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Spies Like Us: An Advance Review of the Next Four Episodes of "Chuck"

Anticipation is running high for the return of NBC's action-comedy Chuck after three weeks off the air (thanks to the Olympics) and the unveiling of a romantic subplot that, er, may have rubbed certain fans the wrong way.

The public reaction to the last episode that aired ("Chuck Versus the Mask") took many people--including this critic--by surprise, not because the writers had once again managed to keep Sarah and Chuck separate but by the vehemence and venom being hurled at the series' producers and the installment's writer, Phil Klemmer. (It also had some fans clamoring for what would most certainly be a destructive boycott of the series itself, a terrible and foolhardy effort that would lead not to any plot direction changes but to an inevitable cancellation.)

I had the opportunity over the weekend to watch the next four superb installments of Chuck, which returns to the NBC schedule a week from today, and was extremely pleased by what I watched.

For one, the writers--especially "Chuck Versus the Fake Name" writer Ali Adler--are not only aware of some of the viewers' criticisms but deal with them head on, allowing the characters--including Chuck and Sarah themselves--to voice their own concerns about the burgeoning romances between Chuck and Hannah and Sarah and Shaw. With a wink and a nod, Adler gives the characters license to poke fun at our own expectations and hang-ups about on-screen romances with a nicely played self-referential zing.

I won't give any of the plot points of the next four episodes away--I made a promise to series creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak against spoiling anything--but I will say that even if you aren't a fan of the latest romantic permutations, these episodes still have quite a lot to offer, not the least of which is the series' trademark combination of action and comedy, which these episodes have in abundance.

Will Chuck and Sarah eventually end up together? Hell, yes. Are they clearly meant for one another? Yes, again. But any series looking to sustain itself over the long haul would have to be crazy to subvert the sexual tension between the leads by having them give into temptation and consummate their relationship. That's all the more apparent here, despite the very real discussion--both aloud and internally--that Chuck and Sarah have in these episodes. Just because two people are meant to be together doesn't mean that they should be together right now, especially when there are matters of personal duty and professional responsibility that are keeping them apart.

The push and pull of Sarah and Chuck's would-be relationship keeps things exciting and it keeps people coming back week after week to see just when the duo will succumb to their feelings. But, naturally, there are bound to be other romantic interests for both Chuck and Sarah along the way. Both of them are human and, if they can't be with the person that they love, they're clearly willing to take a chance with someone else in the short-term.

These next four episodes deal with the love quadrangle between Chuck, Hannah, Sarah, and Shaw but it's not the only thing going on within these gripping and suspenseful (as well as hilarious) installments, which deal in their own way with larger themes of of identity and self-definition.

There are some major game-changing plot developments that shake up the series not quite as severely as last season's Intersect 2.0 finale, but there are lasting consequences, particularly coming out of "Chuck Versus the Beard," the sensational episode written by Scott Rosenbaum and directed by Zachary Levi. The episode might just be one of my favorite episodes of Chuck to date and features some major changes for Team Bartowski.

Levi is amazing here as in the previous episode ("Chuck Versus the Fake Name"): funny, vulnerable, and unlike any way we've seen him before. (And, yes, that's a hint.) Very nicely played, indeed. Plus, the episode--which features The Sopranos' Tony Sirico--is a hell of a lot of fun and deals with emotional complexities of Chuck and Sarah's jobs in a very meaningful and interesting way and forces Chuck to rely on his own natural skills and abilities for a change.

Additionally, several of these episodes deal with our favorite spies' backstories. Both Sarah and Colonel Casey (in "Chuck Versus the Tic Tac," guest starring Robert Patrick) get some very revealing subplots that fill in the gaps in their characters' respective histories and prove to be very, very illuminating, while the stakes are raised for a few series regulars as well. Look for several familiar faces to make some potentially life-altering decisions in this block of episodes. (That's all I'll say on the subject.)

And there's also a pivotal metaphorical crossroads for Mr. Bartowski himself, one that could change the landscape of the series as the season goes on. I can't say more without spoiling what is a fantastic episode ("Chuck Versus the Final Exam"), which has some extreme consequences for Chuck as well for as the team itself. (One hint: a sauna, a towel, and a sharp breeze play a role, as does a surprising but emotionally powerful twist.)

Given that the third season was originally meant to be just thirteen episodes, I'd anticipate some major shifts and reveals coming up in the two episodes following this arc... and I'm curious to see just how interrelated the first thirteen episodes are to the back six.

In any event, these episodes demonstrate the immense promise and potential of both Chuck Bartowski and Chuck itself, forcing the former to face up to some hard truths and take another leap into adulthood (and the spy world) and the latter to offer some major plot twists that will shake up the series in some very unexpected ways, as the battle with The Ring reaches its boiling point.

Chuck returns with new episodes on Monday, March 1st at 8 pm ET/PT on NBC.


Anonymous said…
Do we get to see any more of Morgan or the Buy More crew or Awesome and Ellie? Or are they just relegated to minimal screen time?
Jace Lacob said…
All of those elements play a large part of why these four episodes work. Look for Ellie and Awesome, Morgan and the Buy More crew to play a very large role... Can't say more than that.
jason said…
thank you for getting the word out, it is appreciated. I am jsut a fan of the show - chuck is the first time I posted on boards ever, the feeling of 4 more episodes of shaw seducing sarah makes me ill - what I saw is a felony in most government offices at the end of 3.7.

I fell in love with S1 / S2 - I hope at some point to fall into 'like' with this season, but the end of E6 and E7, were somewhere between sad and disturbing, not great places to leave fans you want coming back for more - can you help me understand how a warm hearted - chemistry laden - comedy with great timing - can throw it all away like this? thanks again - I am sure your job is not easy.
Anonymous said…
I'm a bit disappointed to hear that Chuck vs. the Tic Tac will deal with Casey and Sarah's backstories. We've already learned quite a bit about Agent Walker's past, so why can't we have one more episode that deals solely with the colonel's secrets? The writers have really done Mr. Baldwin a disservice this season.
Jace Lacob said…

"Chuck Versus the Tic Tac" deals with Casey's backstory, not Sarah's, which is dealt with in two separate episodes.
Robert said…
It depends - if the adolescent pod-people who took over the Chuck and Sarah characters hang around, and there isn't a really brilliant reveal that shows how the characters we were invested in were still around - then maybe it will be funny again. But I have no intention of continuing to watch a teen romance show. It is just like having toothache - there is no pleasure to be had in anything else until the ache is gone.
David said…
Thanks for the review and I understand that it's difficult to review an episode without giving away plot lines. You did a nice job.

I'm not one of the boycott the show types, nor do I think it's the worst thing in the world to keep the characters apart. What is annoying, however, is to suggest to the viewers these two people deeply in love and who cannot have a relationship will boomerang to others at every given chance. Maybe I expect too much, but it seems like the plot offers many opportunities to put realistic barriers in their way and not rely on, "Hey, they're young and horny and need to get it on with someone." Maybe a college dorm room is that way, but at some point, people grow up, and seeing these characters act more adult-like would be nice. It would also allow for more plot lines that focus on the complex nature of their jobs, real and fake.

One last comment, I'll trust at some level that the writers have more going on here then the love interests and that these characters exist to do more than help Chuck and Sarah satisfy some sexual needs and help with the plot lines, but I'll keep watching (although be a bit annoyed) if it's more the soap approach and not the well-considered plot.
Anonymous said…
I must have misunderstood part of what you wrote. Thank you for clearing that up.
OldDarth said…
Thanks for the write up.

A little bummed that you gave the top of your article to the fringe fans though.

Thank goodness the waiting is over next week - this break seems longer than the one between seasons.

To the Nerdmobile!
Bella Spruce said…
Thank you for your excellent (and honest!) review. I don't understand people who would boycott this clever, fun, and original show. It's had its ups and downs but, overall, it's fantastically entertaining and endearing and it has had such a struggle to stay on the air that to boycott it would just be cruel. Not everyone watches the show for the Chuck/Sarah romance. Though I understand that is a crucial element, there's so much more to the show than that!
Anonymous said…
Personally, I'm totally loving the emotional realism and great character development this season. This is my fave season so far. I'm also immensely enjoying the new characters Shaw and Hannah. Especially Shaw. This show is seriously good, man, and the whole cast is just great.

Thanks for the write up. CAN'T wait to for the next ep and for readin your reviews on my fave show.

Anonymous said…
It has got to be considered an art, to be able to write so much without saying a damn thing....
Wes said…
@anonymous: it's called reading between the lines.

@jace: thanks for giving us a taste of what's ahead without spoiling. it's appreciated.
Anonymous said…
I remember all the work that went into trying to keep the show going. To boycott this great show just because there is a few things that we don't like along the way. Not all journeys are bump free. I want to see Chuck and Sarah together as much as the next person, but because of my loyalty to the show, i am willing to take the journey with them and see were it goes. I think that if it wasn't for this three week break people would be more patient. I know that the writers know what we want to see, but at the same time what we want is not always good for us. If Chuck and Sarah rushed into a relationship with no hiccups we would be bored with it after a few weeks and would move on to something else. I don't think people understand that this is the kinda stuff that keeps us coming back. If that weren't true then the threat of boycott wouldn't exist, and the only reason we care so much is because the writers are doing there jobs. Has anyone looked at it that way?
J said…
What I would like to know are there more "What the...." moments in them? What concerned most of us was the shortcuts taken in 3.07. We went from Chuck you aren't ready in 3.04 to training wheels are off in 3.07 and most of us are "ummm, what?". Then that strange meeting between Chuck and Sarah. Those 10 minutes were the worst of the series.
Greg said…
The push pull keeps us coming back? No offense Jace, but it's driving us away. Ugh. 4 more epsidoes of the quadrangle? Not looking forward to that if it's handled at all like it was in episode 7. The reasons for C/S to be apart are thin at best given how quickly they take up with others. It undermines their relationship and as a result it undermines the investment we as viewers feel we should make in it. I know these comments fall on deaf ears with the critics and the producers. It's like the health car bill--we just haven't had it explained to us clearly enough. "NO, really, you want Chuck and Sarah to be kept apart. There wouldn't be a show if they were together". I think the fans said otherwise, but they've done what they're going to do.
AJ said…
I wish critics would stop giving attention to the very, very few extremist fans (those calling for a boycott) in order to have a meatier story. It is not representative of the fandom at all.
Jace Lacob said…

You mean the parenthetical remark I made towards the top of the story? It's hardly the focus of the piece but I couldn't avoid mentioning it, given the vehemence of that minority's reaction. It's a necessary part of any story post-"controversy," unfortunately. To ignore it altogether wouldn't be honest or indicative of the current climate, even if it is the result of very few.
Piper said…
I don't think it's a "minority" of fans at all. By MOST accounts episode 7 was not the best we've seen. I don't hear a loud cheering section for the fact that we will spend all of this season, the season we all fought for, with Chuck and Sarah apart yet again. I don't know about anyone else, but this season of Chuck has left me wanting and without my usual warm and fuzzy feeling. Not at all what I expected when I bought those subways and sent in those receipts. There is so much justification for why this season is playing out like it is--viewers want them to continue the tension, there's no show without the tension, yet, how limiting to think that's the only tension that could be played out with C/S. I have no interest to watch the next 4 eps now that Jace has said those of us who don't like the love quadrangle will have lots more to like--that means we have that to deal with it right up until the final episode of the season. TV shouldn't be this painful. It should be fun. Chuck was always fun because we saw the light at the end of the tunnel toward the end of season 2 and yet the big payoff with C/S in the finale, didn't even last for one ep this season. I was so excited for this season of Chuck and it's been such a let down.
Author Guy said…
The C/S romance was given a moment to shine in S2. Sarah and Chuck waking up in bed together, their bodies curled together, holding hands while asleep. Given how defensive Sarah is about anything remotely like opening up to anyone, that's an incredibly revealing scene. And the way it just explodes into passionate kissing was just awesome. The only thing that was missing was sex, and who cares about that? The rubbing of body parts together would add nothing to the romance that these guys have already displayed with each other. This show has just gotten better in S3, although, to be honest, I would have preferred they not go back to the Buy More/Castle. It's a good base of operations (and a set they don't have to build new), but it is a step back.
Joel said…
Will we see Big Mike in 308, hopefully in more than a bit part? It's been awhile since he's had anything to do.
MonaLisa said…
I don't understand why people are so impatient to get to the 'happily ever after' part of the show. Once they're together, the show is done. Poof! Gone. So why be in a hurry to get C and S together when it's so much fun to watch the show? What about the Casey's quips and the way he always seems to be on the brink of saving or killing Chuck? How about how funny it was to see Awesome try to lie to his wife (c'mon, who didn't think the 'decapitated bear' conversation wasn't hysterical?). The journey is so much more fun than what's at the end. So, thank you, Jace, for a great article, and thank you, "Chuck" writers, for a great show.
Anonymous said…
The issue with writers it's not the Interesct 2.0 nor The Ring .. all those things have been written and delivered pretty well so far BUT the issue is with Josh Schwartz forcing Chuck to be a soap opera which is just not .. this is killing the show! Actually Mr.Schwartz managed to kill The O.C. the same way because he clearly didn't understand the characters. The same is happening to Gossip Girl but he is lucky of TheCW not wanting high ratings for the shows to keep airing (otherwise Smallville would have been canned long time ago).

Now, if Josh Schwartz and his team of writers don't get it immediately and don't have Chuck and Sarah together as a stable couple even getting married for real during Season3 .. then there will be no Season4 simply because the majority of viewers will reject any more soap/telenovelas nonsense garbage forced on the show for no real reason.
They can't seriously think that the majority of viewers would simply forget all the characters development and plot given on Season1 and Season2 and accept Chuck and Sarah to become void pointless characters so fake like in many other soap driven shows... because if that is the best they can do then Chuck future is already doomed and the show will get canceled sooner than later.

How is it really possible that after having written an excellent Season1 and Season2 and a very good beginning of Season3 now the writers and Mr.Schwartz could seriously believe that having Chuck and Sarah not together is going to work and it's the only good thing to do? That's quite the opposite indeed.
The majority of viewers want to finally be able to see both the plot and characters progress as it seemed quite obvious at the end of Season2. The real show will start with Chuck and Sarah together.. there are plenty of possibilities to develop further and make the show more interesting than before. If the writers really don't know what to do with Chuck and Sarah together as a couple or even married then we viewers and fans really have to worry a lot because it seems that show has no future and no masterplan and the writers don't understand the excellent writing they did with the first two seasons.
Robert said…
MonaLisa // 2/23/2010
I don't understand why people are so impatient to get to the 'happily ever after' part of the show. Once they're together, the show is done. Poof! Gone. So why be in a hurry to get C and S together when it's so much fun to watch the show?

You are, of course, entitled to your opinion, but I couldn't disagree more. The love geometry nonsense is killing the show - it makes the centre of the show a love story, following an implausible journey keeping C&S apart in sillier and sillier ways until they are united in the conclusion, with a bit of a spy story going on in the background. That nonsense killed "Moonlighting" (I remember - I watched it first time round).

The alternative is to genuinely have a comedy spy story, with the fantastic chemistry between ZL and US allowing a love story to proceed in the background. Take advantage of the fact that the screen sizzles when those two smile. That seems to be the story people got really excited about. The adolescent soap opera would, frankly, be better off cancelled.
Anonymous said…
"The majority of viewers want to finally be able to see both the plot and characters progress as it seemed quite obvious at the end of Season2. The real show will start with Chuck and Sarah together.. there are plenty of possibilities to develop further and make the show more interesting than before."

Majority of viewers? You have No proof of that. A few very vocal online fans is not the majority. The Network/showrunners main goal is probably to try to entertain all of those over 6 millions casual viewers who tune in every way to watch the show. And the show is very interesting as it is right now for me and many others. The character development and emotions are so realistically portrayed that it's great and something that doesn't happen often in tv nowdays. Like someone said in another post, Not all of us Chuck fans watch the show just for the Chuck/Sarah romance; there is so much more about it than that. And Chuck and Sarah are MOST definitely NOT ready to commit in marrige just yet. They still need some growing up to do before that.

Unknown said…
I tend to agree with people saying the story between Chuck and Sarah need to go forward and here is why I think so:

In season 1 The chemistry was there but some build up needed to be done as Sarah was still able to hide her feelings to chuck. It was fun to see the other characters saying to Chuck that she was into him, then something would happen to put doubt in his mind. On the Sarah's side of the season she was struggling between Chuck and Bryce as well as her responsibility to protect Chuck.

In season 2, we can see Sarah really falling in love with Chuck and it becomes clear that their love story can't work out because Chuck is the asset, Sarah can't get more involved although we understand that spy/spy relationship isn't as frown upon as an asset/spy love story would be (we have the proof with Bryce/Sarah, Casey/french spy, Sarah/MI6 agent, etc...). At the end of season 2 Sarah is very clear about her feelings for Chuck as she tries twice to escape with him.

Now season 3. Chuck's almost a spy it it's obvious he'll be one with all the push Agent Shaw is doing, Sarah knows why Chuck decided to be a spy (Save the world, save her, be with her without having to run the rest of their lives) and is cleary moved when she learns it. Then we see Sarah accepting Shaw's flirting almost right when she was ready to turn down twice her whole world for Chuck. Yes maybe it's because of Hannah, but Sarah knows that Chuck loves her (Sarah)...

this is why I hope by the end of Season 3 Chuck and Sarah will be a real couple and for those who think it the show would be done, imagine how much more in depth the show could be towards spy relationship and all the great stuff (funny moment, complication, etc...) it could bring to the show!
Connor said…
This is such a great show, and i have been quite pleased with the outcome so far. I don't feel as if this season has been focusing mainly on the romance. In fact I would say that this season is focusing on Chuck learning to become a real spy and Sarah learning whether or not this is the same guy she fell for. We see her even questioning whether or not it is a good thing that Chuck is becoming a spy.

I also disagree with the post about how Chuck and Sarah being together would end the show. I think it would be cool if Chuck and Sarah ended up becoming a Super Spy team. But Chuck isn't a spy yet hes caught in between the asset and spy. I think it could still be seen as unprofessional for Chuck and Sarah. I did see that one of the upcoming episodes (wikipedia, so may not be reliable) features a "super spy couple" and i assumed they were there to reflect Chuck and Sarah as a couple. And its obvious that they will eventually be together, we just have to hope that it won't ruin the show, because its difficult to have the main characters staying together and keeping the viewers coming back. The fact that Chuck had to "win her over again, and again.... and again" is what kept us coming back.

That being said i still do think it was important that Chuck and Sarah were not together at the beginning of this season. It was necessary for this reset. And trust me it hurts me too. But so far everything has been believe able for me. Maybe not how Sarah changed from hating Shaw to liking him so fast, but I trust that we will see how Sarah feels about Shaw in the future episodes.

So i will continue to watch and enjoy the upcoming episodes and this season has so far been my favorite, I love Chuck being able to rely on his skills to protect his team now.
Anonymous said…
This is an opinion I wish I did not have, I don't wat to have it , but ....

watching chuck season 3 is like taking the cast from happy days (casey + sarah = fonz, chuck = richie, ellie / awesome = mom and dad, ralph/potsie=buymore clan) writers from the spy who shagged me, the genius from the OC, and trying to produce the show '24'.

might work out ok, but sure was more fun when they tried to produce 'happy days" rather than "24"
Unknown said…
I haven't verified this yet (taken from a forum), but it wouldn't surprise me of YS.

"Yvonne has given Sarah a "tell" when she lies to Chuck. I verified this going all the way back to Chuck vs The Truth(though it's more subtle there), the Xmas episode where she shot the Fulcrum agent and episode 2.20 where she runs with Chuck. Whenever she lies to Chuck, her eyes always look to the right and down briefly.
She did that same thing in this episode right before she acknowledges to Chuck that she's interested in Shaw.
Also her sigh as Chuck walks away in that scene doesn't look like someone who is interested in somebody else."

This being said, Now I think Sarah understands Chuck's need to have a "normal" relationship and she isn't ready to take the chance to be with him while both being spies. Since she never managed to say that to Chuck she found a way to make Chuck believe she didn't mind. I think the episode with the super spy couple will shake Sarah's vision... and the more I think about it the more I think Shaw is a ring agent... especially with what he said at the end of the last episode.
Anonymous said…

I am a big fan of Chuck really enjoyed Season 1 an 2. I really expected a little more from Season 3. Not to crazy on Shaws part. They seem to always put a twister on things. Should have been more spying learning on Chucks part. I really enjoy Casey of course Adam Baldwin. They should have kept Sarah and Chuck building their relationship rather than crossroads. Shaw is just a replacment for B.Larkin. Besides B.Larkin was a better fit thank Shaw. I wish they would give Sarah and Chuck a chance. Its has become to much like a soap opera and to many relationships.
INChuckFan said…
I've enjoyed reading everyone's opinion, now I'd like to offer my own.

First, while there are so many things to love about Chuck, the 'glue' that kept the show driving through 2 seasons was the Chuck / Sarah relationship. Who can ever forget the game changing line "I'm going to live the life that I want with the girl that I love"? Yes, there was a solid story line about Fulcrum and getting the Intersect out of Chuck's head, but the ultimate goal since the beginning was Chuck and Sarah being together. We all thought that was going to happen, but now, after watching season 8, there's more disappointment, and there's no end in sight to this saga.

Finally, maybe it's just me, but as someone who spent way too much time watching the olympics the last 2 weeks, did anyone else notice the lack of promos for Chuck? NBC of course touted the new shows as you would expect, promos for shows that are struggling in the ratings, but it also had plenty of promos for shows that are doing just fine in the ratings. I did not see one (1) promo for Chuck. To me, this is a bad sign for a possible season 4. Maybe NBC felt strong-armed into a season 3 with the outstanding grass roots 'Save Chuck' campaigns. My fear now is NBC will not renew Chuck for another season, and all we'll have to remember is this season that by far is nowhere close to the first two.
JM12 said…
Jace, you said Sarah's backstory is dealt with in two seperate episodes. 3.08 is one of them obviously, but what is the episode and could you possibly give a hint about the backstory? Also, I read somewhere else that 3.10 and 3.11 have great Chuck and Sarah moments. I guess that means they're starting to really talk to each other again. If so, could you tell me do Chuck and Sarah dicuss the whole "Sam" thing with each other?

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