Monday, January 28, 2008

We'll Always Have Chechnya

After all the excitement of this weekend's FX International show, it's time to wind down with some nice, comforting TV. And what could be better than my co-host Dave's choice for the best new TV of the year (see list at right), NBC's "Chuck" which aired the last two of its original episodes on Thursday.

Honestly, I'm not quite as sold on this show as Dave. I enjoy it but ...

Well, all will come clear in the reviews.

"Chuck Versus the Undercover Lover"

This episode neatly underlines all of the show's strengths and weaknesses.

Hey, did you know that "strengths" is the longest one-syllable word in the English language? That's the kind of useful information you only get here in Pop Culture America.

Here endeth the tangent.

Ilsa, John Casey's lover from 2004 who he thought had died, returns and soon John, Chuck and Sarah are caught up in a meeting of some upper level baddies in the Russian mob. Events tangle further when it's revealed that the now very much alive Ilsa is betrothed to Victor, the head Russian naughty person.

The names give the game away. With an "Ilsa" and a "Victor" on the scene, the episode quickly becomes a playful twist on Casablanca. If there's anyone in the audience who doesn't pick up on that right away, a hotel-room television helpfully runs a few quick scenes from the film.

Adam Baldwin's John Casey takes on the Bogart role, even insisting that Ilsa get on a plane at the end. Zachary Levi does the Claude Rains bit. With Ilsa on the scene, Yvonne Strahovski is relegated to a couple of scenes whacking a Russian thug with available hardware.

In the "Strengths" category, the episode focuses in on the strongest member of the ensemble. Adam Baldwin is the show's most interesting and diverting presence and his internal conflict here between his overwhelming sense of duty and his unfamiliarly tender emotions was nicely played. His back and forth with Zachary Levi always works.

And then there are some weaknesses. Joshua Gomez as Morgan is not growing on me. In this particular episode, the "B" story featuring Morgan, Chuck's sister Ellie and her boyfriend Devon, aka Captain Awesome, was a cutesy-poo distraction from the much stronger Adam Baldwin-centered tale. There's a belief among TV writers (enjoy your strike, everyone!) that we viewers can't handle an entire hour of one story. Note to them: yes, we can. I would have gleefully taken more scenes with John and Ilsa and lost the pointless bickering between Awesome and Ellie, with Morgan rather unbelievably assuming the role of counsellor.

But Baldwin and Levi and a nice guest turn by Ivana Milicevic as Ilsa make this an episode worth a modest recommendation.

3 stars

"Chuck Versus the Marlin"

And so a season limps to an end. To be fair, I'm sure this was never intended to be the Season 1 closer, but here we are.

Chuck's identity as "The Intersect" may be compromised and then the Buy More is robbed down to the fixtures and brickwork. Will Chuck spend the rest of his life in an underground security bunker far from family and friends? And will he ever recover the ring that Captain Awesome entrusted to him?

I mentioned in the previous review that I wasn't terribly enamored of Joshua Gomez's Morgan on this show, but I do love the rest of the cast around the Buy More. Mark Christopher Lawrence gets some nice moments as Mike "Big Mike" Tucker and both Jeff and Lester (Scott Krinsky and Vik Sahay) are a riot. If I were Chuck, I'd ditch Morgan ASAP and hang around with those two.

Zachary Levi and Adam Baldwin are their usual engaging selves, and Levi and Yvonne Strahovski get a sweet scene together when it appears that Chuck will be spirited away forever. But the interrogation scenes are repetitive and the twist involving the cop is obvious and unnecessary.

"Chuck" has been a solid, entertaining show for its brief, 13-episode life. It's too bad it will go out on this pedestrian effort.

2 stars

And when the show returns (if it does) next year, BRING BACK HARRY TANG!

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