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August 30, 2015

Chuck: Chuck Versus the Tango

by Varun Lella, posted Oct 8th 2007 9:58PM
(S01E03) "Now that's what I call moving some merchandise." - John Casey

If you've already seen the episode, which I assume you have, you'll know the quote above comes at a very tense point in the show. The writers had two ways to go: have Casey say something very serious or have him say something so ridiculous it counters the "bad-ass"-ness of the previous scene (i.e. a microwave straight to a thug's head).

They chose the latter and I am all the more thankful for it. The third episode of Chuck made me really appreciate the show, especially after the not-so-wonderful second episode. Some people may think of the dialogue as dumb, but, if you have been following Josh Schwartz's writing history, you get a sense that it is all on purpose -- a kitschy style that is both annoying and endearing at the same time.

The show is a magnificent send-up of the spy genre (or a horrible attempt at an action show, depending on your outlook). Let's rewind the tape to the opening sequence, which could have easily come out of any B-grade secret agent thriller made in the past 30 years. I admittedly laughed when the third guy got shot in the back. It is this kind of serious silliness that really cements Chuck as one of the best shows of the season.

The show is not that funny. Not to knock Schwartz or his writing staff, but the jokes get a nominal laugh at most situations. It is still a comedy, but it is not funny in the way that The Office or My Name is Earl is funny. However, it never pretends to be. The show is extremely subtle and rather than hit you over the head with laugh out loud jokes, it includes small, almost unnoticeable jabs that make you laugh at the dead-on parody and feel smart for catching them.

Something I really wanted to highlight before, and you can see it in the early scenes after the intro, is the use of camera work as an allusion. Now I know what you are thinking: Varun, do you realize you sound like an English grad student trying to BS a five page paper out of thin air? Yes, I do, but let me finish my point.

If you take a step back from the show watching experience, you will notice that the camera work in a lot of the Buy More scenes (and this applies to the first and second episode) directly mimics Paul Greengrass' shaky-cam from the Bourne Trilogy. It is something that made even the most boring of sequences seem intense in Ultimatum. It is no wonder that Levi himself described the show as a blend of The Bourne Supremacy and 40-Year-Old Virgin. Small references like these are a small part of what makes Chuck fun to watch.

So a lot of things happened in this episode. Chuck made a move for Assistant Manager. He thwarted an international arms trade dealer. And he almost kissed Sarah!

The entire Chuck vs. Harry Tang (who is a wonderful antagonist) arc is something that I am willing to buy in to. From the looks of this episode, it seems that Chuck will be taking on a very Scooby Doo-ish format: Discover a baddy, have some trouble, and defeat him before the episode is over. If that is the case, then there will be very little linking the episodes together. Really, no reason not to wait for them to pop up on the internet and watch them when you can find the time -- chronological order does not matter.

The assistant manager story line and the Sarah-Chuck sexual tension plot help make the show cohesive and make you want to turn in weekly. Speaking of Sarah and Chuck, I am worried that their romantic interest potential is coming on way too fast. The entire "it wouldn't be too terrible if we kissed" moment is something that should happen mid-season, not the third episode. It took over a season of Moonlighting, before Shepard and Willis puckered up. Hopefully, things will slow down between the two (if they got together now, it could only end in a pretty awful break up by the end of the season).

We also learned why Chuck got kicked out of Stanford ... kind of. We know that Bryce found stolen tests underneath his bed, but we don't know how they got there, if it was a setup, or what. I really want, nay need, to find out more about Stanford Chuck. It is a good thing the writers didn't drop the ball from the first episode and are making sure to put in tidbits about Chuck's past here and there.

The action in the episode was pretty good, not parkour fight-scene good, but it will do. Although it is troublesome that is seems no one looked at this secret Intersect computer once and they need Chuck to do everything, I let some of the nonsensical flashes pass and enjoyed the story for what it was. Seriously, though, why would they have that British agent's picture in the file and why would it be a picture of him shooting a guy? The plot was a little predictable, but the Tango scene made up for it in my mind.

The fight scenes were pretty straightforward. I am reminded how awesome Adam Baldwin is, when he blocked a punch with his forehead. Girl-on-girl fighting is always a plus, especially if they are both wearing scandalous work uniforms. I am not exactly sure how one blocks a knife with handcuff-knuckles, but it looked believable enough. The microwave-to-face toss I mentioned earlier was my favorite action moment. It is one of those things that can make you cringe and say, "Oh Snap." In fact, I will be handing out an Oh Snap award for the best action moment of the night weekly. If you have a different Oh Snap nominees, you can always shout it out below.

Before I depart from reviewing this pretty-solid episode (fun, short, no melodrama), I wanted to bring up one thing that has really been bothering me.

Sarah Lancaster, who plays Chuck's sister Dr. Ellie Bartowski, has a very distinctive acting style. She is either a very bad actress or a very realistic one. She seems to deliver every line in an almost monotone pitch with a very nonchalant attitude. I haven't really figured out whether she is doing it on purpose yet. If you think about it, her style and mannerisms are very true to life-- I actually have a friend that she almost precisely reminds me of. However, her laid back cadence is in stark contrast to Captain Awesome, Morgan, and Chuck who all effuse energy and enthusiasm. Just a thought.

Who is the funniest character on Chuck?
John Casey247 (42.5%)
Morgan Grimes174 (29.9%)
Charles100 (17.2%)
Sarah Walker4 (0.7%)
Other26 (4.5%)
No one is funny ...30 (5.2%)

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Judith Turner

Sarah Lancaster, who plays Chuck's sister Dr. Ellie Bartowski, reminds me of the young Demi Moore when she did a brief stint on the soap opera General Hospital in the early 1980's as Jackie Templeton.

In certain shots and especially when she smiles Yvonne (actress playing Sarah) looks like a younger version of Portia de Rossi (and both actresses are Australian but neither sounds it.)

October 10 2007 at 12:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Speaking of those little subtle things that make you feel smart, my favorite one was when they played the opera from Shawshank Redemption (the one Andy played over the PA) when Morgan was locked in the cage. So subtle, but once I realized it was the same song, I busted out in laughter. This has got to be my favorite show of the new season.

October 09 2007 at 6:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Microwave. To. The. Face.

That's the best thing on TV all week, no doubt about it.

October 09 2007 at 3:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Billy Pilgrim

I'm surprised that anyone is still watching this show. Pretty weak stuff.

October 09 2007 at 3:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sarah Lancaster is not the villian in Sky High. The name of the actress in that is Mary Elizabeth Winstead (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0935541/).

I really enjoy this show. I think it's well written & in the true style of Josh Schwartz writing. I love his playful banter - same thing that made me a fan of the OC (don't crucify me it was damn clever in dialogue).

October 09 2007 at 1:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My Name Is Earl is not funny.

October 09 2007 at 1:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oops. My fault for not checking on IMDB.

October 09 2007 at 1:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
George Carenter

Sarah Lancaster was not in Sky High. Royal Pain was played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

October 09 2007 at 12:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've seen Sarah Lancaster in Everwood and What About Brian and think her acting looked pretty much the same in all 3 shows. I didn't know she was in Sky High but will definitely have to check it out now; her villanous role has me intrigued...

October 09 2007 at 11:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That huge guy that got nailed by the microwave was the huge baddy in the last 2 episodes of dexter. Seems he is getting work as huge bad guys this season!
I don't know why i like this show but it has me hooked, maybe it is because sarah is beautiful!

October 09 2007 at 11:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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