As the third season went along, it seemed pretty doubtful that ‘Chuck’ would be renewed again for a fourth. As I wrote in my recap of the season finale, I felt that the series found a real sense of clarity and focus as the producers moved toward wrapping everything up with a satisfying conclusion. (I still don’t buy the claims that they always expected to be picked up again.) Well, anyway, the show in fact did get renewed, against all odds. Now here we are, in Season 4, and the challenge for the writers and producers is to keep up the momentum, and to give the series a reason to continue on. Have they managed that? Based on last week’s season premiere, things are looking pretty good so far.
‘Chuck vs. the Anniversary’ picks up where the tacked-on cliffhanger left off. Chuck has discovered a secret spy base that his father built beneath the family’s old house, and has also learned that his mother is a spy. He takes it upon himself to launch a new mission to find his mother. Because he had promised to give up his life of spying, he decides that he can’t tell Sarah or Casey or Ellie. He enlists Morgan’s help, of course, because he needs a sidekick to help with the mission. Morgan is more than eager to assist.
Chuck and Morgan jet all across the far corners of the Earth on the trail of his mother, which naturally leads right back to Los Angeles, and a dead end. This leaves Chuck deeply in debt, and in need of a job. Despite several attempts, Chuck finds himself unemployable. It seems that a certain diminutive General has been sabotaging his job interviews, so as to prove to him that there’s only one job that Bartowski is qualified for.
By the end of all this, Chuck’s search for his mother intersects with Sarah and Casey’s new mission to bring down a Russian arms dealer named Marco who has developed a super-powerful portable EMP device. Chuck has to save the two of them, and winds up rejoining the spy business. He tells them about the secret base, and about his mother. They agree to reactivate Team Bartowski and help him find her.
Chuck also decides that he needs to tell Ellie, but before he can, she announces that she’s pregnant. He wusses out and can’t tell her the truth.
Things That Are Awesome about the Season Premiere
Chuck’s mom is freakin’ Sarah Connor! How cool is that? Linda Hamilton is looking a little the worse for wear these days (most of here scenes are blatantly photographed in soft focus), but proves herself still a badass by killing Marco at the end.
Speaking of Marco, he’s Dolph Lundgren! Because he’s playing a Russian, he obviously has to slip in an “I must break you” line. Perfect.
Harry Dean Stanton pops up in a cameo as a repo man for no reason whatsoever. Too funny.
One of the job interviews that Chuck goes on is at Vandalay Industries. Nice ‘Seinfeld’ reference there, writers.
Things That Are Just OK in the Season Premiere
After having been blown up in the finale, the Buy More is back up and running in no time flat. Now it’s a fully operational CIA front with Gen. Beckman sitting in as store manager. I feel like destroying the store was a good opportunity to move on and try something different this season. Having Chuck slip back into his old cover job feels a little stale.
A running gag about Chuck and Sarah sexting each other goes nowhere and isn’t all that funny.
While they’re still listed in the opening credits and referenced in the dialogue, this episode has no appearances from Awesome, Big Mike, Jeff, or Lester. I’m sure they’ll pop up in later episodes, though.
Things That Suck about the Season Premiere
In another bit of nerd fan service, the producers have cast ‘Attack of the Show’ hostess (and recently ‘Daily Show’ contributor) Olivia Munn as a CIA agent working as the Buy More’s assistant manager. Morgan is instantly infatuated. (What happened to his crush on Casey’s daughter?)
I just don’t understand Munn’s appeal. While she’s often described as “hot” (by the standards of other people who work on the G4 network, I suppose), I find her quite plain-looking and annoying. She’s not a real nerd (like, say, Felicia Day); she just panders to them to further her career. Also, she’s a terrible, terrible actress. Her harsh, gravely voice sounds like she’s smoked 35 cigarettes between each take. And her dead-behind-the-eyes line readings signal her training at the Kardashian Academy of Dramatic Arts.
In other words, I just hate her. I’m not sure whether her appearance here is a cameo or will be a recurring role. I hope it’s just a cameo. I’d prefer not to see her again.
Fortunately, that’s a small hiccup. The premiere episode is pretty entertaining overall, and signals that the writers have planned out a few interesting new directions to take the season. If NBC keeps the series on the air long enough to follow through on them, of course.