The second season of Chuck has exceeded my expectations in so many ways. But mainly in the imaginatively odd ways they’ve made each story interesting, giving a relatively simple idea some real legs.
However, none of this prepared me for the brilliance that’s contained in their Christmas show, Chuck Versus Santa. If I was asked to identify a weakness in the Chuck show model it’s that usually each story has a parallel track, with a storyline in the Buy More and another in the ‘spy’ world. This story avoids this issue entirely by having only one plot, all set in the Buy More, but with all the main cast members there to create a classic ensemble piece.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Buy More, not a creature was stirring, not even a Morgan.’ Well, except they’re all there well before opening time to add 15% to every price as part of Big Mike’s master plan to stiff the last minute shopper. The majority of Buymoreans are dressed as elves, in a curiously Will Ferrell referential look. Big Mike is Santa, while Chuck and Casey somehow managed to avoid fancy-dress. Awesome and Elle are let by Chuck into Buy More for some early shopping, and Sarah is in Orange Orange, as usual. With all the pieces in place, in typical Chuck style, the chaos ensues. It all starts with the ‘elves’ watching a live highway chase on the video wall, and then ends with the car driving through the front of the Buy More and the apparently confused ‘Ned’ takes everyone hostage at gun point.
This creates a situation where Sarah and Casey must protect Chuck, but without alerting all the people he knows that they’re secret agents. That statement belies a comedy masterstroke, but it’s one of the elements of pure brilliance that makes this Chuck episode work almost better than any other I’ve witnessed.
The first stroke of genius is the casting, which includes three people that made me giggle like a girl to see in this show. The first is Ned, played by the superb Jed Rees, who you might recall as Teb in Galaxy Quest. He sells the man overtaken by the festive season really well, down to letting Chuck make all of the key hostage situation decisions. And then we have the attending Police Officer, Al Powell. If that name sounds strangely familiar, then it’s the same character that the same Reginald VelJohnson played in Die Hard (and Die Harder?) twenty years ago. He’s still eating Twinkies, and best of all – he’s known as ‘Big Al’, the brother of Big Mike. That leaves only one of the best movie and TV heavies to play the hostage negotiator, Frank Mauser (Michael Rooker of JFK, Cliffhanger, Mallrats).
I’m not going to describe what happens verbatim, because you really need to watch this, but it turns out that Ned didn’t drive into the Buy More accidentally, and he and Frank Mauser are FULCRUM agents.
There are two scenes, though, that elevate the whole show in my estimation. The first is when Ned decides to let two people go, and picks Sarah and Casey (because Ned accidentally shot one of Casey’s toes off). Chuck immediately objects to Sarah going, much to the general consternation of the others. Zachary Levi plays this moment amazingly, as he fights to come up with a good reason why he wouldn’t want his girlfriend out of harm’s way. The second is a bitter ending that’s conjured from what looked like a feel-good Christmas outing. Frank Mauser knows the secret of the Intersect, and he and Sarah fight in the packing lot amongst the Christmas trees. She eventually gets the upper hand, and realises that if Mauser is ever contacted by FULCRUM then Chuck’s like is over, as is the life of everyone who’s in the Buy More. She then kills him in cold blood. Unfortunately, Chuck sees the killing, although Sarah is unaware that she was observed. Chuck is mortified that the woman he loves is a killer, a surprisingly dark ending for a Christmas show.
This was probably the best Chuck this year and possibly so far. People need to start watching this show, because whatever replaces it on the roster is unlikely to be as inspired or intelligent as this certainly is.
In February Chuck will return, when Chuck and Morgan’s friendship is put to the test.
Check out Billy’s review of episode 10 here.
22 December 2008