Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Chuck: "Chuck Vs. The Ex"

Hey everyone. I'll be your Chuck sub while Steve Heisler attends to other commitments this week. (Hint: They may involve his other job as a CIA agent.) I was happy to step in when Steve said he needed a sub. When I watched the Chuck premiere last year, I left a little underwhelmed. But when I caught up with the reruns this summer, I found either the show had gotten better or I'd been wrong the first time around. (Which, of course, couldn't have been the case, right?)

This was a pretty terrific episode even by the high standards of this second season. The spy plot worked. The Buy More stuff worked. The Chuck-and-Sarah (or, more accurately, Chuck-without-Sarah) thread led to some interesting places. And we got hot Chuck-on-John action. That's a full hour of Chuck, all right. But there was one central element that didn't work for me at all.

This is a story about Chuck's romantic life, past, present, and possible future. First, the past, as seen in a flashback to an embarrassing incident at Stanford in 2003: We meet the much-pined-about Jill who a) failed to believe that Chuck was kicked out of school unfairly and b) started sleeping with Bryce Larkin. Later we, and Chuck, meet her again as a successful biomedical engineer who, after getting getting fed a fake story of Chuck's great success, agrees to date him, then gets mortified to learn he's lying, then kisses him. No offense to Jordana Brewster, who's quite charming here, but I didn't buy this character for a second. Her changes of heart–even that initial betrayal with Bryce years ago–seem dictated more by the plot than any real feeling. And why, apart from revenge, would Chuck want anything to do with someone who betrayed him so stunningly, even one so flatly written that she doesn't seem capable of betrayal?

Such an awkwardly conceived character might have killed another show. But "Chuck Vs. The Ex" otherwise provided a wealth of entertainment, from the shoehorned-in-but-still-funny CPR sub-plot to the conclusion that forced Chuck to field test whether or not an antidote could be passed along by kissing. (It can't and wasn't.) It also wasn't afraid to get poignant. I may not have believed Jill, but I did believe Chuck's feelings for her. And I totally believed the joy he took in showing her how well he was doing for himself, not once but twice: The first by way of a CIA-aided lie, the second by way of the need to confess the truth of his involvement with the CIA.

And that makes something possible that Chuck hasn't had the entire series: A relationship with a woman that's not based on deception or hindered by professional obligation. Don't expect it to last even if Brewster is back next week.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

- If you ever wondered what the Australian-born Yvonne Strahovski's natural accent sounded like, you heard it tonight.

- Good to have Tony Hale back, but does anyone else think his character is a little too much like Buster with a backbone?

- What, besides Iggy Pop's "Pumping For Jill" is on that "Jill '03" playlist? The only "Jill" song in my iTunes is GBV's "The Best Of Jill Hives"

- Is it too soon for early-'00s nostalgia? Better yet, is it possible to have early-'00s nostalgia?

- "Remind me to have my assistant have that fixed."

- That restaurant scene: Best Adam Baldwin disguise yet.