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Spy Game: An Advance Look at the First Three Episodes of Season Two of "Chuck"

It's hard to believe that in the time since we last caught up with Chuck Bartowski, there have been babies conceived and born since the last new episode of Chuck aired in January.

It's a sobering thought, one born out of NBC's decision to hold off restarting Chuck last season and instead relaunch Season Two in the fall. From a practical place, it makes sense to give Chuck's creators, Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak, time to re-evaluate without the added pressure of rushing the series back onto the air and I understood this decision. But, being a fan of this winsome and hilarious action comedy series, I couldn't help but want to rip out my hair from frustration.

So imagine my excitement last week when I received the first three episodes of Chuck's sophomore season for my viewing pleasure. It's been, yes, nine months since we last met up with Chuck, Sarah, Casey, and the psychotic employees of Buy More and I can honestly say that my enthusiasm for the series has remained completely intact.

Throughout its first season, Chuck managed to deftly blend together a winning mix of high-stakes action, biting workplace comedy, and sexual tension, creating a series that was the perfect antidote to the start of the work week. So does Season Two live up to the promise of Chuck's freshman year? Hells yeah.

In fact, I found that these first three episodes--lightly serialized as they are--have amped up the pacing, humor, and tension that we experienced in the first season and made better use of the two competing halves of Chuck Bartowski's life: his everyday slackerdom (expressed fantastically through his soul-crushing job at the Buy More) and his other job as espionage analyst extraordinaire (his brain contains the entire knowledge base of intelligence supercomputer the Intersect).

A subplot involving Call of Duty plays off brilliantly as Chuck must mentally outmaneuver a deadly agent hellbent on breaking his neck; the selection of the new assistant manager of the Buy More plays out as a vicious cage fight with more savagery than anything that Casey or Sarah go up against on a daily basis; the doomed workplace romance between Chuck and Sarah takes another wrong turn; and Chuck realizes that being free of the Intersect means making some tough choices about his own life. All of these storylines coalesce beautifully in between Chuck saving the world... and fixing some computers. One of the main hopes of Schwartz and Fedak originally was that they'd be able to give the Buy More the same level of danger and thrills as Chuck's superspy world and these episodes fulfill that promise, as Morgan must deal with a gang of towering bullies at the Buy More... and the less-overt bullying of their new assistant manager Lester. (Just wait until you see his Wheel of Punishment.)

While appealing to the hard-core fan base who want to know just what will happen to Chuck now that Casey has been assigned to eliminate him (now that the government has built a second Intersect), the first three episodes of Chuck's second season also work if you've never seen the series before. (So, for the love of all things geeky, get your non-Chuck viewing friends to tune in, stat.) To say that these installments are accessible is an understatement (the series' premise is quickly spelled out as Chuck dangles out of a high-rise window by his feet) but they are also completely engrossing and compelling to long-time fanatics who already know their Intersect from their Fulcrum.

So what are these episodes about in a nutshell? I'm glad you asked. (SPOILER ALERT ON.)

First up is "Chuck Versus the First Date," in which our erstwhile hero finally gets up the nerve to ask Sarah out on a real date, just as he's about to be put out to pasture (literally) now that the government has developed a new version of the Intersect. The only problem: baddie Colt (guest star Michael Clarke Duncan) has managed to steal the Cipher (the Intersect's new brain) right out from underneath them. The episode deftly sets up the new status quo for the series and re-establishes that Chuck is just one gunshot away from retiring from the spy game permanently.

Next up is "Chuck Versus the Seduction," which I absolutely loved, not just because it featured John Larroquette as dashing James Bond-ian spy Roan Montgomery (with a penchant for repeated gin martinis) and The O.C.'s Melinda Clarke as the vicious Russian spy known as the Black Widow. I'm hoping that Larroquette is booked for a repeat engagement as I adored the interplay between Roan and Chuck as he coaches his young charge in the art of seduction even it becomes painfully clear that Roan is no longer the superspy he used to be. All this and a scene in which Chuck--channeling his suave alter ego Charles Carmichael--attempts to seduce Clarke's Black Widow? You so want to be there.

Finally, I got to see Chuck's third episode this season, "Chuck Versus the Break-Up," which continues the Cipher storyline from the first two episodes and dramatically alters some of the series' main conceit (there's a bit of a boom) while also bringing back Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer). It also answers one of my biggest (and only) complaints about the series to date. (You'll have to wait to see what that is.) I'm loath to reveal major spoilers here but I thought that this episode fantastically combined a self-contained spy mystery of the week with an underlying serialized storyline involving the Intersect, Fulcrum (our heroes' nemeses), and the Cipher as well as further the tortured love triangle of Chuck/Sarah/Bryce.

What else can I tell you about these episodes?

Sarah might not work at the Wienerlicious anymore but she has almost as great a uniform in her role as a frozen yogurt server at Orange Orange, a gleeful send-up of ubiquitous LA snackery Pinkberry, right down to the design of the overhead lights. (The place also provides a convenient cover for their high-tech HQ in the basement.) Also, look for Casey to have some... issues when running through his target practice via his fireplace (trust me on this one), Sarah to find herself once again confused by her complex feelings for Chuck, Anna to kick some serious ass (and uncomfortably to flirt with Chuck at a job interview), and for Captain Awesome and Ellie to have possibly the worst date ever (though, I suppose, only second to the one Chuck and Sarah had in the pilot) when Devon takes advice from Morgan about Ellie's likes and dislikes. Meanwhile, Jeff is... well, Jeff.

All in all, a fantastic beginning to what promises to be an outstanding second season of Chuck. And even if I had to wait another nine months for another fresh batch of episodes, I'd willingly do it all over again, yanked-out hair and all.

Season Two of Chuck launches on Monday, September 29th at 8 pm on NBC... or you can catch the season premiere a week earlier on September 22nd online at NBC.com and Hulu.

Comments

Anonymous said…
John Larroquette and Melinda Clarke are great in the second episode. I actually hope they bring Larroquette back again as I think there's still a lot more they could have done with his character.
Unknown said…
Chuck is an erstwhile hero? When did he lose his hero status?
Jace Lacob said…
Michelle, that's what happens in the first episode.... Chuck is now being pushed back to civilian status, thus "erstwhile hero."
Anonymous said…
I can't wait for Chuck to come back and I didn't know about the online preview of the premier. I have a question, if Bryce comes back does he run into Sarah because she still thinks he's dead no?
Anonymous said…
You are soo lucky you got to watch the first three episodes! Are you recycling them by any chance? :) Just kidding..

I'm really wondering why the third epi is titled "Chuck vs. the Breakup..."
Unknown said…
@Jace:
Oh, okay. Thanks for the clarification. :)
Anonymous said…
I am looking forward to this coming back more than any other show. I think you did a great job of summing up what people like most about the show and from what you said it looks like there's more of that combo of action and comedy and romance that makes CHUCK work. I hope that the show focusses on more than just Chuck, Sarah and Casey and includes the Buy More guys more instead of making that just feel secondary to everything else. Less than a week to go until we can see the first ep!!!!

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