Sunday, 30 October 2011

Review: CHUCK, 5.1 – "Chuck Versus The Zoom"

Sunday, 30 October 2011
"The computer didn't make you a hero. It just gave you an opportunity to be one."

When any television show reaches its fifth year it becomes a struggle to find anything fresh to say about it. (And when you're dealing with a narrowly-focused show like Chuck, that problem actually started in season 3.) It's no secret that I largely hated this show's fourth season, because I didn't enjoy the search for Chuck's (Zachary Levi) long-lost mother, and the Volkoff super-villain idea soon soured, but I was quite excited by the big conceptual changes the finale introduced for the show's fifth and final season. So have the changes managed to breathe new life into Chuck? Well, yes and no...

Sidekick Morgan's (Joshua Gomez) become the Intersect and eponymous hero Chuck's the regular guy, which makes for a fun reversal of their established dynamic. Morgan's a funnier character to give "super powers" to, if only because he's clumsier and hasn't matured in quite the same way, but Gomez is also less convincing when demonstrating them. Case in point: his saucy dance sequence with Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) where it's apparent Gomez hasn't learned any of the awesome moves his character's supposed to be pulling off, forcing Strahovski to distract us.

The idea of giving Chuck the Volkoff family fortune, enabling him to create "Carmichael Industries" as a spies-for-hire operation, was also something that could have shaken life into the show. However, perhaps because there isn't the budget to do justice to the concept of a team with extravagant resources, this premiere has already undone that development—by having Chuck and Sarah's assets frozen by mean CIA Agent Decker. The only positive repercussion is that the Buy More, as one of Chuck's only remaining assets, now has a much better tie to the show's espionage element. Chuck, Sarah, Casey (Adam Baldwin) and Morgan need that store to run smoothly and turn a profit, because it's now financing their spy games. What a shame the show's waited this long to make the Buy More truly relevant, and not just a lame B-story crutch, but at least it finally happened.

Second of Strahotness
"Chuck Versus The Zoom" involved another of the show's storylines that just stitch together various templates and tropes—including the show's obligatory infiltration of a criminal's VIP party. I've long stopped caring, or even paying much attention, to the show's mission-of-the-week, as Chuck is all about the funny set-pieces that come from the flimsiest of ideas.

But I was pleased this premiere had strong subtext behind it all: does Chuck have a place and relevance now he's sans Intersect, or have his "training wheels" simply been removed? The story was at its best when we got a sense of Chuck's self-doubt and jealousy that Morgan's inherited his mantle as the "master spy" people expect to save the day, and in the end the story did a great job making us see how Chuck's intelligence and bravery are "powers" equal to that of the Intersect. I loved the sequence where Chuck single-handedly saved his friends, by leaving them a video message on a laptop, with instructions for how to aide his foolhardy escape from the enemy's skyscraper. It was a genuinely thrilling moment that was cleverly done, which is more of a rarity on this show than it should be.

Overall, I'm pleased to have Chuck back for a half-season victory lap, although from a creative standpoint it should really have ended a few years ago. It's a shame some of the big changes don't appear to be working as brilliantly as I'd hoped they would, but I actually prefer how the gang's a type of A-Team (likewise enemies with a man called Decker). And there remains a tangible feeling that Chuck's a show born out of love; where the cast and crew are all having a great time making it. And that still comes across loud and clear.


  • One of the funniest ideas is that Morgan's renamed "flashing" as "zooming" (hence this episode's title), which even Casey appears to have adopted as the official term for what the Intersect does.
  • Another dry Buy More subplot, with Jeff (Scott Krinsky) faking an injury to cheat customers out of donations towards his recovery, but at least it wasn't a big part of the episode. I wonder if Jeff and Lester (Vik Sahay) will be finding out Chuck's secret this season. Surely they have to, if this is the final year, or will they remain oblivious till the very end? I also hope Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) gets something interesting to do this year, and isn't just there to give her brother the occasional pep talk.
  • Two nice guest spots this week: Star Wars' Mark Hamill as the French villain in the teaser, and an appearance by Ethan Phillips (Neelix in Star Trek Voyager). This episode was also directed by Phillips' Trek co-star Robert Duncan McNeill (who played Tom Paris).
  • As a fan of the sorely underused Sarah/Morgan team-up, I enjoyed the squash scene and their little wiggling fingers hand-shake. Now that Morgan's a key part of the gang, I hope we get to see more of them working together.
  • It's premature to be making predictions, but surely Sarah and Chuck will move into that idyllic family home in the series finale, as Sarah announces her pregnancy. Anyone with me?
written by Chris Fedak & Nicholas Wootton / directed by Robert Duncan McNeill / 28 October 2011 / NBC