Chuck, Ep. 5.01, “Chuck Versus the Zoom”: An entertaining start to the Buy More gang’s final run

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Chuck Review, Season 5, Episode 1, “Chuck Versus the Zoom”
Written by Chris Fedak and Nicholas Wootton
Directed by Robert Duncan McNeill
Airs Fridays at 8pm (ET) on NBC

Chuck’s season premieres sometimes feel rushed because they’re dealing with cliffhangers from the previous year while beginning a new story. For the fifth season opener, the changes are huge and could raise questions about whether the show can still work. Within a few minutes, it’s clear that the fun remains, despite any cosmetic changes. Luke Skywalker himself (Mark Hamill) appears as a silly gangster with a ridiculous accent for the opening scene. He’s nearly unrecognizable at first glance, but he still has the glint in his eye of the young farm boy from Tatooine. His appearance is far too brief, but having Luke onboard tells us that everything’s going to be okay for this light-hearted series.

In case you’re just joining us, Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) no longer has the Intersect in his brain, but he finally married his long-time sweetheart Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski). They’ve started a spy business after splitting from the CIA, and superspy John Casey (Adam Baldwin) and Chuck’s pal Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez) have stuck around and joined them. The big change involves the Intersect, which now resides in Morgan’s head by accident. He knows kung fu and can access all types of information within seconds, but there are still a few kinks in their system. Some critics weren’t a fan of the move to put the Intersect in Morgan, especially since it didn’t really fit with the device’s mythology. However, it does raise some excellent comic possibilities for the always entertaining Gomez.

The “zoom” in the episode title refers to Morgan’s name for the “flashes” that bring him the Intersect’s powers or provide the information. It doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way as flash, but it provides for a few laughs. The main story involves their business, Carmichael Industries, taking a job to bring down a Bernie Madoff-like schemer named Roger Bates (Craig Kilborn). The plans to access his files and steal his money are expectedly ludicrous. Morgan distracts Bates with a squash game, while Chuck stalls his giant real opponent with a silly massage. The finale takes place at a Bates’ company party, which places everyone in jeopardy.

The casting of Kilborn is a surprise because he’s pretty much dropped off the map since his late-night talk show ended in 2004. He doesn’t get much to do in a one-note role, but his tongue-in-cheek demeanor fits the show’s tone. Chuck’s guest stars tend to go with familiar faces of pop culture’s past, and Kilborn and Hamill fit into that mold. That don’t match fan-favorite past guests like Dolph Lundgren, Scott Bakula, and Timothy Dalton, but they have a good time. The villains are more of a side note this time while Chuck and the gang figure out some issues.

Despite the other changes, the Buy More is still a main part of this universe; the headquarters of Carmichael Industries is now their former set-up at Castle beneath the store. This means that Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay) are still up to their typical hijinks. Putting the oafish Jeff into a wheelchair to swindle customers is just another in their long list of schemes. Their activities don’t connect to the main plot and could be distracting, but Krinsky and Sahay remain charming as the lovable doofuses. They’ll likely play a larger role going forward as Chuck and Morgan use the Buy More to try and cover their spy expenses. It only takes one episode for their millions of dollars to be lost, which is a relief. Chuck and Sarah living in a mansion with nearly unlimited resources would get old quickly.

During the early seasons, the centerpiece was Chuck’s growing relationship with the gorgeous Sarah, his CIA handler. This brought an emotional core to the story to balance out the silliness. During the fourth season, creators Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz struggled to keep their romance interesting. They were a permanent couple planning a wedding, so manufactured differences between the couple received a lot of screen time. There was a slight danger of them becoming Jim and Pam from The Office, which would leave this show as a shell of its former self. Thankfully, they rebounded near the season’s end, and this premiere didn’t raise any warning signs. Chuck and Sarah spent some time discussing a house, but it wasn’t developed into a fake conflict. Instead, it’s used for laughs, with Morgan helping with the “Toes in the Sand” Operation. It’s wise not to use the acronym for this silly plan between the best friends. Levi and Gomez have always had great chemistry, and this small example shows them in top form once again.

Last spring, there was a decent possibility that Chuck wouldn’t return for a fifth season. The ratings weren’t amazing but had remained steady thanks to several million dedicated fans. It also helped that NBC continues to struggle, so giving a reliable contributor a final year made sense. This 13-episode run will close out the story, and here’s hoping they do it justice. The premiere has plenty of fun moments, including some great dry lines from the always-reliable Adam Baldwin as Casey. When informed that Bates stole from Rush Limbaugh, the conservative Casey’s perfect deadpan response is “Tell me everything you know about this animal!”

Looking at the ongoing story, the fourth season finale hinted at a conspiracy larger than anything they’d yet faced. Building complex serialized arcs has never been Chuck’s strong suit, so this one’s success isn’t of particular concern. The scenery-chewing CIA nemesis Clyde Decker (Richard Burgi) returns to torment Chuck, and the final scene indicates that he’ll be around for a while. That clunky moment didn’t leave chills like a classic genre cliffhanger, but this remains an enjoyable opener. Now that the stage is set for the new season, one expects that the quality will improve as we move towards the inevitable conclusion.

Dan Heaton

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