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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chuck: the season so far

     In a season of great Chuck (but who are we kidding, every season since the first has been great), this week's episode, "Chuck Versus the First Fight", stands out as the best of the year, thus far.  Chuck (Zachary Levi) has been reunited with his mother, Mary (Linda Hamilton, The Terminator).  In a throwback to spy hit Alias, one of the first things she did was shoot him.  Hamilton plays the character with wonderful ambiguity.  Surely, there is still some care left in her for her children, but she also isn't strictly a good guy by any means.  She is known as Frost, and works for a pretty bad dude.

     In this week's episode, Chuck had to decide whether he could trust his mother, and what's more, Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) had to decide the same thing.  But Sarah's faith in Chuck was the real question.  The two butted heads, as Sarah captured Mary at the end of last week.  Chuck secretly spoke with his mother, who assured him that her handler could verify that she was a deep undercover agent.  The handle was played by James Bond himself, Timothy Dalton, who turned out to be meek and nerdy.  The character also referenced the similarities between Chuck and Alias, further cementing the comparison between the two best spy shows of the last decade.  The big twist, though, was that he wasn't at all, and was actually Mary's boss, head of some serious criminal happenings.

     Chuck's family has always been complicated.  When the series began, it seemed like both of his parents had abandoned him and his sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) long ago.  As the plot unfolded, we found out that the Bartowskis had alwasy been involved in espionage, and had left for reasons beyond their control.  Chuck was somehow destined to take on the family mantle, and though Ellie found out about some of what he has done, he has to keep his ongoing involvement a secret from her.  It's sad, because if the family had just been more honest with each other, so many misunderstandings could have been avoided.  Surely, Ellie and Chuck are heading for a big falling out when she re-discovers his secret life.

     Unlike most spies, Chuck started his career very green, through complicated happenstance, and slowly, many of his friends and family have been brought in on the cover.  Chuck's best friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez) has been an absolute delight whenever he gets on the missions, which is thankfully a lot more now that Casey (Adam Baldwin) has taken a shine to him.  Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin), Chuck's surgeon brother-in-law, ended up being surprisingly squeamish about the danger, which was unexpected and hilariously rewarding.  It can't be long before the rest of Chuck's co-workers at the Buy More find out, now that the electronics store is a full-fledged CIA base, only re-employing it's former dimwits to keep a believable cover.

     Chuck is as unpredictable as it is enjoyable.  The curves thrown at the audience already this season have been varied and frequent.  Although sometimes there is a 'typical' mission, the series plays a lot with the ongoing plot, a welcome serial aspect.  There is plenty of emotional baggage, too; the conversation between Mary and Ellie this week was genuine and sweet.  Mary's willingness to leave Chuck and Sarah an escape route as she destroyed her dead husband's base proves she isn't the ultimate evil.

     The guest stars have also been piling up this year like crazy.  For a little-rated show which has gotten great critical reviews, it seems everyone is willing to lend some gravitas by showing up.  Besides Timothy Dalton (who will hopefully return) and Linda Hamilton (who is already doing an arc), we've already seen Ana Gasteyer, Robert England, Morgan Fairchild, Eric Roberts, Stacy Keibler, Nicole Ritchie, Steve Austin (both reprising roles), Isaiah Mustafa (Mr. Old Spice himself), Olivia Munn, Bronson Pinchet, Lou Ferrigno, and Dolph Lundgren, with many more on the docket.  Chuck chooses it's guest stars carefully, selecting people who appeal to their fans.  And it works well, actually seeming like something more than stunt casting.

     Chuck's thirteen episode fourth season has already been extened to twenty-four episodes.  Be sure to tune in Monday nights at 8pm on NBC.


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