Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Chuck me Tuesdays: Chuck versus the Sizzling Shrimp

Score: A-

"This is the part where we hide," – Chuck.

Containing so many pop-culture references that I was forced to create a new section in this review called “The geekalicious”, Chuck versus the Sizzling Shrimp has Chuck’s spy life impacting on his real life for the first time. Chuck talks a (yet another young, hot) spy into defecting and is forced to break commitments to friends and family to help her out. Chuck disobeys orders to save the day and he gets to eat his sizzling shrimp as well.

The good
“An evening of Morgan”. I like the Chuck/Morgan interaction in this episode and I love how affectionately amused Sarah is by Morgan and Chuck geeking out on their evening together. Underneath it all, Sarah longs for a normal life and Yvonne Strahovski manages to constantly portray this without ever stating it out loud.

Sarah Lancaster’s Ellie was absolutely fantastic. Saving her brother’s best friend, despite her aversion to him, was lovely and her talk to Chuck at the end was emotionally perfect.

For the first time we see that, despite Chuck and Morgan’s friendship, their co-dependence has become so great that they’re actually better spending some time apart. Morgan starts to realise he can make his own way in life without relying on Chuck to take care of him all the time. Of course, it will take him nearly two years to make this transition completely but hey, that’s why it’s called character development, ain’t it?

The bad
Where was Awesome?

Chuck ordering food from the restaurant they were staking out and having it delivered to the stakeout vehicle was briefly funny but very out of character, as was his painful “tailing rules” conversation. Guess the writers were still working out just how nerdily clueless he’s supposed to be. What sells it of course is Zachary Levi’s delivery of, “Uh, hello? That's why I used an alias!”

Where was Casey in the Buy More sales competition? I love that in between defecting Chinese spies and Triad kidnappings he had time to be a good enough salesman he wasn’t even worried about being fired. Casey taking his Buy More job seriously is “champagne comedy” and they should have included at least a reference to it.

The Chuckalicious
“Spastic colon, what the f…” - Chuck

Casey: Stay in the car.
Chuck: That's my four favourite words.

Some great one-liners, poor Sarah’s spastic colon, and a fantastic kitchen implement fight scene that had Casey, Sarah and Mei-Ling kick some bad guy ass while Chuck…stopped a guy in a wheelchair.

But most of all, Mother’s Day. Sniff. It’s a Mother’s Day miracle.

The geekalicious
Actor James Hong was in both Chinatown and Big Trouble in Little China. He played a wheelchair-bound Chinese businessman in the first and David Lo Pan in the latter. And in this episode? A wheelchair-bound Chinese businessman named Ben Lo Pan (as in “been” Lo Pan). At the end, Chuck says, "Forget it Ben, it's Chinatown," - almost exactly the last line of the film Chinatown. And if that’s not meta enough for you, he follows it up with, “Did you ever see that movie?"

The Chinese operative Mei-Ling is named for the operative in Enter the Dragon. Enter the Dragon is mentioned as being part of an “Evening of Morgan”.

"Help me, Chuck Bartowski; you're my only hope”. The Hunt for Red October, White Nights and the detective Ironside all get references, along with the ongoing Star Wars meme.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Fringe: perhaps it should be renamed "The Ludicrous"

What would happen if J.J. Abrams decided to remake the X Files? Well, you’d probably get a flashy, complicated but ultimately hollow endeavour that only makes sense if you don’t spend too much time wondering about the fact that it makes no sense. It would capture the zeitgeist. It would mysteriously get picked up for a second season. It would start on Australian screens in August 2009 (did you know we had a channel called GO!?). It would be called Fringe.

Revel in a plot line so convoluted it makes the X Files appear straightforward; marvel at the fact that all the bad things in the world are the result of one man’s experiments and all happen in Boston; wonder at the only show in the world that uses deus ex machinas as a normal plot device; celebrate such quality sci fi nomenclature as the “pattern” and the “observer”; ponder the truly ludicrous so-called “science” (and remember that you can't question a dead man if he's been dead more than six hours or if he's lost his head); and glory in two leads who deliver every conversation as though they’d really rather be tearing each other’s clothes off right now if only the gigantic genetically-engineered snake/bat hadn’t lain larvae in their partner’s chest.

Tune in and enjoy the silliest show to ever take itself so seriously.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Chuck me Tuesdays: Chuck versus the Wookie

Score: B+

Trust. Who do we trust? Why do we trust them? Who is worthy of our loyalty and how do we know? People lie to us for our own good and tell the truth to manipulate us. Trust in relationships is one of Chuck’s main themes and ‘Chuck versus the Wookie’ is the first episode devoted to it. Well, that and hot chicks showing a gratuitous amount of flesh.

Carina, an undercover DEA agent and frenemy of Sarah’s, shows up and tasks the team to help her steal a diamond from some bad guys, who turn out to be a whole lot badder than they thought. Chuck tries to protect Morgan from his spy life by lying to the bearded buffoon as he starts to take issue with the fact that Sarah is doing the same thing to him. Sarah lies and Carina tells the truth but in the end it’s Sarah he should have trusted.

The good
“Isn’t there a nicer establishment where beautiful people can shop?” A host of good one-liners, a plethora of Star Wars references and a perfectly-executed “fake date” sequence at the beginning make for an enjoyable episode.

Casey running around in his underwear handcuffed to a broken-off bedhead was bloody priceless, as was the “fight scene” between Chuck and Carina, and Chuck and the bad guy at the end. But most of all, for the first time but not the last, Chuck’s faith in the inherent humanity of people made someone else a better person for a moment.

The bad
The writers obviously think their audience is exclusively male because there was so much female flesh on display the actors were probably surprised when they actually got to put some clothes on. While Chuck is obviously not used to so many beautiful women paying attention to him, the fact that all it took was a flash of flesh and a well-placed truth to manipulate him is kind of annoying. Isn’t he smarter than this?

The Chuckalicious
“My middle name is Lisa”. The number of fans who fell in love with this show based on this scene alone is immense so I have to put it in, even if the emotional resonance was somewhat lost on me on first viewing. Sarah’s character development begins.

The look on Agent Graham’s face when he realises Chuck used the mail service to send him a priceless diamond. Oh, and did I mention Casey? I swear, Adam Baldwin is the funniest person on TV right now.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Chuck me Tuesdays: Chuck versus the Tango

Score: B

Better on a second viewing, ‘Chuck versus the Tango’ has Chuck on his first mission in the field. You’d think the Government might have given the poor guy a bit of training first. But they didn’t. So he whines a little, flirts a little, dances the woman’s part of the tango and nearly gets tortured but it all turns out well in the end because Sarah and Casey kick some serious ass.

The good
Casey’s hidden sense of humour and big-brother-ribbing of Chuck starts and it’s as good as you would think. The contrast between the two “Team Bartowskis” all arguing about Chuck’s future while Chuck ignores them is great. Chuck may be jarringly useless in retrospect but when captured by the bad guys we see the first signs of his tendency to use brain over brawn. Under threat of torture, he manages to convince an international arms dealer that he’s just a computer repair guy who snuck in under a fake name to impress a girl. Pretty damn good. The tango with La Ciudad just makes the good because of Chuck’s sheer lack of embarrassment at being taught the girl’s part. And Casey taking bad guys out with a variety of whitegoods is comedy gold.

The bad
This isn’t my favourite episode but I honestly can’t think of anything too bad. Chuck is surprisingly whiny. He also spills soy sauce on himself, announces loudly that he’s a spy, and grumbles about being told to stay at the bar “like a dog”: all a bit jarring after watching Season 2. Remember when he had a secret James bond fantasy? Ummm, kinda.

The Chuckalicious
Captain Awesome teaching Chuck the tango is, well, awesome. The fact that he was half naked while doing so increases the level of awesomeness, at least according to certain members of my family. Oh, and a Dark Crystal reference? These guys own my DVD collection, I swear.
Most of all, Special Agent Charles Carmichael arrives. Ah, the memories.

Chuck me Tuesdays: Chuck versus the Helicopter

Score: C+

In their second episode, the writers of Chuck made a serious misstep. “Chuck versus the Helicopter” is silly and clichéd and it’s not surprising that many viewers simply switched off after this episode aired. Chuck suspects Sarah or Casey might be dirty when a Doctor who was trying to get the Intersect out of his head dies in suspicious circumstances. Chuck ends up flying a helicopter, hence the name.

The good
The little things: Casey pursing the shoplifter; the fight between Casey and Sarah; the “make-up” sex gag by Awesome; and Chuck being ordered to stay in the car; Chuck ordering Casey to put Sarah on the phone when he’s trying to fly the helicopter; and the conversation between Beckman and Graham about Chuck being an idiot...but thankfully not as big an idiot as Morgan. Adam Baldwin finally nails his character and is pretty well awesome.

The bad
The plot is moderately ridiculous and, while I can handle the silliness generally, an “NSA incinerator designed to leave no biological traces” would render forensic experts useless in less than a year and is a step too far. It’s all a bit Get Smart with the gadgets and the upgraded Nerd Herder and the helicopter. The voiceover introduction got ditched in the third episode, thank the Lord, and the “wacky” “hijinks” of the dinner party combined with the “magician” gag were painful.

The Chuckalicious
Chuck: So in this plan I basically do nothing?
Casey: Yup.
Chuck: Let’s do this.

“Stay in the car”. The show’s main running gag is used for the first time. And that’s about it.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Chuck me Tuesdays: The Pilot aka “Chuck versus the Intersect”

Score: A-

Fast-paced and absorbing, the pilot episode takes us into the action right off the bat by contrasting video game playing ubergeek Chuck with super-spy hottie Bryce Larkin in action. As Chuck alienates girls at his birthday party with talk of his computer-game inflicted injuries and his long-lost love, Jill, Bryce Larkin breaks into the Intersect computer with some seriously Buffy-esque moves and emails all the United States Government’s intelligence to Chuck.

Which then get downloaded into his brain. And if you can accept that right off the bat, you’ll be fine.

The good
The pilot sets the scene and manages the right balance between exposition and action. The contrast between Chuck at the birthday party and Larkin in the Intersect are television gold and the scenes between a clueless Chuck and a rather mercenary Sarah are very well done. The characterisation of Chuck, Sarah, Ellie and Awesome is good, something you don’t usually see in pilots, and the obvious attraction between Sarah and Chuck is already palpable. Most importantly, Zachary Levi perfectly portrays Chuck’s confusion and fear about how his life has been turned upside down, while still giving us the surprisingly-brave Chuck we’ve come to know and love.
Oh, and saving the day with porn? Bloody classic.

The bad
Gratuitous underwear shots and a ridiculous volume of beautiful people remind us that the last show these people created was the OC. There’s a slight overtone of slapstick that jars and the nightclub scene, while undoubtedly popular with 14-year-old boys, was somewhat annoying and contrived. (Actually, make that very annoying). Casey and Morgan are underdeveloped and Casey in particular is far more of a serious badass than in subsequent episodes. The overall plot is somewhat clichéd, as is the “Seth Cohen meets Doctor “JD” Dorian” lead and the scantily-clad ass kicker. And as enjoyable as it all is, you just can’t shake the feeling you’ve seen this all before.

The Chuckalicious
Fun, fun, fun. It’s just so much fun.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Chuck me Tuesdays Drinking Game

Chuck reviews are incoming. To help you enjoy them, I've developed the "Chuck me" drinking game.

Any suggestions are welcome.

Take one sip when:
Chuck flashes
Chuck says he’s freaking out or tells someone not to freak out
Someone mentions Bryce Larkin
Someone mentions Chuck getting thrown out of Stanford
Someone mentions Jill
Someone says “awesome”
Someone calls Devon “Captain Awesome” or “Awesome”
There's a reference to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Dune or Tron
Casey grunts or growls
Casey is seen pruning a bonsai
A female cast member strips to her underwear or a bikini
Sarah or Casey tell Chuck to stay in the car
Chuck mentions his desire for a “normal life”
Awesome has few clothes on for no apparent reason
Jeff and Lester are repulsively perverted

Take the whole shot when:
Sarah and Casey tell Chuck to stay in the car
Devon says “awesome”

Take two shots when:
Someone mentions Bryce Larkin, Chuck getting thrown out of Stanford and Jill in the same sentence.