"Chuck" is back, and I have a review of tonight's episode coming up just as soon as I manserve you...

"We're going to make this proposal happen, for Chuck's sake - and for mine." -Sarah

It's been six weeks since we had a new "Chuck," a busy time period that for me included holidays, composing various year-end lists, screener marathons and press tour. So it wasn't until I popped in my DVD of "Chuck vs. the Balcony" that I realized how much I'd missed the show while it was gone. Never go away again, "Chuck." Ever.

It helped that "Chuck vs. the Balcony" was one of the strongest episodes of season four, particularly in the second half. When it was just Chuck and Morgan obsessing on the perfect proposal, it felt like a familiar joke for the show, albeit one with some funny beats (like Morgan standing in the street with the balloons). But once Sarah took over the sub-mission, things really began to click. Not only is Morgan/Sarah one of the show's more underrated comic combinations, but as with "Chuck vs. the First Fight," Chuck's neuroses about the relationship tend to play better when Sarah's engaged in things in some way. When she's just the beautiful straight woman who has no idea about (or interest in) the latest thing that's making Chuck crazy, Chuck himself can become a little grating. But when Sarah's in the loop and reacting - whether freaking out herself in "First Fight," or stage-managing things without Chuck's knowledge here - it's a lot more fun. And then to add Casey on top of things - and to see that The Colonel is as invested in the proposal as The Magnet - made things even better.

And when we got to the proposal itself, it was every bit the moment that Chuck, and Sarah, and their fans, and the show, wanted it to be: sweet and eloquent and just a little bit endearingly clumsy. A really nice moment for Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski.

On some shows (or even on this show in a previous season), I might have gritted my teeth when the CIA team interrupted the proposal to arrest Sarah. Here, I went with it, because the stars had just been so good, because it's obvious to everyone (including Chuck) what the answer was going to be, and because the later scene in Castle (another stand-out for our two leads, particularly Strahovski) made clear that this isn't some goofy misunderstanding, or contrived attempt to keep them apart or whatever. Sarah has a plan, she's doing something for Chuck - ironically by taking herself away from him for a time in the same way his mother did all those years ago - and at the end of this arc a few weeks from now, I expect them to be back together and all to be well. The writers have my trust again on most things Chuck and Sarah, and the idea of the woman Chuck loves putting herself out there to save his mom is a great idea - and another example, like "Chuck vs. Phase Three," of Sarah getting to be out in front and leading the charge after she was passive for so much of season three.

Good stuff all around - including the first Jeffster! performance of season four - and the biggest positive about the little mid-season hiatus is that we still have 13 more episodes of this season.

Some other thoughts:

• In case you missed it late last week, Fienberg and I went to Josh Schwartz's office to interview him and Chris Fedak for our podcast. There are some audio issues, and also possibly some humor issues, but there's also a lot of good insight from the two guys about the state of the show, where it's going, etc. No major spoilers (they even alluded to what turned out to be this week's Lester plot, but not in a way that would have ruined the episode), and probably too many inside jokes, but there's at least 20 minutes of good stuff in those 40+ minutes.
 
• A funny Lester subplot, and one that did a nice job of taking him vaguely seriously (for at least 3 or 4 seconds) before letting him blow things by revealing his truest self (i.e., Jeffster! frontman) to his arranged fiancee. Transforming the AV room into a "Saskatchewan Hinjew" stronghold (note the presence of both poutine and Manischewitz wine) with shirtles Jeff playing sitar was really funny.

• Though if I'm being obsessive, it does seem like the show keeps changing the nature of Lester's Judaism every season or so. At the start of the series, Lester was studying to convert to the religion. Then later we saw that Lester's bedroom had a picture of him having a traditional bar mitzvah at 13, and now we discover that he's actually from some kind of cultish religious mash-up (shades of Chrismukkah from "The OC"!). If there is a fifth season, I wonder what the backstory will be at that point.

• This week in "Chuck" music: "Brimful of Asha" by Cornershop (Lester's bride-to-be arrives at the Buy More, and later when she dumps Lester), Jeffster! covering Whitesnake's "Is This Love," "When I Go" by Slow Club (Chuck proposes on the balcony) and "The Bottom of the Ocean" by Nico Stai (Sarah tells Chuck about her plan to take down Volkoff).

• Couple of Easter Egg names here: Agent Rosenbaum, the murdered CIA guy from the teaser, was named for "Chuck" alum (and current "V" showrunner) Scott Rosenbaum, while the Chateau LeFranc wine was named for current "Chuck" writer Lauren LeFranc.

• As the show has worked with a reduced budget these last couple of seasons, spending money on the green screen work has clearly not been a priority, as seen again with the view from the titular balcony. As usual with this stuff, it looked better at night.

• Loved Casey's speech about why Chuck shouldn't have been spazzing out about the proposal. Smart, suave man.

• I enjoyed Chuck, Morgan and the snooty French guy going back and forth with the fast rhymes about the different wines. As Tracy Jordan would say, "Wordplay!"

• In the podcast, Fedak talks a bit about whether there will be any changes to the Intersect after the stuff Ellie did via Stephen's old laptop, but for now it seems pretty much the Chuck Fu we're familiar with. I especially liked the scene where Chuck fights the bad guys while keeping the glass of wine from spilling, for for a couple of minutes he's so suave and agile, and then as soon as the fight's over, he's back to being a spaz. It's important that the show not completely lose sight of who Chuck used to be, and Fedak did my heart good by talking about how, even though he has the Intersect back, they want to be sure to do stories in upcoming episodes where he saves the day simply by virtue of being Chuck Bartowski, not because of the computer in his head.

What did everybody else think?