Wednesday, 20 April 2011

'CHUCK' 4.21 – "Chuck Versus The Wedding Planner"

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

I've said many times that Chuck's at its best when it's having lighthearted fun, ideally with a streak of family-tinged emotion running through it, and "Chuck Versus The Wedding Planner" proved that once again. After so many episodes spent trying to convince us the Mary/Volkoff storylines are emotional and compelling this season (they're neither), it was so refreshing to get an episode that spoke to the main characters, especially the undernourished Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski), with a few scraps thrown to Casey (Adam Baldwin) in a subplot...

This week, Chuck (Zachary Levi) and Sarah were cheated out of $26,000 they'd saved for their nuptials, by grifter Daphne Peralta (Lisa LoCicero) pretending to be a wedding planner. Infuriated at the deception and their gullibility, Sarah sought advice from her conman father Jack Burton (Gary Cole) living in Miami, before convincing Chuck to pretend Daphne's a terrorist so General Beckman (Bonita Friedericy) will give them access to the CIA's database to find her. Unfortunately, their lie got out of hand, leading to a huge manhunt for Daphne that quickly exposed their dishonesty. Meanwhile, Jack arrived in Burbank following his daughter's surprise visit and, after Chuck and Sarah were suspended for lying, became the only person who could help them catch a gang of real terrorists Daphne had arranged to plan a wedding reception for. Elsewhere, Casey's ex-girlfriend Kathleen (Clare Carey) got closer to discovering that he isn't dead, and has been in touch with their daughter Alex (Melvin Mekenna) for months...

I'm a huge Gary Cole fan, so it was a particular delight to see him return to Chuck, even if this episode wasn't quite as focused on him than his previous appearances have been. In fact, there was a chunk of time where it was hard to see why he was even involved, and the show kept him on the sidelines with Devon (Ryan McPartlin), but thankfully the wedding hustle got him directly involved, and the flashbacks to 1989 (when Sarah was a little girl saving pennies in a piggy bank for an adventure with her dad) were quite sweet. I'm so fed up with Chuck's family that it's just nice to see a different relationship on the show (Cole and Strahovski work very well as father/daughter), and a pity Chuck's never really found other familial relationships of equal strength for the supporting cast. Casey's come closest with his once-estranged daughter, but even that's not quite as interesting as it promised to be, and this episode seemed to rush the long-awaited moment when Kathleen realized Casey isn't dead. A problem here was how that's a far bigger emotional situation than anything happening with Sarah/Jack, but shoved into a subplot. Crazy. And it didn't help that Kathleen's reaction to seeing her dead lover, alive and working at a Buy More, was unrealistically sedate. She barely raised an eyebrow!

Second of Strahotness: specs appeal

"... Versus The Wedding Planner" was also the first episode in a very long time to make me laugh out loud, in the moment where Sarah described Chuck's "flash-face" and attempted to pull the same gormless expression herself. Chuck's exaggerated "fake-flash" for the benefit of Beckman was also very amusing, and the story had a certain snap to it that's been missing this year. It was as silly and coincidental as usual, but I really don't mind when Chuck's just finding excuses for ways to get Sarah doing a funny voice in spectacles, or Casey shooting someone with a spring-loaded net. Plus, there were a few avenues that felt quite fresh here -- like Sarah/Chuck actually lying to their boss and getting in a mess over their personal lives, Chuck becoming "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" when Beckman didn't believe his genuine flash, and seeing the team have to operate along without the usual CIA backup. These were only minor things, but taken together they helped give the episode a feeling of freshness.

And as I said, the heart of the episode was evident throughout, even if I still struggle to see why Sarah and Jack have such a fraught relationship. They always seem to get on just fine, really. And while Jack may be unreliable it seems silly he'd refuse to be there for his daughter's wedding day just because he might let her down. I suspect the writers don't want Jack to come across as too unlikable, but still want us to accept he's a "bad father". It's just hard to see it, because everything about his present-day interaction with Sarah (the dance at the wedding), and the '89 flashbacks (him tucking sleepy Sarah into bed) says their relationship's just fine, really. And it was a lovely moment to see Jack had returned Sarah's childhood piggy bank after 22 years, now loaded with money to pay for her own forthcoming adventure with Chuck.

Overall, "... Versus The Wedding Planner" was fun and emotional at all the right moments, only really letdown by a very hurried subplot for Casey (that deserved its own episode to do it justice), and a final scam that wasn't all that impressive. In many ways this felt like an old-school episode of Chuck, which always seem to be the best ones these days. The show can still be fun and very lovable when it wants to be, if it just remembers to give the characters something rewarding to play with, and a story that doesn't conform to the usual boring templates. This was something a little more satisfying than usual, with heartfelt and humorous moments holding it all together. I'm sure we'll be back to the overblown Volkoff storyline before you know it, but for now this was a welcome reminder of why I started to enjoy Chuck in the first place.

written by Rafe Judkins & Lauren LeFranc / directed by Anton Cropper / 18 April 2011 / NBC