Rewatching Chuck (and fixing 2 big flaws)

Yes, it's another post about Chuck.  I realize that will send the vast majority of you hitting the back button.

I honestly don't even know what triggered my desire to rewatch the show from the start.  Maybe it was just the fact that it's been a little over a year since the show went off the air.  Funny enough, I started rewatching it long before the Veronica Mars movie news hit, so it wasn't even the glimmer of hope of a Chuck movie that caused this.

I've gone on (at length) about the problems the show ran into the longer it was on the air.  A lot of that can be attributed to the fact that it was constantly on the verge of cancellation; it was very clear that long term planning started falling apart after season two.

There were two major plot points over the course of the last three seasons that have always rubbed me the wrong way.  The first was the Shaw storyline from season 3, made even more unfortunate by the fact that it made up the bulk of the season, bringing down a decent number good episodes.

The frustrating thing about the Shaw storyline is that there was a really, really simple way of making it work: Shaw should have known it was Sarah that his killed his wife from the very start.  In other words, Shaw is a Ring operative when he joins the team, but the viewers wouldn't know that.  Suddenly his every move has motivation.

Part of the problem that so many people had with the third season was the division between Chuck and Sarah.  The fact that they were apart because Chuck chose being a spy over being with her was understandable, but they took it a step further and had the two of them start dating other people.  It felt completely unnatural, particularly because a) Chuck's the kind of guy who would spend months moping over Sarah and b) Sarah jumping into a relationship with Shaw felt incredibly forced.

But if Shaw was a Ring agent from the start, trying to date Sarah would have been part of his plan.  His reasoning would have been twofold: set Sarah up to suffer and keep Chuck emotional so that the Intersect wouldn't work.  They could have taken it a step further by having Hannah work for Shaw, if need be, underscoring Shaw's plan.

Shaw never tells the Ring that Chuck is the Intersect because it didn't matter to him.  He had no interest in hurting Chuck's family -- or even Chuck, initially -- and at that point in the show, Shaw still had a strange sense of honor.  He wanted revenge on Sarah and he wanted to take down the CIA for ordering the murder of his wife.

Chuck undergoes his red test during season 3, and Sarah spends a lot of time thinking about hers.  Say, for example, Sarah mentions how she'll never forget the distinctive necklace the woman she killed wore.  Chuck eventually becomes suspicious of Shaw (which everyone will assume is just jealousy), and towards the end of the arc discovers the necklace with Shaw's personal effects -- like the wedding ring he still holds on to.  Since Chuck knows that Shaw's wife was killed while deep under cover in the Ring, he pieces it all together and we get a big time reveal.

No forced relationships to keep Chuck and Sarah apart.  No "Sarah's real name is Sam" (not that my idea fixes that, but it was an awful storyline).  Actual, real surprise for the climax of the storyline.  A cohesive story that works organically.

That last point is important for the second plot point that drove me nuts.

At the end of season 4, we meet Decker, a villainous CIA agent who drives Chuck and the team out of the CIA.  Decker basically claims that everything that has happened to Chuck from day one has been part of a bigger story -- nothing that's happen has been a coincidence.  He even says that Chuck receiving the Intersect was no accident.

When that plot point plays out, however, it turns out that Decker simply works for Shaw, and absolutely nothing from the beginning of the show is connected in any way.  Decker is just helping Shaw escape so he can get his revenge.

It is, to put it mildly, a betrayal of trust.  The writers set it up to be the big secret of the show, something that would pull all five years together into one, cohesive storyline, but it wasn't.  It wasn't even close.  And it's over halfway through season 5.

But now reframe it with the new version of season 3.  If Shaw's ultimate goal was to destroy Sarah, what better way than to set up her then boyfriend/partner Bryce Larkin?  And if he's working for Fulcrum/Ring at that point, what better way to bring Orion out of hiding than by making sure that Orion's son gets the Intersect?

Shaw is the Ring's big gun, who was supposed to get the Intersect 2.0 at the end of season two.  But when that went south for them, Shaw had to make his move, both to bring down the CIA that ordered his wife's murder, and to get revenge on the woman who murdered her.

Presto! Everything's connected.  Even better, it's not a stretch to think that Shaw has shared intel with Quinn, the guy who was originally supposed to get the Intersect, the guy who is the final bad guy of the show, who actually does more to torture Sarah than Shaw ever does.

The kicker here is that it's not just a case of me wanting things to add up, it's a matter of giving fans what they were told they were going to get.

This is the problem with being me: these episodes have happened and the show is over.  All of this "if only" business really only serves to drive me crazy.

Determining Chuck's Fate

Chuck fans now have six days to neurotically worry about the fate of their favorite show.  And I'll be honest: it doesn't look good.  This begs the question: why is Chuck more likely to be canceled than renewed, and what could possibly save it?

Chuck is produced by Warner Brothers.  NBC then pays the WB to air it.  So we're looking at two different factions that need to make money in order for Chuck to stay on the air.

(Keep in mind that I am, by no means, an expert on these things, but perhaps living in Hollywood has given me some kind of knowledge through osmosis.)



Warner Brothers

The WB's formula for making money on Chuck is pretty simple: amount NBC pays them minus the cost of producing the show plus licensing income.  I'm not sure if the WB gets all the profits from DVDs, but I'm sure those things probably pull in half a million dollars per season, if not more.

The WB is also in a pretty good position with Chuck because the show is relatively cheap to make; they've cut the budget multiple times over the last four years in an effort to make it more profitable.  Up until now, the show has probably made plenty of money for Warner Brothers.

NBC

The show is not, however, as profitable for NBC.  Their formula for making money on Chuck is pretty simple as well: advertising revenue minus amount paid to the WB plus any licensing fees they might get.  Again, I don't know how the licensing is divided up, but I do know that NBC sells a lot of Chuck merchandise in their online store.

The problem, of course, is that as Chuck's ratings have plummeted, the value of commercial air time during the show has dropped.  While it has probably not affected the show this year (as such advertising is most likely determined well in advance), it's going to be a hard sell for NBC for next year.  After all, advertisers want to reach viewers, so why would they spend their ad dollars on a show that has a small audience?

The recent Twitter campaign to tell advertisers that fans watch the commercials and will buy their products if they support the show has been a good one, but it's hard to judge how effective it will be.  Advertisers have responded to it on Twitter, but will that translate to them saying to NBC, "hey, we really want to advertise on Chuck again next year, and we'll keep paying what we paid this year?"  I kind of doubt it.

So if NBC's advertising revenue decreases, the only way to keep Chuck profitable is for the amount it pays to the WB to decrease as well.

The Deal

Ultimately, this means there is only one thing that can save Chuck (aside from executive decision from someone in NBC who is just really nerdy like the rest of us): the WB has to lower its asking price to the point where NBC can make money on the show.

Why would the WB do that?  Syndication.

Basically, the WB number crunchers have to figure out how much money they can make by selling the syndication rights to Chuck.  Then they need to figure out how much they're willing to lose when they sell the show to NBC in order to make it back (and then some) when they sell the syndication rights.

The problems here are twofold: 1) There's no way of knowing for certain how much the syndication rights for Chuck will sell for, although they could probably come up with a reasonable estimate and 2) Would the discounted price to NBC be low enough for the network to pick it up?

The syndication point for a television is how is generally considered to be 88 episodes, although most networks prefer 100.  But if 88 is the minimum, then Chuck would only be 10 episodes away after the end of season 4, and it would hit 100 with a final, full season.

But, again, it all boils down to this: Is it worth it to the WB to make a lower offer?  And would it be worth it to NBC to take it?

Negatives

There's really only one negative that matters when it comes to the fate of Chuck: no one watches it.  It has been bleeding viewers all season long.  No other network (well, not entirely true, but I'll get to that in a moment) would even consider renewing it, the ratings are that bad.

Positives

I could go on and on about the idea that an official, final season of Chuck would bring back a decent number of former viewers and thus increase the ratings to at least an low average level, but that's all speculation and more of a sales pitch than anything else.  No, if there's one, glimmer of hope to look towards for Chuck's renewal it's this: Fringe.

For reasons that have never been revealed by Fox, Fringe was renewed for next season -- for a full 22 episode season.  Fringe gets ratings that are just as bad as Chuck's and airs on Friday nights, which means it's ratings could very well get worse.  It's also clearly much more expensive to make, if the effects are anything to go by.  It is, as many have said, mind boggling that Fox renewed it at all, let alone renewed it for a full season.

But here's the kicker: Fringe is produced by the WB.  It has aired 65 episodes, just 23 shy of syndication.  That's one full season plus one episode.

Did the WB make a deal with Fox this far out?  Fringe has a pretty heavy cult following and would probably do well in syndication.  So did the WB

Less helpful but still encouraging is the fact that NBC doesn't have a whole lot of new shows being prepped for next season, so there could very well be an opening for Chuck.

So there you have it: six days left to worry.  Let's hope the Fringe effect wins out.

Chuck 4.23 (spoilers)

You do have to wonder why this show can't be this good all the time.  Why is it that the show has these extended stretches of...well, mediocrity?  In some ways it's baffling that the same show can run so far to the extremes, sometimes in the course of the same season (honestly, sometimes in the course of a single episode).  But I suppose that has a lot to do with the fine line that chuck walks.  It's not a comedy.  It's not a drama.  It's not a romance.  It's not even about action or espionage.  Yet it steps in all of those worlds, and sometimes it leans too heavily in one direction and the show suffers for it.

This might seem like a bold statement, but this show should always concentrate on the spy aspects first and foremost -- or, more specifically, the spy elements need to be the essential A plot.  Yes, I know that, in theory, the spy stories are always the main plot, but they're not always essential -- they don't always matter.  And when they are insubstantial, the other aspects of the show are played up to compensate, and the balance is thrown off.



Here's the thing: the romance, the comedy, even the drama -- it can all be placed within the context of an important spy story line.  I probably laughed more tonight than I have in the majority of episodes this season and this was, for all intents and purposes, a heavy duty, super serious episode.  The romance was also really apparent, from simple moments between Chuck and Sarah to the rehearsal dinner.  And it hit home because it wasn't the sole focus, because it wasn't laid on really thick.  It worked because it was in contrast with something.

When I was in high school, my grade were always better in the fall because I played soccer.  This meant I didn't have time to slack off -- I had to keep to a rigid schedule.  Chuck is a lot like me in high school.  It needs the structure of a tightly plotted spy storyline to keep it on task and to make the other parts of the show shine.

We have one week left until we find out the fate of this show.  Like I said in my last post, I can't believe I'm back to being on the edge of my seat waiting for word about the fate of Chuck.  But tonight's episode just reiterated the fact that there's plenty of material left to be mined.

I love the move to get Morgan out of the spy game.  Honestly, I've had a hard time with the fact that he's been a part of the team for a while.  It really, really stretched the suspension of disbelief putting Morgan in the field.  It's possible to have believed him being back in Castle monitoring the missions, yes, but in the field?  That's a bit much.

We also haven't seen Casey's ex-wife since she found out the truth about him.  I was actually waiting to see her show up at the rehearsal dinner.  That's obviously not a story that's going to get dealt with this season and it would be a shame to see it fall away.

I think it's probably safe guess to say the "Chuck going rogue" story line isn't going to be completely resolved at the end of next week's finale (the title kind of gives that much away).  I also really like the idea of Chuck going rogue; it's pretty close to the finale I suggested many, many months ago.  I also wonder if he'll do so alone; will Casey go with him?  Will Sarah go on the run with him at the end of the episode after Chuck has saved her?

And then there's the twist that was suggested in the preview for next week.  I honestly have no idea what it is.  There as a point where I wondered if Vivian might actually be related to Chuck, as we've never really gotten a clear explanation as far as the relationship between Volkoff and Frost.  It would make a kind of terrifying sense, really, if Ray Wise (whatever his character's name was) was partially right, that Chuck's dad actually programmed Hartley to be Volkoff as a way of getting revenge on him for having an affair with Mary.  That seems kind of convoluted and intensely serious.  It was also require Frost to keep sleeping with Hartley after he becomes Volkoff, since he became Volkoff before Chuck was born.

Then again, maybe the multiple Star Wars jokes tonight were meant as clues that there's a brother and sister at play here.

For that matter, it's possible the reverse is true.  According to wikipedia, Chuck Bartowski was born on September 18th, 1981.  That's 10 months after Hartley was turned into Volkoff, but it's entirely possible for wikipedia to be wrong (I'm honestly not sure where that date came from).  The timing seems really close...

...could Volkoff be Chuck's father?  And is that why the Intersect worked on Chuck, because it worked on his dad originally? (Technically, it also worked for Orion)

Again, that's probably a stretch, and way too convoluted.  But the fact that I'm even considering such things is a good indication of how completely clueless I am, and how completely glued to my chair I'll be next week.

Next Monday could be a roller coaster for Chuck fans.  We could get bad news during the day, then a great and sad finale.  Or we could get good news and a finale that will energize for one, last season.

Fingers crossed.

Chuck 4.22 (spoilers)

"Now we have three episodes left, and from all appearances those three episodes are going to be packed to the gills with story.  The last three episodes sound like they're going to be urgent, something Chuck has missed for some time now."

That was from my April 17th blog entry, "Why Chuck Fell Apart," my attempt at dissecting why, exactly, Chuck had diminished in both quality and number of viewers.  My number one complaint was that the show had lost its sense of urgency, that sense that you never really knew what was going to happen next.

Certainly can't say that about this episode, now can I?

There have been many times over the course of this season that I have been willing to let Chuck fade away.  The quality had dropped and it didn't seem to be getting any better.  Ideally, I would have liked a final season to wrap everything up, but I probably would have shrugged my shoulders and went about my business if we don't get that.

Now, however, I just can't imagine the season finale being the end of the show.  Chuck has suddenly struck gold again and I think it could last for some time.



Season 2 Redux

The true beauty of season 2 was that it had focus.  It seemed like there was a deliberate line planned out from the first episode to the last episode and the show was focused on telling that story.  Every new complication seemed to stem from the main story and the show maintained the perfect pace because of it.

It felt like confidence.

It felt like the show had confidence in itself, that it was telling the stories it wanted to tell.  We've only really glimpsed that same attitude a few times since season 2, and never for very long.  In a lot of ways (and no doubt by network decree), the show seems to have tried to cater to new viewers in hopes of improving its ratings, only to watch regular viewers get bored and turn away.

But when this show gets it right, it really gets it right.

It's not the mystery that made last night's episode great.  Yes, it's what drove the episode -- who wasn't eager to find out who Agent X is?  It was what came after the revelation that made the episode perhaps the best of the season.  It was the crazy implications of what they've discovered.  It was the fact that Casey was (rightfully) the first person to piece it all together.  It was brother and sister Bartowski debating whether they could just let it go.

And it gets to the core of the show: can someone like Chuck actually be a spy?  Sure, he has the abilities, but he still doesn't carry a gun.  Chuck has a very well defined moral compass and he has finally found himself at odds with the CIA in a way that there is no grey area.

What's particularly interesting is that no one associated with the team has any idea what they've just discovered; this is big time, high level, deep dark secret stuff.  If and when the team goes rogue over this, how will Beckman react?

Also interesting is how this effects Chuck's battle with Vivian.  While he might have felt guilty about her before, he most certainly feels responsible for her now.  And if the only way to stop Vivian is to help her father, then doesn't Chuck have to do that to save his family and friends?

It's brilliant, really: a dilemma that strikes at the core of the show while being wrapped in complications and mysteries.  It's what this show should always be about.

Yes, the similar named cities joke took a turn for the ridiculous at the end, although I personally feel like the "make it snow" joke saved it.  I also really liked the new dynamic of adding Big Mike to Jeffster's misadventures.  The musical montage was just long enough to be hilarious without being tedious.

What Next?

My initial instinct after seeing the "Next On" was that Morgan will get shot, and it will be up to Ellie and Awesome to save him.  It would make some kind of sense, as the focus has been on how capable Ellie is, and it would be a natural way to involve her in Chuck's world.

But I re-watched the preview and there's no gun shot, which would seem like an odd thing to leave out if you're trying to create interest.  Vivian's dialogue also seems to imply that she already did something to someone, which I think suggests poison.  I also think that they give it away.

Go watch it again (I just added it below) and you'll see that Sarah is on the screen when Vivian makes her threat.  Sara is also absent from the reaction shot.  And given that we all know they won't get married just like that...

Second thought: It might actually be Mama Bartowski.  While the writers have just said that something bad happens, I can't imagine they would kill off anyone but Frost.  It would also be easy to see Vivian doing something to Frost before Chuck rescues her which would cause her to die later on.  And, as far as revenge goes, Frost has to be Vivian's #2 target, if she finds out about her father's obsession with her.

Of course Chuck would get really good again.  Just as I was at peace with the idea that this show would end, I find myself completely invested again, and trying to things of ways in which Chuck might actually come back.

Idiot Box: Why Chuck Fell Apart

Last week's episode of Chuck dropped to a 1.3 in the ratings, a series low.  Since that would appear to be the last nail in the Chuck coffin (barring a miracle or the WB agreeing to sell the rights to NBC at a reduced rate for the sake of reaching the syndication point), I thought I'd take a look back at the show and figure out what exactly went wrong.



Chuck premiered on September 24th, 2007 to over 9 million viewers and what would have been around a 3.8 in the 18-49 year old demographic that networks count.  For what it's worth, a rating like that now would make Chuck NBC's highest rated show, and even a highly rated show outside of the shallow pool that is NBC.

As with most shows, Chuck's ratings dropped after the premiere, but never ventured into the danger zone.  In fact, the first season averaged 8.68 million viewers, a perfectly acceptable number, particularly given the fact that the first season was cut short by the writers' strike.

To give you an idea how of far Chuck has fallen, last week's episode reigned in 4.1 million viewers, less than half of its average from the first season.

So what happened?

Timing

For those who know anything about this show, "timing" would seem to be an obvious answer, if not an obvious excuse, although it would be wrong to place that blame entirely on NBC.

Watch Chuck or Sarah will shoot you.
Obviously, the writers' strike that derailed the first season didn't help matters.  While the show got a typical half season order of 13 episodes in, the finale didn't pack much of a punch.  It also aired in January, which isn't exactly a hot bed of television activity.

Because the season ended after only 13 episodes, the show never dealt with many stories of substance.  The episodes consisted mostly of secret identity issues and Chuck pining away for Sarah, although it was all done very well.  Each episode was funny, relatively self-contained, and at times even moving.  The chemistry between the core cast members was on display from the start.  We also got just enough information that everything made sense, yet not so much that we didn't want more.

The only problem is that the show never got to a point where it seemed like something real was at stake.  This is completely understandable after half a season, but made the show feel less substantial than it really was.  I think, to many people, it was easy to dismiss.

It's not entirely surprising, then, that the second season of Chuck (which premiered in September of 2008, 9 months after it had gone off the air) had less than 7 million viewers.  The ratings were all over the charts for season two, but it eventually clocked an average audience of 7.36 million, about 1.3 million fewer than season one.  And while that was good for something like a 2.7 average (which it would kill for now), the finale clocked in at closer to an 1.8 -- not a good sign.

What's truly frightening about the ratings trend that developed is that season two was easily the best single season Chuck ever had.  The show had been renewed for an entire season well in advance of filming.  The creators knew they had 22 episodes to produce and planned accordingly.  They planned it out so much, in fact, that they ended it on a cliffhanger, as they assumed they would return for a third season.

Each episode of Chuck from season two (more or less) built upon the mythos of the show.  The spy world was fleshed out, but so was Chuck's family life.  Mysteries were introduced, new and old characters showed up at unexpected times, and we actually got plot twists -- all while Chuck and Sarah grew ever closer.

I was never more excited about the show than I was after season two, which made the fact that it's renewal was in doubt all the more frustrating.  This is where timing would, yet again, get the best of this show.

NBC eventually decided to renew Chuck, but they only picked it up for 13 episodes.  In many ways we were back to season one, with the show forced to try to walk that fine line between continuity heavy episodes that its core audience loved and self-contained episodes that could possibly bring in new viewers, all in just 13 episodes.

Season three of Chuck premiered on January 10th, 2010 and scored a 3.0, a huge jump from the season two finale and a rather ridiculous bump for NBC's overall ratings.  While the ratings crept slowly downward after the premiere, the show was still above a 2.5 six episodes in, so NBC -- who were desperate for ratings (and still are) -- decided to order 6 more episodes, bringing the season 3 order up to 19.

The problem, of course, is that the show had already been planned out for 13 episodes, so the additional six were going to be like a new season.  Even more unfortunate is the fact that the first 13 episodes felt like it was created by people who weren't entirely sure if these 13 episodes were the end of something or the beginning; it was completely unfocused.

Season three did just barely well enough for NBC to renew it, yet again for only half a season, lead it to the same difficulties in season four that were found in season three.  And when the show debuted with a 2.5, NBC did exactly what it did earlier; picked up the show for a full season even though it had been plotted out as half a season.  And, again, it was obvious that the show had not been put together in a cohesive manner.



NBC's

But all of the blame can't be placed on the network.  No, some of the blame falls at the feet of the show itself, at the drop in quality that has been so evident since the end of season two.

Manufacturing

The end of season two changed the core dynamics of the show.  First, there was the fact that Chuck and Sarah had, at the very least, made their feelings for each other known.  And then there was the Intersect 2.0.

I know that, at the time, Chuck's upgrade was a point of contention for many people.  The problem was that Chuck was no longer a fish out of water, but the ultimate weapon.  Personally, I have really enjoyed Chuck having 2.0 in his head, but I think it was a difficult adjustment for the writers to make, one that didn't always work out.

In fact, the most fertile ground after Chuck's upgrade was the issue of what the Intersect 2.0 was going to do to Chuck's brain.  But the issue was never addressed until the second episode orders, which shoved a potentially overarching story into just 6 episodes so that it was never covered as thoroughly -- or as effectively -- as it could have been.

With Chuck suddenly becoming a full fledged spy, the writers had to find a new source of drama, and they decided to focus on the relationship between Chuck and Sarah, a relationship that had, up until this point, felt very natural.  And then we met Shaw.

Clearly, two people with chemistry...or not.
Honestly, I liked Shaw.  We never learned much about him and he lacked any kind of chemistry with anyone in the cast, but that was fine with me, for the most part.  As a spy, and later a villain, he was great.  But they ruined him by making him a complication in the Chuck/Sarah relationship.

This was problematic on a number of level.  First of all, Shaw and Sarah had no chemistry, and we were constantly being told about how they were together as opposed to ever seeing it.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, it was unnecessary.  The fact that Chuck had decided to become a spy even against Sarah's wishes was more than enough reason to keep the two of them apart.  It was a huge issue that was going to cause problems between them ; there was no need for anything else to happen.

And yet we got Shaw.  And the we got Hannah, who was almost as ridiculous, given that the number one rule of the show up until this point was that Chuck couldn't date a civilian, but for some reason it was now okay...because Sarah was dating Shaw, evidently.

The relationship drama was forced and heavy handed and it was particularly frustrating given that it could have been left out completely and nothing about the third season would have changed.

Timing and Manufacturing

Season four has, in many ways, been a combination of all the things that have gone wrong with this show.  Yet again, Chuck got an order of only 13 episodes, 13 episodes that could end up being the series' last.  So over the course of those 13 episodes we were introduced to the proposal storyline.

"You're very nice, but totally unnecessary."
Part of my issue with the proposal storyline is that we got only 6 episodes in season three of Chuck and Sarah being together, and then only three in season four before the proposal comes up.  In other words, they had been together for less than half a season and already they were talking about getting married.  It was way too quick and, even worse, became the focal point for the show.  As if to replace the "will they/won't they" question that had now been answered, they found another "will they/won't they" question one which, frankly, had significantly less impact.  And, again, it was forced.

Again, we saw the balance of the show shift.  Whereas season three had fought to regain some semblance of the balance the show had before Chuck got his upgrade, any steps season three had finally taken to right the ship were thrown out the window.  All focus was place on Chuck and Sarah, with minor storylines going on around them.  The plot of every episode was built so that it connected to something Chuck and Sarah were going through, and often times that construction was heavy handed and flimsy.

Then Chuck got picked up for an additional 11 episodes, and it was clear that the creators weren't prepared for more episodes.  The initial episodes after the original finale seemed hastily thrown together, with ridiculous plots that pushed suspension of disbelief well beyond its breaking point.  We saw a random and, at the time, rather bad plot point from the first set of episodes brought back, and while they've managed to make it work so far, it's underscored how awful it was to begin with (yes, I'm referring to the computer).

Now we have three episodes left, and from all appearances those three episodes are going to be packed to the gills with story.  The last three episodes sound like they're going to be urgent, something Chuck has missed for some time now.

Season Five?

The final episode of season four is called "Chuck vs. the Cliffhanger," and given what we got at the end of season two, I have no doubts that the creators mean what they say.  For those of us who have spent four years following this show, one more season seems pretty essential.

The fact that Fox renewed Fringe for an entire season even though its ratings were, at the time, lower than Chuck's is a little bit encouraging, particularly given that Fox operates with higher ratings standards than NBC.  But the real glimmer of hope has to come with the fact that Chuck is, at most, just ten episodes shy of the threshold for syndication.

From a creative standpoint, I feel like the fewer episodes, the better.  Ten episode will get them to the syndication point, and ten episodes might be about right.  Give us ten episodes filled with suspense, adventure, humor, drama, and romance.  Give us ten episodes that I can't predict based upon the "next time on."  Give us ten episodes where the stakes are high and emotions run wild.  Give us ten episodes that culminates 4+ years of television.

And then let the show rest, as I think it's probably about that time.

Chuck 4.13 Review (spoilers)

And that, right there, was everything that's great about Chuck.

Well, in the last ten minutes, at least.

Two weeks ago I said I thought Chuck had run its course and that it was time for me to accept that.  Last week I was so disappointed that I didn't even bother to write a review.  My expectations for this week, which had been promoted as the original season finale and which co-creator Josh Schwartz had said was the best episode of the year, were pretty low.

I disliked the proposal story.  I disliked the Sarah going bad story.  I really didn't see how the culmination of those two plots could, in any way, appeal to me.

I was wrong...more or less.



If I had one real problem with this episode, it was infiltration of Volkoff's ship.  Whenever they put Morgan in the field, I cringe.  There's no advantage to it and, in fact, only bad things can happen.  The idea that Chuck would take Morgan with him makes very little sense during a "season" in which the writers have constantly had characters do things that don't make sense for the sake of the plot.  I think Morgan is a great character, but they really need to stop doing this; it stretches the suspension of disbelief beyond its breaking point.

Thankfully, they limited the damage to believability done by the "Sarah has gone rogue" story.  I was relieved to see them quickly dispose of any notion that Chuck might actually be worried that Sarah was going bad.  As much as I dislike that story as it stands, it only would have been worse had we gotten scenes with Chuck wondering if Sarah had really switched sides.

Initially, I had a problem with the fact that Volkoff was able to untie himself so easily, but then I realized that this was also a part of Chuck's plan.  He needed to give Volkoff the upper hand to get certain words out of him.  That said, how long were his men going to wait for him outside?  I mean, he was knocked unconscious at one point.

Also, it's worth mentioning that Timothy Dalton has been fantastic this entire season.

The Last 10 Minutes

So why was the last ten minutes so great?  Well, allow me to break it down:

1) Chuck's Plan

There's nothing like a good reveal and it's even better when it ties together different aspects of the show.  And it's always great to see Chuck succeed at being a spy.  Honestly, I think this is part of the reason why this show can't bring in new viewers: Chuck pulling off this grand plan means a lot to those of us who have been with him from the beginning, but it would mean absolutely nothing to those new to the show.

Incorporating every member of his team in the plan and actually using Morgan in a way that's believable made it all but perfect.  Invoking his father was brilliant.

2) Jeffster

Sure, it could be argued that someone would have stopped them before security showed up.  And, sure, as always, there are more instruments in the song than they are actually playing, but who cares?  It's freaking Jeffster.  The song was great, although their reasons for performing it were even better.

But the absolute funniest moment was when Casey heard the music and knew who it was.  "Jeffster."  Classic.

3) Family

I have long maintained that the show's secret weapon is Ellie.  She is the heart of the show.  Without her, Chuck would be entertaining, but it wouldn't have the depth that it's capable of.  It makes me wish I had a sister.

It was also a nifty piece of symmetry to have the team rally around Chuck and then switch to having them rally around Ellie.  And the way they had the larger group break off into smaller groups was perfect.  We went from one large, extended family, to three smaller, just as important families.  It was just a fantastic bit of execution.

Tying the entire season with a bow in the shape of Chuck's father was exactly what this season has needed.

4) Emotion

I know the emphasis in the Chuck community lies in the very last scene, but I can't be the only one who got choked up when Mary Bartowski entered her daughter's hospital room.  Ellie's reaction is just so perfect it's giving me goosebumps just thinking about it.

Add to that Casey's grudging evolution as a father (and person) and, of course, the proposal, and the last few minutes of this week's Chuck had more emotion in it than the previous 12 episodes combined.

5) Balance

For the first time all season, Chuck achieved balance.  There has been so much emphasis placed on Sarah and Chuck that it has overwhelmed the show; it's become white noise, really, with no moment seeming any more important than any other.  The fact that we weren't beaten over the head with it all episode made the end all the more poignant.

In fact, if I have one real question about this episode, it's this: Would the ending have been better if we hadn't been bombarded with proposal talk all season long?  What if it had been introduced and went away?  Everyone watching the show was expecting this episode to end with a proposal, but imagine how great it would have been if we hadn't?  Would this past season have really lost anything?  Or would it maybe have been better, more balanced?

The only real flaws in this episode were a result of what had come before, so as it stands on its own, it's almost perfect.  Unfortunately, it doesn't stand on its own.

The Future

Really, the next 11 episodes of Chuck are a blank slate.  I would imagine that Mary Bartowski will be sent to D.C. to clear her name and report on her mission, so Linda Hamilton will be moved off screen, at least for a bit.  I would also expect to see her back periodically.

I really want Chuck to come clean to Ellie about being a spy again and I really want Ellie to tell him she already knew.

Obviously, we have a new baby and a wedding to plan, so I would imagine those two things will take up some screen time, although, again, I hope they try to maintain a better balance than they have so far.

I can't help but wonder if we'll see Volkoff again leading up to the season finale.  They brought Shaw back last year when they got a back order and they actually had to resurrect him.  Volkoff's just in jail.

I'm hoping this episode marks a turning point for Chuck.  I hope that the marriage and the baby will be handled a bit more smoothly than the proposal.  And I'm really hoping we get some spy related drama like we got in this episode.

Some more viewers would be nice, too.

Chuck 4.11 Review (spoilers)

I think it's time I finally read the writing on the wall: Chuck has seen better days.

For every moment that I enjoyed (Lester, the near proposal, the A plot itself), there was a moment that made me groan (the lack of logic in the ending, the proposal storyline, the lack of logic in the ending -- did I say that already?).  Sadly, this has become a pattern this season on Chuck, and one I don't see ending until the initial season order of 13 episodes has wrapped up.

Old School

There was something incredibly charming about the spy story in this episode, something that harkened back to early episodes of the show.  Perhaps it was the somewhat wacky, very simple premise: crazy CIA gadget needs to be retrieved and the team goes undercover to get it.  Perhaps it was Casey taking on a role as yet another person who has to serve Chuck (like a waiter or a bartender, etc.) or Sarah and Chuck posing as a couple on a romantic trip again (even though, this time, they're exactly that).  There was a certain purity to this story, like something out of season one.



The same could actually be said for the Buy More crowd.  It was good to see Big Mike get decent screen time and, really, as far as this episode goes you'd never know he was no longer in charge.  And, of course, there was Lester being Lester and another great performance by Jeffster.  It really was the most awkward five minutes on television.

And before I go ahead and start sounding like a jaded old man, I have to say that I really enjoyed the scenes leading up to Chuck's near proposal, particularly when he was working up to popping the question.  I love Chuck and Sarah and it was a really sweet moment to watch...

Killing Me

...but that doesn't take away from the fact that this proposal is killing the show.

On the surface, the fact that the issue of the two of them getting engaged has even been talked about at this point is a bit much.  The audience got to see them as a couple for 8 whole episodes before the issue came up.  That's not a whole lot of time.  It's so little time, in fact, that it's made this entire story seem forced.

I'm willing to let that slide, though.  I understand that they wanted to create some drama in Chuck and Sarah's relationship.  I also understand that they initially only had a 13 episode season.  It would have been far more organic had this proposal come up mid-way through the season, but, sadly, the people who run Chuck had no idea if they'd get more episodes.  They had to jump the gun, just as they had to give Ellie the fastest pregnancy in television history (baby Awesome is reported to be born in the next two weeks).  It's not a perfect world, so I accept that.

The problem is that this already forced storyline has taken over the show.  The third episode was called "Chuck vs. the Cubic Z" for crying out loud.  The ending to "Chuck vs. the Coup D'Etat" was incredibly heavy handed and cheesy solely for the purpose of connecting that storyline to Chuck and Sarah's relationship.  Chuck's perfect proposal plan and his attempts to propose come up again and again in episodes like "Chuck vs. the First Fight" and "Chuck vs. the Fear of Death," and even "Chuck vs. Phase Three."  And then, this week, we get another episode where the supposed B plot for the season takes over.

Even worse, it has no turned the A plot -- Chuck's mom and Volkoff -- into yet another vehicle for their proposal.  There is no logical reason for Volkoff to believe that Sarah has gone rogue.  None.  He would never even give her the chance to prove herself and even if she passed some kind of test, he still wouldn't let her join him.  She's Chuck's girlfriend.  We have seen that Volkoff runs an airtight operation, and now we're supposed to believe that he would do something as stupid as to believe that Sarah wants to join him.

But he has to do that for the sake of the proposal storyline.  He has to be stupid so there can be another complication that will drag this out even longer.  As of last night, the B plot has completely taken over so that no aspect of the show this season stands on its own; it's all about whether Chuck and Sarah get engaged.

Here's the problem (or another one, at least): I'm not a 13 year old girl.  In fact, I don't even think a 13 year old girl would find any real tension in this story.  What's the worst that can happen, they don't get engaged?  Really?  That possibility is supposed to create tension and drama?  It's supposed to keep the audience interested?

At this point, does anyone even care what happens to Frost?

There's no weight to this show anymore, and that's a shame.  Season one had its moments.  Season two was filled with so many twists and turns that it raised the bar for the show.  And even as sporadic in quality as season three was, there were still consequences, there were still things at risk.

What's at risk now?

In a Perfect World

In a perfect world, this storyline would go away, and perhaps it will.  Since the first 13 episodes were ordered together, maybe the proposal storyline will end with the 13th episode, and the next 11 episodes can move forward.

Now, as is my way when it comes to all things Chuck, I will share my wild speculation/borderline fan-ficquo.

I think that Frost should die and that it should seem like Chuck had something to do with it.  Volkoff would, of course, launch an all out assault on Chuck, which would include going after anyone that's close to him.  People would get hurt (anyone and everyone, from Sarah to Alex).  There would be no stopping Volkoff and his men.

And then Chuck is killed.  Big explosion, body that is ID'd as his, the whole bit.  And there would be massive mourning.  I picture a shot of Sarah crying in Chuck's bed -- it would be totally heart breaking.

Then, of course we see Chuck in some hidden location, video conferencing with Beckman.  She tells him she's made sure all of his records say he's dead.  They talk about the fact that, in order for everyone to be safe, Chuck needs to be gone, and how he is now going to go full on black ops in order to take down Volkoff...alone.  Beckman says she will expect to hear from him exactly 1 year later, but until then it will be complete silence.  And we'd get "it was an honor working with you," of course.

End season.  Cliffhanger?  Sure, but one that, in theory, could be left that way.

Then the next season would open with Chuck returning, and that would be a complete CF, as everyone would have moved on with their lives...or tried to.

Of course, there are variations.  It doesn't have to be a year, it could just be six months.  And Frost could actually stay alive for this.  She could simply betray Volkoff and then "die" with Chuck -- then the two of them would go underground, which would actually give the season some symmetry.  And, of course, next season we would see that Sarah and Casey have been trying to avenge Chuck...but perhaps someone kept beating them to the punch.

Again, think of how much tension would be in those last few episodes.  This kind of a storyline would probably require 3 episodes.  From the moment Frost dies on would be nonstop drama.  It would be heavy duty.  It would be gut wrenching.

It would seem like something is actually at risk again.

Chuck 4.10 Review (spoilers)

I honestly never thought I'd ever say this, but: they were too subtle.

Last night's Chuck was enjoyable from start to finish.  It managed to walk that fine line between ridiculous and serious that the show often fails to navigate.  From stripper fight classes to a love sick weapons dealer, the show managed to make the comedic elements fit (more or less) into the dramatic narrative.

Sure, it was loaded with pop culture references (I'm kind of shocked that I've yet to see a review mention the "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" reference) and most of those references were either obvious ("Come with me if you want to live") or had been done before (albeit on a smaller scale), but the jokes still worked.

I was also amazed at how much ground they covered in a single hour.  It was a tightly packed episode, with the post-Thanksgiving dinner not coming until nearly 40 minutes in (including commercials).  I had expected a more traditional format in the Chuck and Josh Schwartz vein where the big gathering was either a part of the denouncement or set up for the episode.  But instead of going the more pedestrian route of having a big fight be the climax, it was the dinner that brought everything to a head.

So why am I complaining that they were too subtle?



Because they were.  Because the only real complaint that I or any of the number of reviewers online have had is that the return of the Intersect to Chuck's head was too easy and happened too soon.  But while the latter might be the case, I don't think the former is.

I think that Chuck getting the Intersect back -- and it apparently working fine -- overshadowed my initial response to what happened when Chuck first flashed again: it got blurry.  The camera zoomed in on him and got blurry, and effect we haven't seen before when Chuck flashes.

Also of note is the fact that Chuck willed himself to know kung-fu.  Up until now, the Intersect controlled when Chuck flashed depending upon the situation.  It would appear that Chuck now controls it, which is in keeping with what Ellie did to fix it -- the "memory problem" that Awesome mentioned.

The question, of course, is how this is going to impact the stories we get from here on out.  On one level, it will make Chuck a better spy, and potentially make his flashes less necessary: he will actually remember his abilities after he flashes, meaning he won't need to "get" kung-fu from the Intersect once he's already used it.  The potential problem there, however, is whether or not a human brain can know all the things that the Intersect does without putting that information back when it's done.  I would guess no.

Since they were so vague about the new Intersect, this also means that Frost's "Your father never wanted you to see this" is still in play.  I stand by my claim that there was more to Chuck's dad than we knew, and that perhaps his feelings about Chuck being a spy were a relatively new development.  Perhaps, after Chuck absorbed all that information when he was a little kid, Chuck's dad actually wanted Chuck to be a spy, only to change his mind as he learned more and more about his wife's activities.

Regardless, I don't believe the ending we got to this episode is as concrete as it seemed, and I would expect some interesting complications to arise from the Intersect 3.0.

I just can't believe I have to wait until January to find out what they are.

Chuck 4.8 Review (spoilers)

Well played, Chuck, well played.

I was expecting a self-contained episode.  I was expecting Chuck to figure out why he wasn't able to access the Intersect and to be back in form by the end of the hour.  But that's not at all what I got.  What I got was enjoyable and opened the doors for a lot of different paths for them to take going forward.

Picking Up the Pieces

The theoretical story I concocted for last season involved Chuck slowly going insane because of the Intersect, to the point where it was controlling his actions (he would eventually kill someone because of it, then completely shut down and end up in a coma).  They tapped into this a bit last season, but I always like it got the short end of the stick, that there was much more they could do with the mental implications of the Intersect.  Part of that, I assumed, was due to the fact that they introduced this angle during the extra 6 episodes NBC gave them last season, so most of what they covered then had to be brief.

It would appear that the writers were just as eager to dig into Chuck's head as I was.



I particularly liked how they tied this into Chuck's dependence on Sarah, as well as Sarah's view of Chuck as a spy.  While the details might be extraordinary, the issues themselves are very true to most relationships.  Even better is the fact that these problems stem from the very core of what Chuck and Sarah are looking for in each other.  Chuck has always relied on Sarah for strength, as she is a focused, together person, which Chuck has never really been.  On the other hand, Chuck has a relatively normal life, one that Sarah has always wanted, at least in theory.  Chuck being a spy undercuts that part of her attraction to him and, in many ways, it seems like she considers his actions to be more like playing a spy than actually being a spy.  Sarah holds on to this idea, as if the fact that's only playing keeps him from becoming something she doesn't want him to be.

So how do they fix this?  Clearly, Chuck has to stand on his own two feet, like Agent Rye said, and Sarah needs to accept that Chuck really is a spy, and that he's doing it for the right reasons.  But that's only how they fix their relationship.  How do they fix the Intersect?

About halfway through this episode I kind of mumbled my theory to my wife: Chuck has to save Sarah.  We have seen Sarah save Chuck repeatedly over the last four years and it looks like, from the preview for next week, that we are going to see Sarah do it again.  But I think the rock that Chuck needs to life will only be moved if he sees Sarah in real danger and has to act to save her.  He might have done it once before in Season Three, but he probably considers it something of a fluke, particularly compared to all the times she's saved him.

Also, there's something to be said for their emotional attachment making them better spies, a lesson that Chuck, at least, is trying to figure out.

Agent Rye

Rob Riggle was great.  It's not often a one episode guest star gives the show so much, but he was just fantastic.  He was just so sincere and enthusiastic about each decision.  Every time he came up with a way to up the stakes, I laughed.  Heck, his introduction alone was great, and a nice nod towards the fact that Chuck, even without the Intersect, has learned a few things (and has guts).

Operation: Geta Greta

Speaking of guest stars, Summer Glau took on the role of Greta during a week which saw easily the most substantially part of the rotating CIA agent.  Glau's come a long way since being a ballet dancer in an episode of Angel.  This was a good story for the Buy Morons and those of us who watched Firefly appreciated the tiny shout out the writers threw in (when Casey tells Greta he doesn't know what kind of crew she used to work with).

The Loose Ends

While this episode was sufficiently packed, Ellie and Awesome were noticeably absent.  I realize that a show like this can't have all the secondary characters in every episode, but given the events of the last episode, it's something of a hole.  What does Ellie know?  Does she think her mom is still in CIA custody?  Does she know she betrayed Chuck and blew up their old house?

I have a feeling we're not going to get any of those answers next week, but episode 4.10 is supposed to be a Thanksgiving episode...

What Will They Do?

Digging into Chuck's brain gives the writers a lot of room to play with.  I've ever heard it suggested by some that Chuck will get some kind of amnesia and/or forget who Sarah is.  I find all of that kind of a stretch, but it would be interesting to see a substantial change to Chuck.  Then again, we should be able to assume that we'll get a twist with this, if for not other reason than...

We still don't know his mom was talking about.

Remember, Frost used the device on Chuck and said "Your father never wanted you to see this."  Burying the Intersect isn't really something his father would have had a problem with, so it stands to reason that Frost did something else to Chuck, something that has become the metaphorical rock Rye was talking about.  But what is it?



We're 1/3 of the way through the season and things are starting to pick up -- it will be interesting to see if they've changed the structure of the season because of the additional episodes.

Chuck 4.7 Review (spoilers)

This week's Chuck was easily one of the best of the season, and laid out some great potential storylines for the newly expanded season.  I had one, non-show related complaint, though.

Hyperbole Gone Wrong

I follow Chuck co-creator Josh Schwartz on Twitter.  His lead up to this episode involved saying something along the lines of "the best episode of Chuck in two years."

You can probably imagine how excited I got at such a statement.  After all, the last two years would encompass the phenomenal finale to Season Two, and the episode before it, for that matter, perhaps two of the best episodes of Chuck in the show's relatively short history.  So I was expecting something of that magnitude.

I did not get it.



That's not to say I didn't really like the episode, it just didn't live up to the extreme hype.  Honestly, I really wish Schwartz hadn't made such a claim, as I think I would have enjoyed the episode more had I not had any expectations.

The Sound and the Fury

Perhaps the biggest problem in this episode wasn't story related, it was technical.  For whatever reason, the sound was messed up for a big portion of the episode.  Since my wife has more knowledge about these things, she was able to explain it to me.  Basically, they had to dub in the dialogue after the fact.  At some point they must have lost the original audio.  But it was painfully obvious that was the case.  Everyone sounded like they were talking in a cave and at various points their words came a split second before their mouths moved.

The sound problem completely kicked me out of the show.  It only became more noticeable when the sound returned to normal -- when Casey and Morgan entered the bank.  It was like my ears had just popped and I could hear everything clearly again.  I realize that on a weekly show, time is an issue, but I just couldn't get over how bad this was.

That Said...

It really was a good episode.  While Frost had come across as two dimensional last week, this week we started to get a feel for her character and, not surprisingly, she seemed more fleshed out.  Linda Hamilton can be disturbingly intense, but she did a fantastic job this week of taking even the smallest moments and loading them with meaning.  When she comes clean to Ellie, you know this means she's going to end up betraying her children.  You just know it, and you know it because you can tell that she's winning Ellie over.  But you also get a sense that this is a woman who knows how to tell a story, so while what she's saying might feel real, it makes you suspicious.

Every scene between Chuck and his mom was great.  The two established a rapport like nothing we've seen on this show and it made for great comedy.  Honestly, they are making great use of Frost so far and it seems like that will continue, given what happens in this episode.

This was another episode where I felt like they took a Morgan joke too far.  Dropping the ear piece into the glass of water was funny, but his bumbling in the bathroom was frustrating, particularly given that there was no reason for him to wash it off in the sink to begin with.  He'd dropped it in water; all he had to do was dry it off.

I also don't really buy that Casey's gung ho to take Morgan into a gun fight like that.  That's stretching things a bit far.

On the other hand, the writers handled our other couple extremely well.  I had concerns about how they were going to pick up after last week, but I shouldn't have worried.  The Chuck and Sarah fight played out nicely and wasn't as overblown as it easily could have been.  In fact, it ended up being less a fight and more both of them just feeling bad, which was nice.  The fight scene that marked the climax of their fight was also well done, a nice tip of the hat to how well they work together in the field as parallel to how they work off the field.

Really, it was the women of this show that had the best moments.  The scene when Sarah brings Frost to see Ellie was fantastic and it was great to see the three women in Chuck's life together like that, all coming at the situation from different angles, yet all sharing the same information.  In fact, kudos to the writers again for letting Ellie in on nearly everything.

Of course, it would be impossible to talk about the highlights of this episode without mention one Mr. Timothy Dalton.  He was brilliant.  I believed him as Tuttle and I believed him as Volkoff.  His appearance as Volkoff was appropriately triumphant.

If I have one problem with the final scenes it's that Chuck and Sarah let Frost roam the underground headquarters on her own.  That's just not something Sarah would have allowed and it was incredibly glaring.  There's a difference between showing Chuck she trusts him and being needless careless.

The Ending

So what happened at the end?  Do we really have to wait 2 weeks to find out, thanks to that d-bag W.?  Will we even find out then, or will this play out over many weeks?

I think it will play out over many weeks, yes.  And I'm going to throw out a few thoughts.

Frost says that what she shows Chuck is something his father never wanted him to see.  Since his father tried to help him get the Intersect out of his head, it would seem odd if that's what Frost did.  But maybe not...

A better theory, perhaps, is that Frost loaded him with all the secrets about his family, a theory that would hold with the letter Ellie got.  The implication at the end of this episode and in next week's episode is that Chuck is just too emotionally frazzled to get the Intersect to work, or perhaps he doesn't know how to trigger it with the new information in there.

Going with the first theory, however, would lead to Chuck's quest for an Intersect.  This would be interesting on a number of levels, not the least of which is the fact that, on paper, Chuck's probably not the guy the CIA/NSA/whoever would want to have the Intersect.  That being the case, would they really help him find another one?  Or would they help him to acquire one so they could load the supercomputer into other agents?

And where would they even find one?  Under Ellie's seat in the Mustang, perhaps?  And, if that's the case, could Ellie be the one to ultimately determine what happens to it and her brother?  Imagine a scenario in which things are bad -- really bad, and only an Intersect loaded Chuck can save the day and there's Ellie, torn between her desire to keep her brother safe and helping him save the day.  In many ways, this would bring the initial storyline full circle, as Ellie would now have a role in her brother being the Intersect and would, in theory, have to come to terms with what he does.

Still, that's all based upon the assumption that Chuck's dad never wanted him to have the Intersect out of his head for fear he'd try to become an agent on his own, which seems like a stretch.  Then again, perhaps we haven't learned the last of Stephen J. Bartowski's secrets...

Chuck 4.6 Review (spoilers)

I suppose it should come as no surprise that a Halloween themed episode of Chuck would be so good.  What was surprising is how well they managed to balance each aspect of the show, even when they had such big guest stars and heavy plot points going on.  I find that a nice balance of spy stuff, Buy More stuff, and home life are what make the best Chuck episodes, and this one delivered on all fronts.

Litmus Test

I think it's probably clear that I'm fairly biased when it comes to this show, so it's hard for me to really look at it objectively when it comes to each episode.  I kind of use my wife's reactions as a litmus test for whether an episode appeals to those who don't come up with potential storylines in their head.

This was probably the first time all season that my wife laughed out loud at an episode of Chuck, or at least laughed out loud in a sustained way.  All because of "Otters!"

The Double Cross

This episode was loaded with ambiguity, yet the one clear double cross didn't come from Chuck's mom, but from his girlfriend.  I wasn't sold on this moment, but could be depending upon how it's handled in the next episode.



I think they need to make it clear that Sarah was at fault here or, more specifically, that she overreacted.  One of the points that was hammered home in the episode was how extraordinarily objective Chuck was, or at least realistic.  There really wasn't a lot of flying off the handle on Chuck's part.  Presented with the facts at hand after the set up went wrong, he admitted that his mom was one of the bad guys.  It didn't seem like Chuck would have a problem at least staying neutral if all the evidence was laid out before him.  The fact that Sarah was unwilling to even give him that chance, and instead resorted to a masked abduction, is an indication that she thinks he's far more emotional than he is -- or has been.

Then again, maybe it's what Sarah is hoping for, deep down inside.  She's still reacting as if he's the Chuck who felt overwhelmed by the spy world, not the Chuck who willingly took on the Intersect 2.0.

If that is the case and they play it like that next week, it could be really great.  We've already seen Chuck come up with a plan last week that was advanced for a spy of his experience.  Technically speaking, the Intersect 2.0 is supposed to turn its host into the ultimate spy...a better spy than Sarah.  That would create an interesting dynamic between the two of them as Chuck continues to get better and better.

If they are going that way with this season, they've done a nice job of setting it up.  In the premiere we see Chuck successfully infiltrate Volkoff Industries where Sarah and Casey fail -- and then he proceeds to beat up a bunch of armed men in the span of a few seconds.  In fact, the quest for his mom could turn Chuck into the spy he was meant to be, or at least the spy the Intersect was supposed to be in.

And perhaps Sarah knows this, which is why she wants to keep some semblance of control over the situation.  Deep down inside, she has to be worried about it.  Even Casey must know, perhaps evidenced by his seeming adoption of Morgan as his new apprentice.  Casey doesn't have anything to teach Chuck anymore, and whether the big guy admits it or not, he enjoyed it.  Enter the fearless Bearded One, who also happens to be dating Casey's daughter, and who can fill the pupil void that Chuck left.

The Missing Scene

The double cross wasn't the real cliffhanger of this episode; that was the final scene when Chuck tells Ellie that their mom isn't going to show because she's a spy.  And then Chuck fans everywhere tried to figure out what happened after that (which I'm sure we'll find out next week).

So how much does Chuck tell Ellie?  How does he explain how he knew their mom was a spy?  If he comes completely clean, does she get mad at him or accept that he went back on his word for a good reason?  Does he explain that their mom could be a double/triple/quadruple agent?  And that she's currently being held by the CIA?  And does she, in turn, tell Awesome all this?  I can't wait to find out.

25%

How crazy is it to think that we've only reached the 25% mark of this season, when just a week ago I wondered if we had hit the midpoint of the show's last year?  Thanks to Chuck's hardcore following, the show has managed to hold steady in the ratings while everything else on TV (it is insane how bad it's gotten) has watched their number plummet each week.  Chuck now sits right around the middle of the pack for NBC, and between the fact that it's less expensive to produce than other hour long shows and it has an advertising deal with a major company (I do, indeed, love Subway), it could be the most cost efficient show on NBC, bringing in the highest return.  While holding steady might be enough, if we could just crack the 2.0 threshold in ratings for the rest of the year, I think Chuck might even have a decent shot at getting a 5th season, which is something I never expected to write.

Chuck Should Go Rogue (and a brief 4.5 review)

Chuck vs. The Couch Lock

I don't actually have much to say about this episode.  It was easily the best of the self-contained episodes we've gotten so far.  I realize that's probably odd coming from someone who just criticized the show for having a ridiculous climax, but I didn't really have a problem with how this episode played out.  I think it's the simple fact that Morgan is, when it comes to the spy world, comedic relief, makes the ridiculous situations play out better simply because they're expected.  I suppose there's also the fact that the threat in this episode was never played up to be overly grave in any way, as it was just three guys who wanted to steal some gold, as opposed to the coup of a nation with nuclear weapons.

It's always interesting to see Chuck react to the fact that he's becoming desensitized to his life as a spy.  Yes, using Casey as bait wasn't really a big deal, given that Casey probably would have suggested it on his own had he thought of it, but the fact that Chuck took initiative (and, in Beckman's eyes, it was completely selfless initiative) and came up with a plan on his own is a nice nod to his evolution as a spy.  Besides, it's also nice to see Chuck in control, although I have some thoughts on that later.

Of course the big moment in the episode came with the phone call we'd all been waiting for.  The earlier confirmation that Chuck's mom is not such a good person was handled well and, of course, puts Chuck into a particularly Chuck-like bind: believe the worst of his mom based upon the facts, or believe the best of her and walk in blindly.  I'm guessing he'll pick an option in the middle while leaning towards the latter, because he is Chuck, after all.  And if his father left for valid reasons, then his mom could have, too, right?

The Future

I said up above that it's nice to Chuck in control.  I think they should do the exact opposite with the rest of the 24 episode season.

I want Chuck to go rogue.

Now, it's pretty clear that this would be an easy story to put together.  Chuck finds out his mother is a bad guy, she says she's taking off but, after seeing Chuck in action, would love to have him be a part of her organization, Chuck agrees thinking, in that completely naive way that Chuck does, that he can convince her over time to see the light.  And, of course, everyone would be against this idea -- or better yet, some or all of them would have no idea it was a plan at all.

Because, really, it's Chuck's idealism that ultimately gets him into trouble, but it's also what gives this show the angst that we all love.

Oh, yeah, and they should bring Jill back.

We haven't seen Jill since Chuck let her go towards the end of season two.  She couldn't go back to the Ring (or Fulcrum, as that branch was called) and she was still wanted by the U.S. government.  But if the Ring recruited her, it was because she had talent, talent that would eventually draw the attention of other organizations like, say, the one Chuck's mom leads.

Imagine that: Chuck "goes rogue" and when the smoke clears and he's with his mom at whatever base that can't be discovered, she says "let me introduce you to one of my top agents" and BAM!  There's Jill.  End scene, end act, end episode.

So now we have Chuck, in over his head and pretending to be one of the bad guys, working alongside Jill, his ex, the woman who broke his heart, the last woman he loved before Sarah.  Suddenly there's not just a professional divide between Chuck and Sarah, but an emotional one as well -- and it's almost entirely organic (unlike the Shaw business last season).

You know, I can just imagine Ellie and Awesome desperately trying to get Sarah and Casey to let them be more involved in the search for Chuck and the lines that blur even more because of his absence.  Gah! Imagine the episode where it becomes official that Chuck is gone, when Beckman has named him a wanted man.  Imagine it ending with Sarah lying in the bed that, until recently, they shared together, looking longingly at a picture of Chuck.

See?  This is why this show means so much to me.  It's not just because I enjoy watching, but because it makes me want to write for it.  I just love it that much.

So if anyone knows Josh Schwartz, tell him to give me a call.  I'll work for free.

Chuck 4.4 Review (spoilers)

I really, really enjoyed 3/4 of this episode.  It brought the funny in a way that has been missing so far this season.  The fact that I managed to skip doing a review for 4.3 should pretty much tell you what I thought of it; it could have been the first episode of Chuck during which I didn't let out a single chuckle.  But 4.4 made up for that, and would have been the first truly great episode of the season if not for a really, really awful climax.

Heavy Cheese

As crazy as I am about this show, I know that Chuck isn't real.  But there are, at the very least, levels of ridiculousness on this show.  The simple fact that none of the spies just kill people, instead choosing to capture Chuck and his team, should be a good indication that "realness" is not a priority.  This isn't the Bourne movies.

But there are times when Chuck pushes the boundaries well past the acceptable level of whimsy.  It pushes so far past, that it turns into grade A American cheese.  And that's what the climax of this episode was: cheesy. It was painfully cheesy.  Even worse, it was heavy handed cheese.  Sarah and Chuck need to talk about their relationship -- what a coincidence, so does the former dictator of a fictional country and his supposedly communist wife!  Hey, the only way to fix this is by having Chuck walk in and get everyone to talk about their feelings.  The fact that we didn't get a shot of Casey going "ugh" at some point in that scene just underscored how awful it was.

I'm fine with some ridiculousness now and again.  But it was just too far gone in this episode, and far too fabricated and forced for the sake of the other plot line.

Old Is New Again

I think it's safe to say that this episode was anything but new viewer friendly.  Granted, this isn't a great thing for a show that's in need of new viewers (more on that later), but the Costa Gravas set up from last season pays off nicely in this episode.  A lot of the humor stems from Casey's past as the Angel of Death and it almost always works, but it obviously wouldn't for someone brand new to the show.

And, yeah, I think the Generalisimo is funny.  I can't help it. "In Costa Gravas, we revolution, but then we party."

From the get go I thought this was going to be a good one.  Chuck/Sarah, Awesome/Ellie double dates are almost always entertaining, and a vacation in which Awesome would be recognized as a hero was even better.  That statue was priceless.  And it's always entertaining to see Chuck and Sarah on a mission together these days -- I really can't get enough of that.  I know I sound like a broken record, but I really love their dynamic. Chuck's "no, I didn't flash, really, I just want to be on vacation with you" bit was actually pretty nice and worked well on me.  I like that Chuck can still be a reluctant spy from time to time.

Speaking of dynamics between two people, the Morgan/Casey show continues to get better and better.  They did a really nice job with it last season and so far I really like the way they're handling the Morgan/Alex relationship.  The scene at Casey's place was really entertaining -- the advice from Big Mike was just as good, too.  Honestly, Morgan's creating a nice little reality of his own on the show which I'm really enjoying, although I realize some of that is to the detriment of screen time for Jeffster.

The coup was obvious, of course, but the nuclear angle was a good one.  It was also great to see Chuck engage in some spy action in front of Ellie -- it's something they never really addressed after last season.  It's also something I've wondered about everyone on the show: how much do they all know?  We know that Morgan has the full story, but do Awesome and Ellie know about the Intersect in Chuck's head?  Do they know how he became a spy?  That Jill is/was a Fulcrum/Ring agent?  That Bryce Larkin wasn't really a bad guy after all?  I know it would most likely make for bad TV, but I would love an entire episode in which Chuck just explains everything to the others.

Climax notwithstanding, I also really liked the structure of this episode.  I liked that the first half felt like an episode on its own, and how Sarah and Chuck were tasked to return to Costa Gravas.  It's nice to be reminded on the show that Team Bartowski also happens to be the top spy team the CIA and NSA have.  And this episode was a good example of why that is, given that Chuck flashed on the weapons system, Casey gave them intel, Sarah snapped off the pictures, etc.  It was good to see the team working like an actual spy team, which is perhaps another reason why the climax didn't work for me.

And, of course, we finally got the Chuck/Ellie scene that I'd been waiting for.  While not as clear as I was hoping it would be, at least it set things in motion.  At least Chuck admitted he was looking for their mother, so he can claim his CIA work is completely related to that, which, of course, it isn't.  I did find it strange that, when Ellie suggested there was no reason their mother could give to justify leaving, Chuck didn't point out that their father had left them and his reasons were pretty darn good.



Season of Previews

If nothing else, this season has had damn fine previews.  I was really excited for 4.3 based on the preview, but was ultimately let down.  I was really excited for 4.4 by the preview, and was more or less happy with it.  Yet again I'm excited for another episode by a preview.  Next week looks like it will be a lot of fun.

Chuck 4.2 Review (spoilers)

Before I get into talking about my favorite television show, let's take a cold, hard, dose of reality, shall we?  The odds of Chuck continuing beyond this season are very, very slim; there aren't many shows currently on network television that get lower ratings than Chuck.  So consider every episode we get to be something of a final countdown, although I think the show is in a good place and on a good overall storyline to come to a satisfying conclusion.

The only real solution I could see is NBC moving the show to Friday nights with the hope that its very loyal fan base follows.  On Friday nights, Chuck gets god like numbers.  But I don't know if a) NBC would even bother with that (although there's going to be an opening soon, I believe) and b) if all of Chuck's 6 million-ish viewers would make the move.  Not all of them would have to, of course, given the ratings wasteland that is Friday nights.

Anyway, just something to keep in mind as we go through the season.  As much as I loved the second season finale (perhaps one of my favorite episodes of Chuck ever), I really, really hope Schwartz and Fedak don't throw caution to the wind again and give us a cliffhanger.

Am I Watching the Wrong Josh Schwartz Show?

Truly, I was expecting at least one Gossip Girl joke in an episode of Chuck that spent so much time at runway shows.  If any happened, I missed them, and if they didn't, I'm a little disappointed;  The OC joke was one of the best in Chuck's brief history.

As a self contained episode, there isn't much to say.  I get a little worried when the show stretches the limits of disbelief like, for example, with the "tranq gloves."  While I know Chuck live in an exaggerated world, it works best when that exaggeration is played for laughs.  And perhaps that was the intention of the "tranq gloves," when Chuck gets into his fight with Lou Ferrigno, but it fell flat for me.

And while I appreciated the tension created by Sarah and Chuck facing off against a fashion model/spy, Karolina Kurkova isn't much of an actress, and there were moments when that was painfully obvious.  It might not have been as noticeable on other shows, but the main cast always brings the acting thunder.

Window Dressing

None of the above really mattered, aside from the banter between Chuck and Sarah and what was, I believe, their first official mission together (sans Casey) since becoming a couple (yes, I know, there was that one last season with the older spy couple, but they were still on shaky ground then).  I said it before and I'll say it again, the chemistry between these two is so great that even the weakest of storylines is enjoyable.  You can put them into any situation and gold will come out of it.

Chuck and Sarah weren't the couple of the hour, of course: that honor went to Jeff and Lester.  I had wondered how they were going to bring those two back and this was a decent was to do it.  I'm not sure how they're going to handle the fact that they're exposing so many civilians to a CIA base, though.  Granted, they're fairly dumb civilians, but someone's going to realize something is up.  I do hate to see Beckman go, but hopefully she'll stay in the area.

The Search For Mom

If it hadn't been for the preview we got at the end of last week's episode, I'd probably be really mad about the "hiding being an agent from Ellie" bit.  The fact that I do know that it will end, though, has me rather loving it.  Why?  Because it seems like the conversation that will finally get Chuck to reveal the truth to Ellie will actually be instigated by her.

This is actually a pretty wonderful way to tackle the story, particularly when paralleled with Chuck finding their dad.  The simple fact that Chuck did find their father is only going to give fuel to Ellie's fire, but at the same time she has to know that Chuck only found their dad because he was a spy, and that only a spy could find their mom.  It's a great dilemma to place Ellie in, that she wants to keep her family safe, yet still wants her mom back as she's about to become a mother herself.

I Love It When Chuck Looks Like A Bad Ass

Next week looks like it's going to be a good one.  Obviously, it's going to be cool to see someone come after Chuck for taking them down.  But I also like the way they're playing the Chuck/Sarah situation.  It's not entirely serious, nor is it meant to be.  The preview makes it look like Chuck had no intention of ending up on a knee with a ring in his hand, yet, of course, he finds himself in that situation.  It's fun to watch.  After all, Chuck has spent most of his life being Joe Average, a guy who figured he'd end up getting married and having kids some day.  Sarah, on the other hand...not so much.  As long as they continue to play this particular issue for laughs (albeit awkward ones), I'm on board.  I just hope they don't amp it up too quickly.

All in all a decent episode of Chuck, if not a great one.  I have a feeling next week will be the first "that was fantastic" episode of this short season.

Chuck 4.1 Review (spoilers)

"Why would she?"

I have become convinced that creators of shows should either a) write all the episodes (ala Aaron Sorkin) or b) not write any episodes.  The initial basis for this opinion came from Battlestar Galactica, a show with a staff full of great writers, many of whom, I have to imagine, had to have found fault with creator Ron Moore's script for the series finale.  Working under that assumption, then, it's an easy trip to figure that none of said great writers said anything to Moore about the awfulness of what he'd written or, if they did, they were shot down, as Moore was one of their bosses, after all.

I like to think that the writing room on a TV show is less dictatorial than that, so I choose to think that the great writers on the staff simply choose not to say anything at all, for fear of insulting the guy who pays them.

This leads me to last night's season premier of Chuck, written by co-creator Chris Fedak and featuring the second most painful contrivance in Chuck history.

On two separate occasions in last night's episode, Chuck states that he isn't telling Sarah about his quest for his mother because she would try to stop him.

This would be the same Sarah that spent much of three years being a spy with him, and at least six weeks of last season embracing his role as a spy.  This is the same Sarah that involves him in dangerous activities for things that mean much less to Chuck than his family.  This is the same Sarah who loves Chuck and is no longer afraid to say it.

So, in the writers' room, when that script was read and Chuck said (for the first of two times) that Sarah would try to stop him, the question someone (ANYONE) would have asked is: "Why would she?"

Because she wouldn't.  No, she would help him.  There wouldn't even be hesitation on her part.  In fact, the only way to prevent Sarah from jumping right in to help would be by, say, manufacturing a horrible excuse that was out of character for pretty much everyone.

Now, sure, you could chalk it up to Chuck being stupid when he made such an assumption about Sarah.  And while that's really flimsy in and of itself, it's also taken off the table when Sarah actually agrees with Chuck that she would have tried to stop him.

Again, "Why would she?"

Because it served the plot.  And I hate inorganic elements that are forced into a story for the sake of servicing plot.  It's always obvious and it's always jarring and it makes the show seem bad and, even worse, the writers either willfully ignorant or of the belief that their audience is stupid.

Deja Vu

Name the Chuck premiere: Chuck is out of the spy game, the team is broken up, and Chuck and Morgan no longer work at the Buy More.  But, by the end of the episode, Chuck is back in, the team is back together, and Chuck and Morgan are back to work at the Buy More.

Last night's episode?  No, that was the season three premiere.  And, as I said last season, it is a Josh Schwartz trope, something he began with The OC.  Each premiere becomes a throwaway episode because it establishes a status quo that it completely flips by the end of the episode, when it could have just started off that way.  And while this season's premiere didn't include the horror that was the train station scene played over and over again, it still felt like a wasted opportunity to do more.

For a show that is surely on its last 13 episodes, treading water for an episode really hurts.  Even worse, I can't imagine last night's frantic pace did much in the way of attracting new viewers, something even more painful considering how much press the show following Chuck got.

Not All Bad

I know it seems like I'm being harsh, but I really care about this show and I want it to be around for a long time.  I also tend to see the flaws in it because they stick out like a sore thumb.  They stick out like a sore thumb because they're surrounded by gold (how about that for mixing similes).  Even the worst episode of Chuck is still better than almost everything else on television.

What did I love?  I loved the scenes in Moscow.  Cliche as it might have been, everything from Chuck's "death" on was great.  Sarah's reaction was great.  Casey's reaction was great.  Chuck being a bad ass is always great.  Even better, was Casey's reaction when they knew Chuck was alive, the way he was almost bragging about Chuck's bad assery.  That was all great.

The second sexting scene.  By my count, there were four, which was probably one too many.  The initial introduction of the idea was funny, because Chuck and Morgan are almost always funny together.  The second time it comes up -- this time between Chuck and Sarah -- was comedy gold.  The third time, when Sarah decides to snap some pics, was probably more fanservice than anything else.  The last time, in Moscow, was a bit much, mostly because it went on for so long.  It was mildly amusing at first, but seemed forced as it went on.  Also, just how talented are Sarah's toes?  And what are the odds an iPhone gets reception in that place?

Chuck and Sarah were great.  While I loved the "will they/won't they" dymaic of the first two seasons (and loathed in in the third season), it was clear from the last six episodes of last season that they can really work as a couple.  Their relationship actually adds to the show without taking anything away.  It's a testament to the characters that the show hasn't lost anything with the end of that romantic tension, and a testament to the show that it doesn't need that to survive.

Linda Hamilton is going to be great as Chuck's, particularly since we really don't know which end of the spy spectrum she's going to fall on.  If nothing else, we know she's not afraid to kill people, but then again, neither is Sarah.  It sets up a nice dynamic, as Chuck's dad was a computer nerd who married a spy, and Chuck is a computer nerd who's dating one.  I can't imagine that Chuck's reunion with his mom is going to be nearly as happy as the one with his father was.

The new Buy More is fantastic, even without the Buy Morons, although I'm looking forward to seeing how they fit in.  Only good things can come from having more General Beckman on the show and her scenes with Chuck were great.  I'm looking forward to more of that.

The Best For Last

This will sound bad, but the best part of last night's premiere was the ending...or what came after the ending, rather.  The preview for this season was fantastic and hinted at what appeared to be some great stories.  I am thrilled that Chuck is going to tell Ellie what's going on.  I can understand why he didn't tell her in this episode, but I was going to be really annoyed if we returned to Chuck lying to his sister again.  And, as I mentioned, Chuck's mom doesn't seem to be so nice.

So, yeah, not great, but good enough for now, particularly since it looks like it's only going to get better.

Chuck 3.11 Review (spoilers)

I love Chuck. It's the show I look forward to the most every week. It has the blend of comedy, drama, and even some action that I like in my TV shows. Even at its worst, there are elements of every episode that I enjoy, which means I have a hard time imaging what it would take for me to stop watching the show all together...

...other than cancellation, of course.

And Chuck is, once again, running the risk of that. This most recent episode dropped it down to a 1.9/5 (people smarter than I can explain that, I just know that it's not good). Chuck had been dropping slowly up until the Olympics, but managed to jump up again when it returned, only to plummet very quickly. On the plus side, all ratings are down, so many are pointing to Spring Break as the source of the drop.

Still, I have a feeling that Chuck will be late renewal as a mid-season replacement for 11 episodes, and that's only because NBC is a god awful network.

So why is this happening? Why are so many people bailing on Chuck? And how was this episode emblematic of what's happening?

Allow me to explain it in two points:

1) There's no forward momentum.

By this point in the season last year, Chuck had some semblance of an bigger storyline. We'd already dug into Chuck's past and met Jill in a multi-episode story that had real impact on Chuck, and on the show as a whole. It also set the seeds for what was to come during the course of the season. For that matter, we'd also seen the return of Brice, yet another character who would return later in the season. All of this went to establishing the season, while also suggesting that we needed to stay alert, because anything could happen. Chuck -- and the audience -- had no idea who they could trust and who was connected to the spy world.

So far this season, we've had no real multi-episode story lines, aside from a cliffhanger that lead to the Awesome-centric episode. We've also been given absolutely no sense of urgency. Sarah and Chuck's will they/won't they story line has never been the focus of the show and never should be. We shouldn't keep watching for that; it should be an added bonus. But a show that had so many twists and turns last year has had surprisingly few of them this year. Chuck and Sarah breaking up isn't a plot twist given their history. Morgan finding out? Entertaining, yes, but it does nothing to create a sense of urgency -- neither does Casey losing his job.

What's particularly frustrating about this is that they've danced around a main storyline: how the new Intersect works. But they've danced around it so much that they've managed to water it down. Last week, they introduced an experimental drug that kills emotions which would, in theory, be the ultimate weapon for Chuck. But as quickly as it was introduced, it's been forgotten, not unlike Chuck's near murder of a Ring agent.

For as much as Chuck talks about wanting to be a spy, he's either been completely dense about it or they're cutting important scenes. It's been made clear to him on multiple occasions what the criteria is for him to be a spy, yet every week he seems to be surprised by it. From the start of the season, he knew that controlling his emotions to access the Intersect was job 1 for being a spy, yet we've never seen him agonize over this or even make decisions about it. We're TOLD it plenty, but we never SEE it.

Even more frustrating is the fact that Chuck continually claims he wants to be a spy, but he never explains how he can rationalize that. For a man who is so concerned about his sister, he never flinches when there's talk about sending him to Rome to assume a new identity so he can be a spy. How does he justify that?

I understand that they want it to seem like Chuck has changed, but he's still Chuck. At the very least, we should see the battle between who he is and what he's becoming, and it would be nice to see the part the new Intersect is playing amplified. That would unify the season and create some sense of suspense. I want to go into each week wondering what is going to happen in that head of Chuck's, but I don't, because I've never been given a reason to believe he'll act any differently than he normally does.

For a show about spies, there's been very little intrigue. I don't feel like the stakes are raised from week to week. I don't feel like there's any real drama.

2) Shaw.

I've noticed that most fans of this show kind of hate Shaw. My problem with that is that I think the character -- or at least the idea of him -- is entirely necessary for the show at this juncture. He is, in fact, essential.

Chuck has a desire to be a real spy and Shaw isn't just a real spy, but an expert on the Ring. He can push Chuck in ways that Sarah and Casey can't. He's also completely shut off and unemotional. He's all business, which is what Chuck is trying to be. Shaw, more so even than Bryce, should have gotten the Intersect.

But all the things that make Shaw a great addition also make him a horrible addition when they decided to create some kind of strange romantic connection between him and Sarah. While I appreciate the idea that Sarah, hurt by Chuck, would look to his polar opposite for comfort, she's also spent all season trying to make sure that Chuck doesn't become Shaw.

In the trailer for next week's episode, Sarah asks Chuck why he's going to go after Shaw by himself. He responds by saying "because I know how much he means to you." To which I responded: "How?"

We have been told fairly regularly over the course of this season that Sarah has feelings for Shaw, yet we never, ever see it. In fact, most of the time we see Shaw doing pretty shitty things to Sarah, like using her to set up Chuck's Red Test. There is absolutely no chemistry between Sarah and Shaw and, to be perfectly honest, there shouldn't be. Shaw, as a character, shouldn't be engaged in any kind of romantic entanglements, least of all with Sarah. Yet for some reason the writers decided it was a good idea, when it continually fails week after week.

Shaw has become to Chuck what Oliver was to the OC, and that's a shame because that didn't need to happen.

I am hoping to god that the upcoming episode squashes the Shaw/Sarah proposed relationship, and I'm even going so far as to hope that it's revealed that it never really existed to begin with, but was a wall that Sarah fabricated to keep Chuck at bay. That's an explanation that makes sense across the board and would actually save the characters and the storyline.

Let's hope for better ratings this week.

As critical as I might be about some of the things that have gone on this season, I still think Chuck is a great show, and I also think it still has a great deal of potential. I'm just desperate to see it live up to it.

Chuck 3.8 Review (spoilers!)

I'm sure tomorrow I will read that Chuck's ratings have dipped yet again. This isn't an indictment on the quality of the show, but a reflection of my taste in television. I can only imagine that I will yet again take part in a campaign to get a show I love renewed, and I can only imagine that Chuck's future lies on my bookshelf next to the other shows I loved that were canceled before their time.

I enjoyed Chuck's return after the Olympic break, for these 3 reasons:

1) The Buy More was funny
2) The began fixing the disasterous way they ended the last episode
3) Chuck is heading in the direction I was hoping they'd go

I've often felt like the show has been disjointed this season, as if they melding of Chuck's various worlds just didn't gel like they had in the past, so this episode was a nice return to form, even if it was pretty obvious who Gruber's target was (and if it was obvious to me, it should have been obvious to Team Bartowski).

It's been clear so far this season how they took cost cutting steps: they've dropped people from episodes. In the previous two seasons, we never would have gone an entire episode without seeing Morgan or, as has happened so far this season, without seeing Captain Awesome, Ellie, or even Big Mike. This has made the show feel extremely compartmentalized and taken away a lot of what I love about it: the balance between Chuck's many lives.

But even without Morgan this week, we got some of that balance back. Big Mike, Lester, and Jeff were back to form. While all three work as oddities, in this episode they showed part of what's so great about the Buy More setting: they are the peanut gallery for Chuck's life. From Lester wondering how Chuck lands all these beautiful ladies, to Jeff's wonderful analysis of Chuck and Sarah, this was a great week for the Nerd Herd and boss, and probably the best we've seen from them so far this season.

Then, of course, we had Chuck breaking up with Hannah. While I think this is a story that probably should have happened over two episodes, it was good to see. It's not that I have a problem with Hannah in any capacity, it's just that Chuck can't date. That's it. It was an odd choice to have him make this decision based upon his feelings for Sarah, then use his secret life as an excuse. But I thought the scene where he broke it off with Hannah was well done, particularly her comment about being able to spot liars.

I'll be honest, the Sarah/Shaw relationship makes a little bit more sense to me now, at least from Sarah's perspective. She is clearly falling apart and needs someone to talk to, but given her life, she has no one. She can't go to Chuck, obviously, and it's not like Casey's an available shoulder. So enter Shaw, someone she doesn't know and who she can basically make whatever she wants. To a certain extent, I understand what she's doing. It's not rational and I'm fine with that now that they've given it some time to be explained.

What's problematic, though, is that Shaw has absolutely no character. There's no reason even suggested as to why he would be interested in Sarah. In fact, the only information we have on him -- the only vague hint at character -- would suggest that the LAST thing he'd ever do is date a fellow agent. All we know of him is that he's a by the book agent who was engaged to a fellow agent who was killed trying to infiltrate the Ring. What little we do know about Shaw completely contradicts how he's acting now.

While Shaw not being a full realized character (or even a partially realized character) works for Sarah because she's able to talk to him like he's a stranger, it doesn't remotely work for the audience. And that's a big problem, given it looks like he'll be around for a while longer.

Finally, we have yet more hints that Chuck is going to get more and more intense and move further and further towards snapping. I like that they're going to deal with the emotional side effect of his break-up, and wouldn't be surprised to see Chuck completely freak out next week and come close to killing a Ring agent.

I also like the slow boiling bond they've created between Chuck and Casey. Theirs has always been the shallowest -- but funniest -- of relationships on the show, but they've managed to start giving it some depth without taking away any of the humor. Of course it was also nice to see them give Casey a potential future plot point.

I hope this isn't the last we see of Hannah. On one hand, I'd love to see Morgan torn between his loyalty for Chuck and his desire to ask Hannah out. On the other hand, I still feel like she would make great, dramatic cannon fodder. I think a situation in which her life is threatened and Chuck has to reveal himself would be fantastic, and would make for some great television if he was unable to save her even after coming clean.

Last night was a nice return to form for Chuck, and given that next week appears to take place in the Buy More, it looks like we'll see more of the same going forward.

Chuck 3.7 Review (spoilers!)

How does a man go from reviewing the season premiere of a show to reviewing an episode a month later? Well, the answer is in the "why." I had reasons to review the premiere, mostly in an effort to draw attention to the show, not to mention figure out how I felt about the new direction.


So why does this, the final episode of Chuck until the Olympics are over, deserve a review? I think I just answered that in the question (it's the final episode until the Olympics are over). But I also think that the way this episode ended deserves some discussion.


See, I follow Josh Schwartz's Twitter, and one of the few comments he made last night about the show is that this episode seemed to be very controversial to Chuck fans. I can see why that might be the case, given that it ends with the holy couple of Chuck and Sarah actually with other people. But, as a hardcore Chuck fan, I wouldn't call that controversial (and anyone who thinks it is either hasn't watched enough Josh Schwartz shows or hasn't watched enough TV in general). No, I would actually call the ending disingenuous.


Why? Because none of it should have happened.


I don't have a problem with Chuck and/or Sarah dating other people. What I have a problem with is Chuck and/or Sarah dating anyone at all. Sarah giving Chuck her blessing to date Hannah, let alone Sarah discussing a relationship with Shaw, is incongruent with everything this show has done for the last two plus years.

It has been made very, very clear that spies can't date. Heck, it's been in a majority of the episodes. The entire reason Chuck and Sarah had such a difficult time was because of this rule. It's a rule that has gotten them into trouble time and time again.

But you can't keep talking about a rule and just keep breaking it, or else it loses any and all impact.

There is absolutely no way that Sarah, given her history, would let Chuck date Hannah, particularly as the scene comes just after they've announced that Chuck will soon be a solo agent. Chuck is THE spy; no one can do what he can. If anyone has to be bound by these rules it's the Intersect.

And then there's Sarah and Shaw. Even if we ignore the fact that this is the THIRD time this has gone down with Sarah, it's amazing someone hasn't completely defeated her simply by kissing her neck. Oh, and then there's Shaw, who just got his last lady's ring back like two weeks ago -- and that was an on the job romance, too.

In other words, given the way this show has established itself, none of the last five or so minutes of this episode of Chuck should have happened.

Even worse, they could have worked in these dueling relationships without undermining what they've already established.

Imagine Sarah telling Chuck he can't date Hannah, and Chuck react as if she's only saying it because she's jealous. And she very well might be, but she'd also be right and, of course, Chuck would sneak around with Hannah, trying to out smart the spy who taught him.

On the other hand, if they wanted something to happen between Sarah and Shaw, they could have actually spent some time developing it for more than 5 minutes in a single episode.

I don't think the Chuck/Hannah, Sarah/Shaw is a bad storyline necessarily, but I think it was handled badly.

I've more or less enjoyed this season of Chuck so far, but I'm hoping they kick it up a notch after the break (and follow the path I laid out in my last review, of course). I'm beginning to worry, though, as the show is dropping viewers on a regular basis. Let's hope more people return after the Olympics.

Chuck 3.1. and 3.2 Review (spoilers!)

Warning: here there be spoilers! While I'm not going to go into a great deal of detail about the first two episodes in question, I am going to address the general changes to the show, as well as make some wild speculation as to the direction it will go in over the next few months, much of which comes from things learned in the first two episodes of the season. So if you didn't tune in last night, you might want to hold off on reading this.

Also, you should know that my speculation has no concrete evidence, but feels pretty freaking dead on to me, and I'll be happy if I'm right, not just because I get to be right, but because I think it will make for a great storyline.

You have been warned!

Some additional space, as I don't know how far this will format on Facebook...

And some more...

And we're there.

On the surface, the third season premiere of Chuck was about as Josh Schwartzian as you can get. As anyone who has followed his other shows knows, Schwartz has made a habit of upending the status quo at the end of a season, only to re-establish the status quo after only a single episode of the following season. And that seems to be what he's done with Chuck, not that I'm complaining, mind you, as I rather enjoy the status quo on this show.

But he didn't exactly do that.

The Bad

First, my main complaint for the start of the season can be summed up by one word: "Prague."

I realize that they wanted to punch up the drama of Chuck and Sarah's relationship given it had reached a boiling point at the end of last season, but the "Prague incident" just felt forced. Chuck's new abilities were going to cause problems between them -- huge problems, really -- so it seemed unnecessary to add this single, dramatic moment where Chuck had to choose between being a spy and running away with Sarah. It was also a bit nonsensical, as running away with Sarah required going into hiding and changing his identity, something Chuck wouldn't have done given how close he is with his sister. It was a weak, needless, artificial moment of drama that was reference possibly more than the Intersect over the course of the first two hours.

The Bad That Is Actually Good Upon Further Analysis

Aside from "Prague," and the Intersect, the point that was hammered home on a regular basis during Chuck's first two episodes was "feelings." According to what we were told, Chuck's feelings get in the way of the new Intersect in his head. The implication is that Chuck can't use the Intersect if he's being emotional.

I hated this idea and, in fact, thought the opposite idea would have been much better -- the idea that sometimes neurotic Chuck could ONLY use the Intersect if he gave into his emotions.

And then, of course, I realized that they were doing exactly that. Some food for thought:
  1. Chuck accidentally attacks the assassin in the first episode after flashing on kung fu, which is not his intent, and only happens as he's angrily trying to get back into the club
  2. General Beckman informs Sarah that her main assignment is to keep Chuck calm so that he can use the Intersect
  3. A preview clip for this season has Chuck yelling at a woman in the Buy More in her native tongue, learned from the Intersect
  4. Another clip has Chuck kung fu kicking Lester, something Chuck would never do on his own
  5. Another clip has Chuck getting angry with guest start Brandon Routh and apparently punching him
  6. Neither Casey nor Sarah were with Chuck during his training in Prague
  7. General Beckman pleads with a hidden figure named "Shaw," that the Chuck team needs to be told what they're dealing with
What does all this mean? It means that the Intersect has a mind of its own and that it's directly connected to Chuck's emotions. Sarah isn't so much there to keep him calm so the Intersect will work, as much as she's there to keep him calm so the Intersect doesn't work through his negative emotions.
This is a great way of reframing the original dynamic of Team Chuck. Sarah and Casey are even more handlers than they were before, and while both are still there to help him, Sarah's focus will now be on keeping him calm and focused, while Casey will help train him. On the flip side, Sarah is obviously going to have to delve into how she feels for him, while Casey will, as he was originally, be there to put a bullet in his brain if Chuck goes off -- because he IS dangerous.
This also gives some info on the "super" guest stars coming in the future. At some point, they're going to have to decide if Sarah's history with Chuck is helping or hurting her efforts to keep him at ease. One way of testing that is by introducing other agents into the mix, namely another male agent who makes a play for Sarah and another female agent who might have better luck keeping Chuck under control. What's nice about this is that, while we've seen these types of guest stars before, it will be different this time around.
Finally, I think this storyline is going to play itself in a dramatic way, one that will make the initial scene of the first episode all the more significant. Chuck's failure as an agent comes up right away by the simple fact that he's unwilling to shoot someone. The new Intersect will not have the same qualms. I would expect, late in the season, to see a moment where Chuck has to choose whether or not to shot someone, and perhaps lose that fight with the Intersect, then left to figure out whether he made the decision to fire or the computer in his head did.
As I mentioned before, I LOVE this storyline, and I'm looking forward to it (if it happens).
I will admit that I was a little disappointed they didn't make these ideas more prominent, as even a Chuck fan like myself had to piece the above together. I'm worried that anyone tuning in for the first time is going to be bored and see no real future story. But let's hope we get more on that tonight to hook people in.