Review: 'Chuck' - 'Chuck vs. the Frosted Tips': The pantsing party
A review of tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I replace my backup juicer...
"I'm going to talk to my friend." -Chuck
Now that's more like it.
As I've been saying for a couple of weeks, it's not that I disliked the first two episodes of the season, but they definitely felt like examples of a show that, as it got closer to the finish line, was moving less quickly and gracefully than it used to. And Morgan with the Intersect, both before and after his heel turn, wasn't working as well as I had hoped last spring.
"Chuck vs. the Frosted Tips," on the other hand, felt very much like vintage "Chuck," on both the comic and emotional sides.
Morgan was still more obnoxious and petulant than dark and villainous. But because Chuck's eyes were open to what he'd become for the whole episode, it was easier to focus on the sympathetic side of things: our good-hearted hero wondering why on earth his oldest, closest friend had transformed into a ginormous d-bag.
What happened, of course, is that the Intersect is corrupting him - and that this Intersect isn't what any of us thought it was. It wasn't a benign parting gift from General Beckman (whose return lent a bit of gravity to the hour), but a sinister, brain-corrupting Trojan horse, presumably from Decker, as part of the long game he's running on Chuck. (I'm guessing the idea was to put it in Chuck, whose brain can handle the Intersect, and then wipe out the strong moral sense that made him a good guy but less-than-ideal spy.) How Morgan presumably survives the bomb(*) remains to be seen, but it feels like we have a strong direction for the season now.
(*) And let me remind y'all of the "don't talk about the previews" portion of the No Spoilers rule for this blog. I haven't seen next week's episode, nor the previews for it, at the time I'm writing this, so I have no idea what we'll see of Morgan, but any comment discussing the previews will be deleted. Period.
So all the material about Morgan was much stronger this week than last, particularly the pantsing outside Verbanski headquarters and then Chuck finally getting through to him with the mustache story from eighth grade. And it was supported by one of the best Casey stories the show has ever done, in which we see the thin line between lust and hate, between sex and violence, as he dealt with Gertrude Verbanski. Adam Baldwin and Carrie-Anne Moss just crackled together during that fight/flirt scene in her office, and it was almost as much fun to see Sarah play Cyrano for Casey earlier. (Sarah hasn't had a story arc of her own yet this season, but this was a very good use of her in the meantime.)
And this was the second week in a row with a strong Buy More subplot. There were times in the last couple of seasons where it felt like the store was still around only because everybody loves Big Mike, Jeff and Lester, and not because the writers had any more ideas for them, but that part of the show definitely feels much livelier this season. It always helps when a Buy More story winds up paralleling a spy story, and in this case we had Captain Awesome seemingly curing Jeff of his spaciness, turning him into as much of a stranger to Lester as Morgan seemed to Chuck this week. Though I've seen Scott Krinsky be cleaned up and sound normal in real life, it was so strange to have Jeff acting that way, and I'll be curious to see how long this incarnation of the character - who once had great promise, back in his Missile Command-playing '80s heyday - survives before he's back to his old flaky ways.
Some other thoughts:
• This week in "Chuck" music: Apologies. I get the list every week from NBC, but for some reason my usual contact didn't get the list in time today. I'll update this post when I finally get it (or when a fan site like Chuck Online publishes the list). UPDATE: Okay, got the list, belatedly. The songs were, "Raw Meat" by The Black Lips (Awesome's first hour as a stay-at-home dad), "Rock the House" by The Deekompressors (Morgan enters the Buy More, and again when Morgan and Verbanski arrive on the roof), "Strangers in the Night" by The Morning Benders (Casey in Verbanski's office) "A Little Something For Ya" by Beastie Boys (the good guys show up on the roof dressed as a helicopter crew) and "Through the Crowd" by Hotel Lights (Morgan preparing for his post-Intersect, post-Casey life).
• Given that the bullet-time effect from "The Matrix" has been so parodied and/or stolen in the 12 years since that movie came out, I think the only time it should be allowed any more is in something featuring an actual "Matrix" castmember. Fortunately, "Chuck" has Carrie-Anne Moss hanging around for a while, so it's all good.
• Before the season began, I kept saying - only half-joking - that given the dire straits of NBC elsewhere, I wouldn't be the least bit shocked to see "Chuck" get extended one more time, at least from 13 episodes to 22. Given that the first two episodes have come in around half of what the show used to do back in the relatively good ol' days on Monday - and given that "Grimm" has more than doubled the "Chuck" rating in these first two weeks airing right after - I don't think we need to worry about a bonus order messing up the final story arc. And even though the ratings are pretty terrible, I also can't imagine a circumstance where NBC doesn't air all 13, so we'll get the ending as planned, even if not as many of us are watching as used to.
• Captain Awesome struggling with being a stay-at-home dad was amusing, which reminded me of an old line I heard about parenting small kids: the years go by very quickly, and the days go by very slowly. He tells Morgan he feels like he lost his identity in staying home with Clara, and it's been all of, what, a day?
What did everybody else think?