So I’m out at the movies over the weekend — “Please Give,” which HitFix’s Gregory Ellwood adores, but which didn’t really work for me — and the latest trailer for “Robin Hood” comes on. I already don’t have any interest in the movie, but then I see who the Big Bad is and all I can do is go, “Gee whiz, Mark Strong again?!?”
I like Mark Strong, even if there was something vaguely unsavory about his appearing in brown face in “Body of Lies.” He’s a good actor and plays a fine villain, but must he now be the villain in every single movie?
I confess that I’m getting very near feeling the same way about Fred Willard. The guy is a terrific actor, really one of the most reliably funny folks in the business. And in the past three weeks, Fred Willard has appeared on “Castle,” “Modern Family” and, on Monday (May 3) on “Chuck.”
This leads me to ask, “Can there ever be too much Fred Willard?”
Your answer may be, “No.” That’s totally acceptable. My answer isn’t “Yes,” just yet, but I’ve no reached the point at which I’m giving it consideration. When he shows up on “Gossip Girl” and Playboy TV’s “Foursome,” I may need to revisit the question.
And now on to Monday’s “Chuck,” titled “Chuck vs. the Role Models,” after the break…
The third season of “Chuck” was 13 episodes of high drama, betrayals and that guy who played “Superman,” but the first two episodes of “Chuck 3.1” have been good ol’ fashioned capers. Last week put a comedic spin on several Hitchcockian thrillers, while “Chuck vs. the Role Models” was straight out of the “Hart to Hart” playbook. We know this, because the episode began with a marvelously kitschy take on the opening credits of the ’80s classic, complete with Josh Gomez in the Lionel Stander role.
It wasn’t a subtle reference, but it was very well delivered and the same could be said for the episode as a whole. Phil Klemmer’s script was rather explicit about its themes, but it was also clever and romantic and provided opportunities for Yvonne Strahovski to get late night orange juice in her lingerie.
I’m perfectly happy to settle into a few weeks of MacGuffin a-plots on “Chuck.” Last week? Random ETA terrorists. This week? Udo Kier and a Bengal Tiger. What’s connecting the two? Nothing of note, but who cares?
Last week, General Beckman got the line of the episode when she learned about Chuck and Sarah’s relationship and announced, “I must caution you that allowing your private life to interfere with your professional one can be dangerous… but off the record, it’s about damn time.”
This week, General Beckman set about showing Chuck and Sarah the professional complications of their entanglement by sending them along as over-dressed observers on a mission being conducted by Craig and Laura Turner (Willard and Swoosie Kurtz), the CIA’s best pair of married spies. The introduction of the Turners was paired with Chuck and Sarah having their first domestic squabble after he asked her to move in.
But if you didn’t get the episode’s parallels, the pre-credit sequence ended with the Turners approaching the Bartowski-Walkers and Craig noting, “Dear God, it’s us 30 years ago” and Chuck whispering to Sarah, “Sarah, that’s us in 30 years.”
Their mission? Visit Udo Kier’s house and steel some sort of decryption device that… well, whatever. And yes, Udo Kier was playing a character, but the great thing about Udo Kier is that he’s pretty much always playing Udo Kier, which he does better than nearly anybody, since Stanley Kamel passed.
And who could possibly be surprised that if Udo Kier were holding onto a functionally irrelevant decryption device that he would put it on a collar around the neck of a Bengal Tiger? That’s where I’d expect Udo Kier to hide his decryption device.
Perhaps this episode would have been called “Chuck vs. the Bengal Tiger,” except that “Chuck” and the “Bengal Tiger” weren’t in contact. When you have a large wild animal build into your movie or TV episode, you can take great pains to show how much the actors were working with the animal, you can use great editing creativity to create the illusion that the actors were interacting with the animals even if they weren’t, or you can make no effort whatsoever to make it appear that the actors and the animal were ever in the same zip code at the same time. In this instance, “Chuck” decided to take the third approach. There were two shots where Zachary Levi and a torso were in the same frame, but I couldn’t tell if it was the torso of an actual animal, a tiger-skin pull-over or green screen. And then, later, there was a shot of Morgan fleeing from the Tiger, but that was in slo-mo, so I can’t be sure of what went down and where different people and different felines were when it went down.
It turned out that the Turners had turned, which wasn’t surprising, because their last name is Turner. They were going to sell the decrypt-y thing to the highest bidder, but we eventually decided that they weren’t really traitors or bad people, they were just a married couple who needed to mix things up. He was a lecherous Lothario and she was a lush, but they really just needed to get out of the spy game to reconnect as people. Or something like that.
Somehow this was lesson enough for Sarah to decide she needed to get past her trust issues and move in with Chuck, which is the kind of decision that would probably have felt rushed at the start of a 13 or 22 episode season, but which feels like semi-necessary expediency given the shortened Back 6 that “Chuck” is working with.
The A-story was pretty slight stuff, elevated by charming “Hart and Hart”-style chemistry from Levi and Strahovski and by the inevitability that Kurtz and Willard never fail to add to whatever material they’re given.
The B-story was, in many ways, far more satisfying. Just as the A-story was about Chuck & Sarah getting a feel for their couple-dom and Sarah learning to let down her guard, the B-story was about Morgan & Casey getting a feel for their couple-dom and Casey learning to let down his guard.
In the B-story, General Beckman entrusted Casey with training Morgan and getting him field ready, saying “He’s a diamond in the rough, very very rough. But I’m sure you’ll make him sparkle.”
That led Casey to teach Morgan about the three keys to being a good spy: Subversion, Stealth, Strength. Casey didn’t put much effort into his duties.
For Subversion, he made Morgan get a Buy More hottie’s phone number. Morgan failed.
For Stealth, he made Morgan sneak up on a sleeping Big Mike and attempt to steal his access card. Morgan failed again, but his attempts to approach the snoring Big Mike were intercut with Chuck approaching the snoring tiger in artful-ish fashion.
For Strength? Well, for Strength, Casey just took Morgan to learn how to shoot. Morgan failed hilariously at that as well. [It’s here that I wondered whether Morgan being comically inept with a gun, complete with silly recoil, was funnier than the off chance that Morgan might have somehow proven to be a crack shot, due to his first-person shooter gaming experience. The writers decided that three strikes for Morgan were funnier.]
Three strikes were funnier because Morgan’s failure allowed by Casey to open his heart to Morgan in friendship and in the shared lamentation of not being along with Chuck and Sarah on their big missions. It was sweet. Plus, Morgan served as human bait for the tiger, which Casey admitted showed balls.
This week, there was even room for a C-story, also couples-based. In this case, we went off to “The Congo,” where Ellie and Devon were beginning their Doctors Without Borders training and discovering that Africa is a land of gun-toting soldiers, mosquitos, snakes and elephants. We discovered also that something dark and bothersome is afoot, as Devon was infected by the village’s security expert with malaria-like symptoms for… some reason or other. In any case, up until that point that C-story was about Ellie seeing Devon thriving and learning to realize that even though she’s a City Girl, she still had things to offer the Africans. I’m not sure how much more time we’re going to spend in Africa, but it’s probably better if we don’t spend any more time. It was… less-than-authentic.
Other thoughts on this week’s episode:
*** Snakes and tigers and elephants? Did “Chuck” get a discount at Crazy Al’s Discount Animal Prop Emporium? And did they also get a waiver so that none of the main stars would ever have to be in frame with any of the animals?
*** Line of the episode? Learning that the African natives came up with a nickname for Captain Awesome that can be translated as Dr. Super Fantastic White Person.
*** Alternative line of the episode? Probably one of Morgan’s several double-entendres after seeing Sarah in her undies getting juice.
*** Given that this was a Jeff & Lester-free episode, I’m not completely sure why the Buy More was used as a set for Casey’s training. But it was probably either that or the courtyard. This week’s budget went into animal wrangling.
*** So Sarah and Chuck are moving in together? Yeah, it seems fast, but that’s probably OK. It opens the door for more kooky domestic capers and misunderstandings in weeks to come.
What’d I miss? What’d you like about this week’s episode?