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Review: ‘Chuck’ – ‘Chuck vs. the Muuurder’: Charles Carmichael in charge

A review of tonight’s “Chuck” coming up just as soon as I live by a strange philosophy of karma and diet…

“It’s not just the computer, or the man. The Intersect is all of us, the three of us, working together. That’s why it works.” -Chuck

When a show that switches up genres as often as “Chuck” does sticks around as long as “Chuck” has, it’s all but inevitable that we’ll got a locked room murder mystery episode like this one. Like the “12 Angry Men” pastiche (which I’m surprised we haven’t yet gotten with Casey and Morgan), it’s an easy go-to move when you’ve been around a while and told a lot of stories. (Hell, even the “Star Trek” movie series had to do one of these by the time we got to “The Undiscovered Country.”) They can also double as bottle shows, though you usually have to bring in enough guest stars to have suspects, and in this case, they had to spend some money to blow up parts of Castle.

And I’d say that the actual muuurder investigation of “Chuck vs. the Muuurder” was the least interesting part of an episode that I enjoyed on the whole. It’s such a familiar device that we know a lot of how it works, including the way that the first suspect or two simply can’t have done it because we still have a lot of time to fill. The four Intersect candidates were all fairly cartoonish, even by “Chuck” standards(*), and the Bentley character has suffered from one of the few real guest casting missteps this show has made in a while, so I didn’t particularly care which of them did it, so long as most of them (with the ironic exception of our swarthy bearded killer) were off my screen for good by episode’s end.

(*) Though I was amused by the in-joke of Chuck’s doppleganger being named Brody, since everyone and his Nana drew the line between Chuck and Seth Cohen from “The O.C.” (played by Adam Brody) when the series began.

Fortunately, the murder mystery had a secondary element to it in Chuck’s need to prove himself as a leader, and that part of the story was very strong. Chuck stumbled through the early stages of the plot in his usual stammering, needy, wide-eyed manner, but when the moment came for him to identify the bad guy and execute a plan of action, he knew what to do and did it in a way that even Bentley had his back. And though the usual movie textbook definition of military leadership involves knowing when you have to sacrifice one soldier for the greater good of the unit (see “U-571,” among other examples), I didn’t feel like it was a cheat that Chuck was able to save Bentley. One of the main points of this show is that Chuck is special, that he does things very differently than a “real” spy, but is ultimately no less effective, and that his touchie-feelie-needy qualities are part of what ultimately makes him so good. In Bentley’s world, someone has to die to stop the bomb; in Chuck’s world, nobody else has to die.

And I particularly liked the scene in Chuck’s apartment with the members of Operation Bartowski just lounging around after a tough day – the sort of moment Casey would never have bothered to be a part of a season or two ago – and Chuck suggesting that their teamwork is its own kind of Intersect. A very nice moment in the evolution of both the team and the series. And while I don’t want Casey to ever stop grunting, I do think it would be interesting if his attitude towards Chuck on missions is just a bit more understanding going forward.

Some other thoughts:

• As for the Buy More B-story, I’m with Big Mike: it was good to have some Large Mart fun again. (Has the Large Mart even been mentioned since season 1?) Because I’m 12, every single “big BM” joke made me laugh, and because I’m a pop culture junkie, the pig being inserted into the “propelled by the explosive fireball” cliche made me laugh even harder. (Out of curiosity, has the human Kevin Bacon ever been part of such a scene? I can’t recall one.) And as clumsy as the minivan product placement was last week, Big Mike listing the ingredients of his favorite Subway sandwiches somehow always works. (If Subway starts looking for a new spokesman, they need to seriously consider Mark Christopher Lawrence, because the man has a gift.)

• Definitely becoming intrigued by whatever plan the Orion laptop has for Ellie. Am I right that “Agent X” was one of the filenames we saw in Orion’s lair at the end of season 3? (And either way, it was amusing to see the episode close on a reference to the “Agent X Files.”) I’m glad to see Ellie and Awesome getting a serious storyline of their own, and one that should eventually tie Ellie into spy world in a way other than being the nag who worries about Chuck getting hurt. Some nice stuff tonight from both Sarah Lancaster and Ryan McPartlin.

• Morgan was mostly working in the big BM story, but I liked him being sent in to quiz the Intersect candidates on pop culture. And the answer is “Omega Man.” Clearly. “Soylent Green” is only memorable for the ending. (And even then mainly because it inspired one of Phil Hartman’s all-time great “SNL” moments.)

• This week in “Chuck” music: “I Need You” by The Blood Arm (the recruits are tested in Castle), “Any Way You Want It” by Journey (Brody’s ringtone, and a joking reference back to the show’s early days when it was Chuck’s ringtone, too), “Victim” by Win Win (Chuck and Sarah do an interrogation), and “Move to the Mountains” by Clock Opera (the final montage).

• This is the part of the blog entry where I invite you to berate me for voting for “Community” over “Chuck” in the semi-final round of Hulu’s Best in Show tournament. (As I type this, the two show are see-sawing back and fourth around the 50/50 mark, though my 5% vote won’t become part of the equation til later in the week.) You all know how much I love “Chuck,” and “Community” – which is the younger, hungrier, and (at the moment, IMO) stronger series – is one of only a handful of shows in the whole bracket I would ever consider choosing over the Buy More gang. If you wanna prove me wrong here – and ensure that “Chuck” gets my vote in the finals against either “House” or (more likely) “Dexter,” vote early and vote often. I know some people – including a certain Mr. Schwartz – have said that because “Community” has already been renewed, “Chuck” needs this more, but I can tell you that the results of this contest aren’t going to factor one iota in NBC’s decision on that. It’s just fun, and if you want “Chuck” to beat “Community” (and me), go for it.

What did everybody else think?

By Alan Sepinwall – Operation Bartowski deals with a locked room murder mystery

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