The previous two episodes of Chuck--or as I like to call it Scarecrow and Mr. Bartowski--were a creative comeback from two humdrum opening episodes, with the series emerging as a decently watchable update of the hour-long light action dramas that used to air every night on the major networks in the '80s from 9 to 10 p.m. (10 to 11 p.m. Eastern). As a reader suggested last week, you sort of expect every episode of Chuck to end in a freeze-frame of Chuck, Sarah, and Casey in mid-guffaw over whatever craaazy adventure they stumbled into that week. It's not yet a show I would watch if I weren't covering it for The T.V. Blog, but I'm no longer praying for cancellation like I used to. (Nor should I--Chuck's ratings were up 19 percent last week over the previous episode. The number of comments for the Chuck blog were also up about the same percentage. As Chuck goes, I go. Unless I decide to rip Scrubs again, of course.)
Now that I've spent more than 150 words on Chuck's recent gains, it's time for the bad news: "Chuck Vs. The Sizzling Shrimp" was a regression into those sorry Chuck doldrums of old. It was a reminder that Chuck still has some serious underlying problems as it moves forward: the characters have not yet developed distinct personalities or characteristics or quirks; the action scenes aren't particularly thrilling because there's nothing at stake; the jokes aren't particularly funny because they are bad. I'm not one of these people who thinks every show has to have an overarching storyline connecting the episodes, but Chuck needs something a little heavier than a cute Asian assassin to make me care about our little Nerd Herder's predicament. In the pilot it was implied that Casey will have to whack Chuck once he's no longer needed–somebody remind me why he's needed again?–but that hasn't been touched on since. And what about Bryce Larkin, Chuck's old romantic rival and the guy who set this adventure in motion? Any potential for intrigue there? He's not really dead, right? Throw me a frickin' bone here!
On the comedy front, it was–to make a hilarious in-joke my fellow Chuck watchers will appreciate–"an evening with Morgan," which pretty much doomed this episode from the start. Morgan reminds me of a grown-up version of the theater kids I used to hang out with in high school, right down to the premature beard. I'm surprised he hasn't broken out into a medley of Fiddler On The Roof tunes or a riotous Ace Ventura impression. He's not comic relief, he's comic irritant. Pairing him with Chuck's sister Blandie, er, Ellie to make sad faces over Chuck not being around anymore was–to make another Chuck in-joke--about as inviting as Afghani warlords bleeding you from your liver.
--Apparently Jerry Seinfeld is starring in a delightful new animated film called Bee Movie. Let's hope he gets the word out!
--"Private Eyes" is a good choice for a stakeout mix tape. I'd also vote Elvis Costello's "Watching the Detectives," The Police's "Every Breath You Take" and–my non-obvious cool guy pick–Oakley Hall's "I'll Follow You."
--What happened to Chuck's kinda foxy Asian co-worker?