Before reviewing the latest episode of Chuck, I want to take a moment to apologize to readers who were offended by the inclusion of Scrubs in a list of unfunny NBC comedies I mentioned in last week's post. I've spent most of the past week staring at the ocean and listening mournfully to The Shins, and realized that you're right, it WAS gratuitous and unnecessary to ruin your enjoyment of Scrubs by pointing out that it sucks. From now on, I promise to only point out whether Chuck and Chuck alone sucks.
Heading into "Chuck Vs. The Helicopter," I decided to re-adjust my expectations. I foolishly expected the pilot to be funny when it was supposed to be funny and exciting when it was supposed to be exciting. Now I was fully prepared to spend an hour not laughing or engaged by even moderately interesting spy intrigue. This approach was a smashing success, and I highly recommend it if you're stuck living with a Chuck watcher. While "Chuck Vs. The Helicopter" was actually worse than the pilot, I enjoyed it about the same. Thanks, lowered expectations!
"Chuck Vs. The Helicopter" began with the tantalizing–if unlikely--possibility of being Chuck's final episode: Government scientist Dr. Jonas Zarnow magically appeared to extract all those pesky secrets out of Chuck's brain, which would save him (and me) from future hardship. But Zarnow was quickly disposed off with a car bomb, so the tortured plot device that's Chuck's raison d'etre remained awkwardly in place. The rest of the episode centered on Chuck trying to figure out whether CIA agent Sarah or NSA agent Casey was behind Zarnow's killing, with a B-story about Sarah posing as Chuck's new girlfriend for his friends and family. When Chuck becomes convinced that Sarah is out to get him, Zarnow somehow re-appears with every limb intact and kidnaps the comely undercover agent. Chuck and Casey go off to rescue her, but Zarnow ends up kidnapping Chuck in the process and taking him away in his helicopter. But, fortunately, Chuck is able to overcome Zarnow and his henchman and land the helicopter because flying is just like a helicopter video game, or something.
As tough as it probably was to read the plot synopsis just now, it's nothing compared to actually watching "Chuck Vs. The Helicopter" unfold. I don't expect Chuck to be realistic–it's a light spy fantasy, so I'm willing to cut it a lot of slack. An email downloaded all of the government's secrets into Chuck's brain? Fine, whatever. The FBI agent looks like she should be greased up with an arrow through her head on the cover of Maxim? I can buy that. But Chuck has already written more checks than its shaky premise can cash. What is the point of keeping Chuck at Buy More and not taking him into custody or simply killing him? (Aside from ensuring the public will enjoy many more episodes of Chuck, of course.) I don't get what purpose Chuck serves to these agents. It's possible I missed an explanation while staring at the fascinatingly blank and white wall behind my television set, but this lack of purpose makes all the car chases and tranquilizer-dart shooting seem all the more pointless.
Of course, I wouldn't be bitching about Chuck's credibility problem if it were more fun to watch. But for all the money and stylish flash lavished on Chuck, the first two episodes have been really limp. There are some potentially good ideas here and there, but there's no snap to the execution. I liked Adam Baldwin as the NSA agent in the pilot–Baldwin has instant cred as a bad ass--and "Chuck Vs. The Helicopter" had a promising set-up with him working undercover at Buy More. But the store training scene was a comic blunder–and not the hilariously wacky kind–and by the end of the episode I was annoyed by Baldwin's perpetually stern, one-note characterization. Not that Casey is the only one-note character. Perhaps the biggest failure of "Chuck Vs. The Helicopter"–there are many other failures in the running--is that it didn't develop even one character in a meaningful way. Chuck's sister is still a prop for Chuck's nerdy friend Morgan to drool over, and Morgan is still a delivery system for lame, nerdy-friend-style jokes. Chuck actually gets two notes--ain't-I-cute self-effacement and frazzled exasperation--but he's far from being a multi-dimensional character so far.
Last week I wrote that the makers of Chuck needed to decide whether this is a funny spy show or a comedy with the occasional car chase. Based on "Chuck Vs. The Helicopter," they seemed to have chosen the former. But I'd guess that people who liked the pilot might be confused or bored by this episode. Looks like I might have to re-adjust my expectations a little bit lower for next week.
--The laziness of the comic writing on Chuck is typified by the fake store names: Buy More, Weinerlicious, LargeMart. Can't they steal some decent fake store names from old Simpsons episodes?
--"Don't Make Me A Target" by Spoon and "Gone Daddy Gone" by Gnarls Barkley are good songs, but I kind of hate them after hearing each several times during this episode.
--Tony Todd of Candyman fame is back for another episode as Sarah's boss.
--The wall behind my TV really does become fascinatingly white and blank when I watch Chuck.