NBC's little series that could is settling in for its fifth and final season!
NBC's technospy-centric action comedy Chuck has had a lot going for it. Engaging characters and interrelationships, thrilling plotlines, and humor to spare. What it had a lot of trouble with was viewership numbers. Chuck was never a ratings-winner, but it had enough geek cred and support to chug along (a product-placement deal with fast-food sandwich chain Subway helped a bit) for a respectable run that, when all is said and done, will reach five season. The fact that the show has been dumped onto a Friday-night time slot shows that NBC has all but moved on from the show, but Chuck has built up enough good will that it ought to be pretty fondly remembered.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The fifth season premiere shows our heroes struggling, but ultimately getting things done. After the end of Project: Bartowski at the end of last season, Chuck (Zachary Levi), Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski), Morgan (Jeff Gomez) and Casey (Adam Baldwin) have broken away from government intelligence and going into business for themselves as Carmichael Industries. It hasn't been easy. Strapped for cash, the company has to take on whatever job they can get, which includes working for scumbags who are trying to steal things from other scumbags. It's less than satisfying work, and it leaves the team unfulfilled and wondering what exactly they should be doing. Casey brings up the possibility of approaching General Beckman and working for the government again, but that suggestion doesn't go too far. Chuck is personally undergoing a moment of existential angst as well since he's not sure where he fits into the overall scheme of things anymore without the Intersect. The only reason he ever got into the intelligence business at all is the computer stuck in his head, and without that, what is he? He's not much of a superspy like Sarah and Casey and he no longer has access to the skills he used to that the Intersect gave him. It's pretty tough for him to stay in the van again while the other three have the fun he used to.
Chuck gets a nice pep talk from big sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), but ultimately, Chuck needs to find out who he is in the new status quo by going on a mission. When the opportunity to take down a Bernie Madoff-like investing scammer named Roger Bale (played by noted smarm trafficker Craig Kilborn) presents itself, he has a little bit of trouble finding a role. At first, he figures he'll play raquetball with Bale to gain his confidence while Casey pilfers Bale's money account information, but that idea gets shouted down; it's noted that Morgan, equipped with the Intersect, should be the one to get in with Bale. Chuck is stuck giving a massage to one of Bale's goons, in an example of how comically broad the show has gotten (enjoy the sight gags involving slippery massage oil). There was a time when Chuck was able to strike a good balance between spymastering and comedy, but as budget cuts have forced the producers to pull back a bit on action, special effects, and locations, the show has cranked up the jokiness, and not always in a way that works well enough to prevent some wincing and groans from the audience. The leads are genial enough that they can carry out a lot of what's being asked of them humor-wise, but it becomes a lot to sell. Elsewhere in this episode, for example, Morgan is helping Chuck find a nice house to surprise Sarah with, in a plan called "Toes in the Sand," or as it's abbreviated, TITS. The episode makes a lot of hay out of that acronym, and the subplot even finds an excuse to get Strahovski into some sexy lingerie. Chuck was never that high on the plausibility meter, but too much goofing off makes it tough to buy any high stakes established by the villains the show brings in.
In any case, the mission continues on as Bale invites Morgan (as Michael Carmichael, brother of Charles) and Sarah, along with Casey (disguised as "Chalmers, my mute manservant," as he's introduced by Morgan), to a large soíree, an infiltration that goes well until Decker, the CIA agent played by Richard Burgi (does he always play villains?) who shut down Project: Bartowski last season, rears his evil head to shut Chuck out of his hacking operation and screw over Carmichael Industries. This is where Chuck has to step up and take control of the situation, which he does by infiltrating Bale's compound disguised as a Nerd Herder and by setting a trap while ensuring his own escape.
Chuck is able to get through the mission and establish his role in the group: he's not the superspy, the muscle, or the Intersect, but he is their leader. That's what he brings to the table, and "Chuck vs. The Zoom" is the episode where Chuck figures that out for himself. The hope is that he can face future challenges (the main one apparently being Decker and a shadowy cabal inside the CIA out to get Chuck) while secure and confident in that role.
Written or Contributed by: Royal Nonesuch
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