packed as the pilot. Additionally, it managed to deepen the characters--not just Chuck, Sarah, and Casey, who go undercover at an art auction (Chuck's first mission) in order to apprehend an international arms dealer called La Ciudad--but also the Buy More employees, including Morgan and the Nerd Herd, who all pitch in to work overnight repairing old computer so their pal Chuck can get lucky (or so they think). Along the way, Chuck learns the tango (well, the woman's half, anyway) from Captain Awesome, gets his comeuppance on a college friend, and proves that he's not a liability in the field. (Take that, Agent Casey!)

It's this episode that truly displays Chuck's ability to deftly juggle the mundane with the extraordinary, cutting back and forth from Chuck's day job at Buy More (fraught with its own perils, including the fact that he's hopelessly slumming there) to the excitement and intrigue of his secret assignment. Never before has a twenty-something slacker had such a rich, inner life (well, okay, not since Spaced) nor has fantasy and reality been juxtaposed as effectively as it is here.

Ultimately, while the second outing is a rare misstep, it's the fantastic and taut third episode that solidifies Chuck as must-see-tv this fall.

Chuck airs Monday nights at 8pm on NBC.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: How I Met Your Mother/The Big Bang Theory (CBS); Chuck (NBC); Everybody Hates Chris/Aliens in America (CW); Dancing with the Stars (ABC; 8-10 pm); Prison Break (FOX)

9 pm: Two and a Half Men/Rules of Engagement (CBS); Heroes (NBC); Girlfriends/The Game (CW); K-Ville (FOX)

10 pm: CSI: Miami (CBS); Journeyman (NBC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Chuck.

You know how much I'm already in love with this dramedy, from creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak, so why don't you do me a favor and tune in? On tonight's episode ("Chuck Versus the Helicopter"), Casey and Sarah bring in a top government scientist to extract the secrets from Chuck's head, but when the scientist is killed, everyone turns on one another in a dance of suspicious and distrust.

8 pm: Everybody Hates Chris.

It's the third season premiere of Everybody Hates Chris ("Everybody Hates the Guidance Counselor"), Chris fails an assessment test and is sent to see the school's guidance counselor (guest star Chris Rock) who forces him to take some brutal mental evaluations.

8:30: Aliens in America.

In the series premiere of this new single-camera comedy, a Wisconsin family arranges a foreign exchange student to live with them in the hopes he'll be a popular friend for their nerdy son, only to learn that he's a Muslim.

10 pm: Journeyman.

It's Kevin McKidd (Rome) as a time-traveling newspaper reporter in a drama that's more about human interactions and the nature of choice than, say, technicolored time machines. On tonight's episode ("Friendly Skies"), Dan goes to a doctor for an MRI and disappears from a flight he's on with his wife Katie and must deliver a baby in the 1970s.

10 pm: Weeds on Showtime.

The third season of Showtime's acclaimed comedy, Weeds continues. On tonight's episode ("The Two Mrs. Scottsons"), Nancy meets Peter's other ex-wife, while Celia ups the ante with Sullivan, Shane and Isabelle bond while suspended from school, and Andy gets involved in his film catering job.


Anonymous said…
I'm not letting my eyes see the third episode of Chuck-details..but I actually thought that the second ep was pretty good too.
It made me laugh out loud again. Which means that I really can't wait for the next one!
Anonymous said…
I agree that last night's episode wasn't great. Thankfully you said that the next one is much better. Otherwise, I was considering dropping the show as it seemed to completely suck the fun right out of it. At least next week is good.
Anonymous said…
I absolutely loved last nights episode and can't understand how someone would think it sucked. It was a little over the top at times but really funny. And Zach Levy is absolutely adorable...
Anonymous said…
Chuck blows. The whole hapless bumbling reluctant hero thing is grating, and they are already struggling to fill up an hour with the "action comedy," which is neither exciting or funny.

Also, why don't you write about Mad Men on here--the only truly great show on TV since Sopranos ended?
Page48 said…
Other "Lost" shout-outs include Oceanic Flight 815 mentioned on "Alias" and a thank you going out to the Hanso Foundation in the closing credits of "Mission Impossible III".

"The Sopranos" was crap. Sorry, just had to say it. All mob stories are crap. There's no getting around it.

"Chuck" is cute, but, you're right, "Alias", it isn't. That's its problem. Be a drama or be a comedy, but what ever you do, don't be a dramedy. Rules to live by.
Anonymous said…
I'm glad you posted this, Jace, because I had absolutely written the show off after the 2nd episode. (And you know how I enjoyed the pilot!) I'll give it one more chance...
Anonymous said…
How can you "write off" a show after you only disliked one episode? That doesn't even make any sense...
Anonymous said…
Wow - there are a lot of strong voices here. And to the last note - easily. If you watch a lot of tv, and are looking to dump something, one bad ep can be enough.

Anyway, I finally got around to watching ep 2 of Chuck, and came back here to read the review. We are in total agreement. It was enough to get me to watch ep 3, but definitely not completely engrossing. Loved the Lost shout-out, though.

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