Last week I felt it was important to write about Lone Star before I no longer had a chance, and sadly, that fear has turned out to be well founded. Goodbye, best pilot on network television this fall. We hardly knew ye, mostly because too many of us are idiots who picked crappy programming over actual intelligent drama. As Dan Fienberg said, “this is why we can’t have nice things.”
In any event, the result of choosing to write about Lone Star last week was that I didn’t get to the season premiere of Chuck, a show certainly not unfamiliar with the prospect of imminent cancellation. The first two episodes did exactly what they were supposed to – after a brief flirtation with solo spy work, Chuck and Morgan are back on the job with the CIA, Sarah and Casey are on board with the season arc to find Chuck’s mother, the Buy More has been rebuilt, Ellie is pregnant, and as of last night, Jeffster is back in the house. In addition, Chuck has promised Ellie that he’s retired from the spy business, which means his reinstatement with General Beckman also rebuilds the necessary secrecy shenanigans. So yeah, it’s the opposite of Mad Men: everything falls apart at the end of the season, and the beginning of a season is all about putting it back together. The only element missing is Big Mike, who must surely be right around the corner.
It is a relief to see Chuck and Sarah happily together, although last night’s comments about a relationship Achilles heel make me fearful that it won’t be allowed to remain cheerful for very long. It was also fun to watch the show deal with its many guest stars from the past two episodes, including Olivia Munn, Isaiah Mustafa, Lou Ferrigno and Linda Hamilton as Chuck and Ellie’s mother. I recognize that there are other opinions floating around about guest stars, but my take is generally that they depend on how open the show is to cast experimentation (Chuck being about as open as one could hope for) and how zippy the guest star makes things (not sold yet on Linda Hamilton, but Mustafa did a nice job last night as a far-too-well-trained Buy More employee). I also feel like it’s a little weird to begin a piece on guest stars by comparing them to bed bugs.
My concern about this season is that its central arc feels pretty derivative of what Chuck has done in the past. The search for Chuck’s father was catalyzed by Ellie’s impending marriage and her desire that her father walk her down the aisle. It worked well, and was a good way to keep Ellie and Awesome in the show’s emotional loop. This new search for Chuck and Ellie’s mother was initiated in a different way – the order came from Chuck’s dad, and Mrs. Bartowski’s associations with the evil Russian weapons organization suggest we may be heading for an Alias-esque questionable maternal loyalties situation. Still, I was disappointed by the subplot last night. I have no problem with watching Awesome freak out over Ellie’s pregnancy; that’s just some good old classic TV-fatherhood cliché material, and I’m all for it. The problem comes with the realization that Ellie’s pregnancy may be inspiring a wistful desire for her mother, which feels a little too close to the previous plotline for comfort. Surely a strong, powerful woman like Ellie can experience major life events without allowing her pining for lost family members to kick off an international missing persons investigation.
Happily, any dissatisfaction was at least temporarily displaced by the triumphant return of Jeffster, featuring an awesome Buy More wind machine sequence complete with Morgan working the fan. Man, I’ve missed those guys.