'Chuck' recap: A trashy homage that turns into trash
There are weeks when I'm on the same page as "Chuck," and everything's just peachy. There are weeks when I'm on the same page as "Chuck," but the show's execution leaves something to be desired. And then there are weeks when I can see what "Chuck" is trying to do and can even sort of accept that it's pulled that off, but it's doing something I just have no interest in. "Chuck Versus the Cat Squad" was an episode like that. I wasn't a big fan at all. In fact, it might be my least favorite episode of the season so far. But at the same time, if you loved it, I'm not going to blame you for loving it. It was just celebrating a kind of TV I've never liked all that much, all the while refusing to be as campy as it would need to be to amuse me as much as it wanted to. And if that works for you, cool. But I couldn't get on that wavelength.
The centerpiece of the episode is the return of the “Cat Squad,” a group of four, consisting of Sarah and three of her fellow supermodel-sexy super-spies. In the mind of Morgan, these four women become a kind of homage to "Charlie's Angels," and the opening sequence, which took the form of the opening credits for a theoretical "C.A.T. Squad" TV series, was sort of fun, even though it was better when the show did the "Hart to Hart" homage last season. From there, though, the show dove straight into a goofy homage to these sorts of "hot girls solving crime" shows, series often produced by Aaron Spelling. And although I can accept that those shows have some sort of historical value, I can't make the leap to accept that they were any GOOD. In fact, they were pretty atrocious much of the time, and in chasing those shows around, no matter how cheekily the homage was meant to be taken by the audience, "Chuck" veered too close to the earlier series for me to really enjoy it.
This might have been vaguely OK if the whole episode was confident enough to just go with the cheesiness of the central scenario, sort of like those episodes of “Glee” that celebrate solely the work of one artist. Those episodes are frequently awful, but at least they have the courage of being completely nuts and indebted to their particular material. (And, while I'm on it, “Chuck” and “Glee” have a lot of similarities on some levels, don't they?) Instead, "Chuck" decided to make this all a big part of the "Sarah's not sure about inviting people from her past to the wedding" arc, something that made both halves of the plot feel sillier than they needed to feel. I don't mind the idea of this plot, but it's hard to come up with something as goofy as Sarah being part of an elite squad straight out of a cheesy '70s action drama, then ask the audience to take the emotions spawned by that plot seriously.
Weirdly enough, I was most entertained by what Morgan was up to. His attempts to keep Carina a secret from Alex, even though he wasn't cheating on Alex with his former one-night stand? I've seen that before, but the show executed it with a certain panache, and Joshua Gomez had some funny business throughout the story line. And, yeah, the way the whole story line played out was a little silly and predictable, but it wasn't burdened with the rest of the episode's faux-cheesiness. And in an episode such as this one, that was enough to keep me engaged. Plus, I like Alex, and I like her relationship with Morgan, so I was glad to not have to go through a bunch of forced drama. (Having Morgan stop her from seemingly breaking up with him by telling her that he's in love with her was a nice touch.)
But, ugh. The rest of the episode was just so silly. Some of that silly wasn't bad -– I dug the cat claws providing the scene wipes here and there -– but much of it was of the sort that had me groaning from the start. It might have worked better for me if I had any affection for the shows it was doing a take-off on -– even as trash -– but I don't. Even the visit to Rio or the cameo by Lou Diamond Phillips as the bad guy who's not really even a character didn't get me to smile. It's one thing to pay homage to something so cheesy that it takes on a life of its own, particularly when you're a strong show with your own voice. It's another to ape it so successfully that you become something straight out of that earlier program. "Chuck" skewed too far toward the latter, and that made "Cat Squad" too much of a chore for me. I'm sure I'll be back on board next week, but I doubt I'll revisit this one much, if ever at all.
Some other thoughts:
--I did like the little scene between Ellie and Sarah, where they had a talk about Sarah’s problems in dealing with the skeletons in her closet. These two should be better friends than they are, and I applaud any step in that general direction.
--I see that a lot of other people who write about this show week to week are complaining about Amy being too easy to pick out as the mole. And, yeah, that was pretty clearly telegraphed, but I took it to be a part of the homage, for whatever that's worth. (For me, it wasn't much.)
--I DID think we might be in for something special when the squad arrived via helicopter to take Sarah out for a good time. That scene set up some expectations of grand, over-the-top fun that the rest of the episode didn't really match up to.
--Nice touch: DVDs become throwing stars in the Buy More fight. --Casey's little story about confronting his old girlfriend continues. Seems the big lug might still have some feelings for Kathleen. Hmmm ...
--If you're looking for more Mircea Monroe, she's over on Showtime’s “Episodes” as well, though that show is having its season finale on Sunday.
--"Midnight is very sensible!"
--"This comes from the top, Sarah! The cats are back!" See, this is the kind of silliness I could have gotten behind. Beckman having to refer to the women as "cats"? Just the right kind of goofy.
-- Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)
Photo: Lou Diamond Phillips plays the latest bad guy of the week on "Chuck." Credit: NBC