'Chuck' vs. the Greatest Hits: Best moments in the show's history
In case you've missed the frequent references in my just-completed 5-part interview with Fedak and Schwartz, "Chuck" airs its honest-to-goodness 2-hour series finale tonight at 8. I'll have a review of the finale, and a final post-mortem with Fedak, both up at 10 Eastern, but I couldn't resist doing one more "Chuck" post before then, this time looking back at some of my favorite moments from 5 seasons of this silly, sweet, awesome show.
I started off wanting to stick to an even 10, then was willing to throw in as many as I could think of, before deciding I couldn't spend the whole week scouring YouTube and Hulu. (And note that many of the YouTube clips I wound up choosing wouldn't allow embedding, so you'll have to watch those over there.) These aren't every one of my favorite moments (for instance, I couldn't find a clip of Chuck and the bad guy chasing each other through the Gravitron), but they're enough to capture the many flavors and moods, the majesty and the absurdity of that thing that Fedak liked to call "the 'Chuck' show."
"Mr. Bomb? Meet Mr. Internet." (from season 1's "Chuck vs. the Intersect"): There are some bumpy spots in the series pilot, mainly having to do with Morgan back when he was more of a killjoy than he became, but the climax perfectly sums up the tone and themes of the show. Chuck uses the Intersect to identify the bomb, but ultimately he saves the day not through spy skills, but Nerd Herd knowledge. Even after Chuck learned kung fu, many of the show's most satisfying resolutions involved Chuck thinking outside the spy box to save the day.
"Like I said, Chuck, I'm just sticking to my strengths." (from season 1's "Chuck vs. the Undercover Lover"): As a mix of comedy, drama and action, "Chuck" was never the kind of show that neatly fit most Emmy categories, nor that most Emmy voters would watch, but the series actually won two Emmys, both for stunt coordinator Merritt Yohnka's work. The first of those came from this fight scene and balcony jump, a sequence that nicely illustrates the show's approach to action. Even before the budget was massively cut after season 2, "Chuck" never had the budget or time to do the kind of stunt sequences you'd expect from feature films, so the show found ways to keep the scale small but the action memorable. Sometimes, that was just a case of confining the action to a notable location (like Sarah's fight in a small car in "Chuck vs. the Best Friend," maybe my favorite Sarah fight ever), and other times they tied it to comedy and/or character. Here, Casey demonstrates his badassery while he has a couple of hundred pounds of useless nerd strapped to his back, and turns Chuck's presence to his advantage.
"Your name has been at the top of my list of people who need a good ass-kicking!" (from season 2's "Chuck vs. the Cougars"): Fedak and Schwartz identified the shower fight between Sarah and Nicole Richie's Heather Chandler as the show's first major watercooler moment, and they're right. Richie doesn't have Yvonne Strahovski's size or athleticism, but the mixture of an old high school rivalry spinning into a vicious martial arts battle between two trained spies — in the showers and hallway of the school where the rivalry began — played out perfectly.
"That was pretty sweet, huh?" (from season 2's "Chuck vs. the Best Friend"): I already mentioned and linked to Sarah and the Triad assassin fighting in the sports car, but this scene that followed may be even better. The moment where the heroine mistakenly believes the hero is dead (or vice versa) is a pretty old trope, but good lord does Strahovski sell it. Throughout the series, she lent real gravity to cliché and/or silly situations, and her conviction was just as important to the series as Levi's versatility or Baldwin's screen presence.
"I am going to get this thing out of my head one day. I will. And when I do, I'm going to live the life that I want with the girl that I love." (from season 2's "Chuck vs. the Lethal Weapon"): There were times on the show when Chuck seemed too naïve, or passive, or too much of a victim of circumstance, and it was important for his particular hero's journey to show him occasionally seizing control of his destiny and deciding what he wants and how to get it. His speech to Sarah, followed by the revelation that he's been running his own side investigation into the Intersect's origins, was one of the best of those Chuck-becomes-a-man moments.
"Don't move, don't breathe, don't move." (from season 2's "Chuck vs. the Colonel"): When some fans name "Colonel" their favorite episode, Chuck and Sarah's wake-up kiss in their motel is a big reason why. It's a great moment just in terms of the performances and direction and editing and music ("Creature Fear," by frequent soundtrack visitor Bon Iver), but it was also two seasons in the making. They had kissed before, but either for their cover identity, or because they thought they were about to die. And though they were again in somewhat dire circumstances as fugitives from Beckman, it feels very real, and like a big dam bursting. So, so romantic.
"Why are you letting Sam Kinison and an Indian lesbian ruin your wedding?" (from season 2's "Chuck vs. the Ring"): Do I even need to explain why Jeffster! performing "Mr. Roboto" at Ellie and Awesome's wedding while Chuck, Sarah and Bryce battle Ted Roark's men is the quintessential "Chuck" moment? It's the synthesis of everything the show was — funny and dramatic and exciting and reference-y ("Watch me for the changes") and happy — all in five minutes, climaxing perfectly with Jeff inadvertently triggering the sprinklers.
"My best friend is a spy? This is unbelievable! This is the best news I've ever heard!" (from season 3's "Chuck vs. the Beard"): Fan reaction was mixed to a lot of developments of season 3 (Chuck-Fu, Shaw, Hannah), but one thing everyone could agree the show handled perfectly was Morgan's entrance into the spy side of things. It's such a cliché for the friend/relative/lover to act hurt and betrayed when they find out the hero's been keeping a huge secret from them, but Morgan is both relieved and giddy to find out the truth, which was both a refreshing change of pace and felt true to character. And bringing Morgan in on the truth not only gave us more of Levi/Gomez in the final two and a half seasons, but also gave us the brilliant Baldwin/Gomez comedy team.
"It means you're still Chuck. You're still my Chuck." (from season 3's "Chuck vs. the Other Guy"): It took longer than many viewers wanted, but Chuck and Sarah finally, unequivocally said their "I love you"s and committed to each other in this great, funny, sweet scene at the center of the first episode of the show that was 100% planned as the end of the series. That we then got to see them as a couple in fun episodes like "Chuck vs. the Honeymooners" and "Chuck vs. the Business Trip" was so much the better.
"Anyone else want to be my boyfriend?" (from season 4's "Chuck vs. Phase Three"): If it were possible, I'd be tempted to just link to the entirety of "Phase Three," a kick-ass episode suggesting that the show might do okay if it had to reorient itself around Sarah. As it is, I was torn between suggesting either half of Sarah's rope-hand fight, Sarah emerging from the river like Martin Sheen in "Apocalypse Now," or the requisite scene where Sarah enters a mercenary bar and makes it clear she's now in charge. Ultimately, the kiss-off line from the Giant Blonde She-Male of Thailand was too good to pass up.
"Kids love me!" (from season 4's "Chuck vs. the Leftovers"): "Chuck" has gotten tremendous mileage from its guest stars, but I would argue they've never used any of them as well as they used Timothy Dalton as the narcissistic, charismatic, utterly bonkers Alexi Volkoff, who really just wanted a family he could spend the holidays with.
"You can do this, Morgan. You can totally be a bad guy." (from season 4's "Chuck vs. the Last Details"): I largely enjoyed the Chuck Fu era, but the better Chuck got at the action stuff, the further removed he often seemed from the nerdy guy who saved the day with the porn virus. So it was nice to occasionally be reminded of his roots in scenes like this one, where he pumps up Morgan for an undercover operation by humming the "Imperial March." Levi and Gomez's enthusiasm is infectious, and I love Sarah's befuddled reaction to the whole thing, like, "I love this guy, but really?"
"I wouldn't be too sure about that. I've been training for a while now." (from season 5's "Chuck vs. the Santa Suit"): The brief period in season four where Chuck couldn't access the Intersect felt like a missed opportunity to demonstrate how far Chuck had come as a spy outside the brains and brawn the computer provided. Fortunately, the show made up for it with the climax to its final Christmas episode, in which Chuck first outsmarted, then outfought, his arch-nemesis Daniel Shaw. Much like the various Chuck/Sarah romantic signposts, it was a moment many years in the making, and so much more satisfying as a result.
I'm sure I left out many of yours, so fire away, with or without video links.