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[09/22/08 - 12:04 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Chuck" (NBC, Season Two)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

CHUCK (NBC)
(Mondays at 8:00/7:00c beginning September 29)

The network's description: "Chuck Versus the First Date (September 29): SEASON PREMIERE--Academy Award nominee Michael Clarke Duncan ("The Green Mile") guest-stars as Colt, a menacing operative. Chuck (Zachary Levi) prevents Colt from obtaining the Cipher -- a device that would ultimately lead to a new Intersect. Chuck is told that this successful mission marks the end of his espionage career and the beginning of a normal life. Free from bullets and bombs, Chuck finally asks Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) out on a real first date. But Chuck's role as the old Intersect is not good news for everyone as Casey (Adam Baldwin) deals with a difficult order assigned to him. Meanwhile at Buy More, Morgan (Joshua Gomez) devises an eccentric way to hire a new assistant manager. Sarah Lancaster, Ryan McPartlin, Scott Krinsky, Vik Sahay, Julia Ling and Mark Christopher Lawrence also star."

"Chuck Versus the Seduction (October 6): SWEET SEDUCTION--Emmy Award winner John Larroquette ("Boston Legal") guest-stars as the legendary debonair spy Roan Montgomery and Melinda Clarke ("The O.C.") guest-stars as a sultry but dangerous female spy known as the Black Widow. Chuck (Zachary Levi) must go undercover to retrieve the Cipher from the Black Widow. But in order to get close to his target, Chuck must learn the art of seduction from the suave and sophisticated Roan. Unfortunately for Chuck, Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) and Casey (Adam Baldwin), Roan is no longer the world's greatest spy. Meanwhile, Morgan (Joshua Gomez) offers Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) some advice for a romantic night with Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), and Lester (Vik Sahay) struggles to gain respect at Buy More as the new assistant manager. Scott Krinsky, Julia Ling and Mark Christopher Lawrence also star."

"Check Versus the Break-Up (October 13): MIXED EMOTIONS--former New York Giants star Michael Strahan guest-stars as the intimidating bully Mitt. Chuck (Zachary Levi) is overcome with jealousy when his nemesis Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer) -- and Sarah�s (Yvonne Strahovski) ex-lover and partner -- makes an unexpected return. Chuck and Sarah�s growing feelings for each other are tested when their latest mission requires Sarah and Bryce to pose as an extremely affectionate couple. Meanwhile, Morgan (Joshua Gomez) faces his own challenge at Buy More when he must deal with a gang of bullies, from a neighboring sporting goods store in the strip mall called, the Mighty Jocks led by the fearful Mitt. Adam Baldwin, Sarah Lancaster, Ryan McPartlin, Scott Krinsky, Vik Sahay, Julia Ling and Mark Christopher Lawrence also star."

What did they leave out? Look out - Ryan McPartlin, Scott Krinsky, Vik Sahay, Julia Ling and Mark Christopher Lawrence have all been added to the show's fun title sequence.

The plot in a nutshell: While being held out of a window by the menacing Colt (Michael Clarke Duncan), our hero, Buy More employee Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi), recounts how he got here - how his old college roommate Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer) sent him the Intersect, the massive archive of the CIA and NSA's intelligence that's been downloaded into his brain, and now he's protected by a real life Sydney Bristow - Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strzechowski) - and Jack Bauer - John Casey (Adam Baldwin). Luckily for him, work has nearly been finished on a new Intersect, finally getting Chuck off the hook - not to mention opening up the real possibility of a relationship with Sarah. Before all that though, he's going to need to retrieve the Cipher, the new artificial brain of the Intersect, from the very man who's holding him upside down. Sure enough, he, Sarah and John do and it looks like a real life is in the cards for Chuck. It's a freedom that marks a newfound ambition for Chuck - whether it be his future at Buy More, his living situation with his sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and her fiance Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) or his pursuit of Sarah. And so he does (with a little help from Huey Lewis) what was unthinkable a year ago - ask out Sarah and make plans to strike out on his own and travel the world. Life (or the writers as is the case in TV land) ultimately have different things in mind as Colt and his Fulcrum cronies interrupt said date, guaranteeing that it will be some time before Chuck is rid of his Intersect duties.

Chuck nevertheless doesn't take his situation laying down (or upside down for that matter) and fuels that newfound ambition into his spy work. While far from the agents that Sarah and John are, Chuck starts to realize his "Charles Carmichael" act isn't really an act at all. It's an aspect he further refines in the second episode as a boozy former superspy Roan Montgomery (John Larroquette) teaches him the ways of seduction to get close to "The Black Widow" (Melinda Clarke); and puts into action in the third when, while trying to get a special Intersect-related computer chip from a high roller (Steve Valentine), Sarah and the returning Bryce get cornered into a situation where Chuck finds a way to get them out without any bloodshed. Meanwhile on the homefront, Ellie and Awesome struggle with keeping the spark alive in their relationship; Morgan (Joshua Gomez) finds himself the target of former NFL star Michael Strahan; and Lester (Vik Sahay) and Jeff (Scott Krinsky) duel over the assistant manager job at the Buy More. Yup, "Chuck" is most definitely back.

What works: The first three installments do a great job of not only restating the show's premise, relationships and themes but also deepens them as a result. For instance, it's pretty obvious by now that Chuck likes Sarah and Sarah likes Chuck but why again exactly aren't they together? Josh Schwartz and company take on that question head on by actually letting them try and get together (episode one), showing how work may perennially get in the way of that ever happening (episode two) and even when that hurdle is overcome, how life may really have two different paths in mind for them (episode three). It's probably one of the best answers to the "why aren't X and Y together?" question that I've seen in a while (the other being "Gossip Girl," not surprisingly also from Schwartz) since it somehow manages to retain the inherent chemistry of the actors without betraying their characters for artificial reasons. Chuck and Sarah aren't together because of some artificial deus ex machina, they aren't together because the characters - as they are right now - aren't built for it yet.

It's a sweet and ultimately sad conclusion, one that fits perfectly with its established tone of Chuck being the underdog. What's even more interesting is that the wheels have been set in motion for Chuck to grow up a little, and presumably set him on the path to become the guy we (and the other characters) know he can be. Chuck doesn't want to be a computer jockey for Buy More/dead weight liability for Sarah and John anymore - and he's actually going to do something about it. Season two also makes a solid effort to beef up the lives of "Chuck's" supporting cast - things like Sarah catching Bryce flirting with Sarah (who's now shifted from Wienerlicious to Pinkberry Orange Orange), Awesome finding himself asking Morgan for help with romancing Ellie (hint: Richard Marx is involved) or Lester learning the price of wearing the assistant manager vest. All in all, "Chuck's" world is one that can jump from "Thunderdome"-esque cage matches between Buy More employees, to driving Crown Victorias through plate glass windows to a guy just painfully longing for a girl - and I wouldn't have it any other way.

What doesn't: Okay, I can't help but make a few nitpicks. Casey has apparently drawn the short straw this year, starting with last year's de facto cliffhanger of him now having to kill Chuck because the new Intersect is being built. It's a thread that never quite connects - not just because you know it's not going to happen but it just feels decidedly creepy and out of place, almost as if he's been asked to drown a kitten. The second episode also pipes in early on that Roan was Casey's training officer - and Casey hasn't gotten over the fact he failed Roan's infiltration class - but nothing is ever made of it beyond a throwaway piece of dialogue at the end. Also putting a pebble in my shoe is the show's leaps in logic when it comes to the CIA and the NSA - from little odd bumps like Chuck not being able to get an emergency call through to General Beckman (Bonita Friedericy) because Sarah or John aren't there (especially considering the fact his call is to inform her they've both been kidnapped) to bigger question marks like why the new Intersect is being built with various irreplaceable items that seem to always get stolen (didn't the first Intersect teach them of the importance of redundancy - a fact that's made even more glaring when the other half of the equation is addressed by pointing out that multiple agents will be receiving the new Intersect download?). For the most part though all of the above are of the "don't think about it too hard" variety, but still worth pointing out.

The bottom line: As mentioned above, the "Chuck" we know and love is most definitely back.





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· CHUCK (NBC)
· FUTON'S FIRST LOOKS, THE (TFC)











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