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Illustration for article titled iChuck/i: Chuck Versus The First Date
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Illustration for article titled iChuck/i: Chuck Versus The First Date

Welcome back, Chuck fans! If any of you still exist. Like many of the freshmen shows last season, Chuck's run was significantly shortened by the strike–episodes ran uninterrupted till December, then only a few were left for a brief stint in January. Rather than rushing to get these shows running once the strike was resolved, networks chose to wait and relaunch them fully rested in the fall. (The wonderful Alan Sepinwall refers to these shows as "The Re-freshmen Class" on his blog.) It makes sense that Chuck would be one of those, given that it was closely tied with Heroes for much of its first season, which had decided to close shop and wait for fall. But still, it's tough to relaunch a franchise almost nine months later, especially one that wasn't as well established as it could have been.

Upon first glance at tonight's episode, though, it appears NBC made the right call; the show is fresh, reenergized and a hell of a lot more fun than it was before. When last we left Chuck Bartowski, the show was just transitioning from the common misstep that befalls many mission-oriented series–namely, the show centered most of its early episodes around stand-alone tasks, all of which start to blend together. (A similar fate fell upon Reaper for a bit.) But in the season one finale in particular, things started to come together–the gang's attempt to discover who's been tracking Chuck crosses with Lester and Jeff's theft of the boss's wall-mounted marlin.

We also started to witness a Chuck eager to step into a secret agent role, and the continuation of that is one of the more satisfying things about "Chuck Versus The First Date." We see him once again meddling with Casey and Sarah's mission, being dangled through a window but refusing to give up the cipher he recovered. (I was impressed by the fact that Chuck tried to barter with Colt–Michael Clarke Duncan–rather than just give it up; the boy's come a long way.) It was a little bittersweet to discover that the cipher would replace Chuck as the Intercept–on one hand, that meant he'd be free to live a normal life; on the other, once Sarah moves on, there's not much left for him in Burbank other than a sub-par job and a best friend to play Call of Duty with.

Of course, what he doesn't know is that Casey has been tasked to kill Chuck once the new intercept goes live. One of the aspects of the show I enjoyed way-back-when was the fact that Sarah and Casey worked for different agencies; it was hard to tell who was possibly backstabbing who, and that tension informed much of the early conflict. And where Sarah was always warm to Chuck, Casey, though helpful, remained mostly distant. But it seems he's warmed to the boy–the look that crossed his face when given the mission was one of genuine pain. It was even more satisfying, then, to watch him leap to Chuck's rescue when the cipher was stolen from his house. Sprayed with a mysterious chemical, he struggled over to his hidden living room shower (for just such an occasion), shoved a gigantic epi pen into his heart, then proceeded to smash his car through the restaurant and shout, confidently through the cheese, "Hey! Did somebody order drive-thru?"

I guess that's what I liked about the episode, and what I'm looking forward to this season–the show is finally embracing its silliness 100 percent. Other moments from tonight spring to mind: Colt attempting to kidnap Chuck and Sarah during the titular first date, adding that he'll "take care of the check"; Chuck dancing around his house to "Hip to Be Square," then later moping to "Power of Love"; Casey's fascination with Ronald Reagan and bonsai; Lester's terrible godfather impression; the fact that the fancy CIA headquarters runs its Intercept on what appears to be a Macintosh Classic. And, of course, the final showdown between "Charles Carmichael" and Colt, where Chuck calmy calls Morgan and uses the pair's Call of Duty strategy to intimidate the bad guys; then when it works, he awkwardly scoots away, the same Chuck as he always was. I can forgive the forced re-pilotness of this episode (reintroducing Casey and Sarah up top, using the job interviews as a way to work in the Buy More characters) given the fact that Chuck is showing solid promise.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

- No more Weinerlicious. Sarah's now employed by a shop with the best slogan ever: Yogurt & Fun (which, according to Casey, are also the two things stored in the back room). So the outfit is gone, but after that scene scored by Flight of the Conchords, I'm not complaining.

- I love how Morgan shows up to Chuck's house and asks if he has "5-45 minutes" to try out the COD strategy. What a range.

- Speaking of…Morgan's a good friend and all, but did anyone else get a little creeped out when he asked Chuck where "we" would be working next?

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