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'Chuck' recap: An old friend drops by for a visit

February 8, 2011 |  6:50 am

NUP_142809_0084 Season 2’s “Chuck Versus the Seduction” was one of my favorite episodes of that season and maybe one of the best episodes “Chuck” has ever done. The sense of fun that emanated from that episode helped make the second season of “Chuck” feel like a show that was finding its voice, with charm to spare.

Yet the episode was so much fun that when I learned John Larroquette would be reprising his role as Roan Montgomery, the master spy and genius of seduction, I wasn’t sure the episode would have anything new to add to the story of Roan as already established, at least not beyond the very basic idea of him as someone who could teach Chuck a thing or two about love. (And could he? Chuck’s in a very happy relationship now.)

Bringing back a beloved guest character is always a problem on a TV show. Very often, that character is specifically designed to last just one episode, and any attempts to extend the story beyond that one episode can fall flat.

But although “Chuck Versus the Seduction Impossible” wasn’t as good as the original, it was a solid stand-alone episode of the show, a nice way to ease us back into a story that seemed like it might be closed off forever just a week ago.

Larroquette can play a role like this in his sleep, really, but he’s very, very fun as a smooth, suave man who’s somehow able to seduce a femme fatale not once, but twice. And the second time, she’s got a good idea he’s a U.S. spy, no less! He doesn’t have nearly as much to do in this episode as he did the last time around, but it would be hard to top his lessons to Chuck in the art of being a suave man’s man. Instead, he becomes the reason for the mission, not the man trying to help send Chuck out on that mission.

The writers cleverly spin off a gag from the original episode to kick this one into gear: Roan and General Beckman have a history together, and though she seems a little embarrassed by it, he’s still got her number (and she his). They first got together in Germany, right around the fall of the Berlin Wall, but they vowed to leave their relationship to the side, getting together for good in 20 years if nothing else had intervened in the meantime. Naturally, it’s 2011, and Beckman’s not married, much less to Roan, so we know something happened here. But what? The episode has great fun playing around with the idea of the normally straitlaced Beckman thrown off her game by the fact that her great love is both being held prisoner by the wicked (and gorgeous) Fatima and the idea that these two wouldn’t know what to do in a relationship anyway. Plus, having Chuck and Sarah get to be exasperated by someone else having relationship troubles in the middle of a mission was a nice change of pace.

Any episode where we got to see Beckman getting a little weepy over a drink or firing a rocket launcher to free Roan was going to be at least a little entertaining, and fortunately, the rest of the episode worked as well. In particular, it was a good episode for Casey, and as longtime readers of this blog will know, I’m a fan of Casey getting good material. Few actors can get as many laughs simply out of standing up straight as Adam Baldwin routinely does on this show, but the moment when he straightened up as he thought Morgan got his daughter pregnant might have been the comedic highlight in an episode full of them. And though it doesn’t really make sense that Casey wouldn’t want to talk to Kathleen -- his daughter’s mother, who thinks he’s dead -- it also sets up a nice potential story arc for him (and I loved the moment where he saw her with another guy and said, “Good for you”). Add that to the fact that he spent most of the episode stuck in a wall, strangely excited about the possibility of having to cut off his own arm (maybe he liked “127 Hours” that much), and you’ve got an episode that used the big guy very well.

Chuck and Sarah’s latest relationship contretemps wasn’t as good as the Casey story or the Beckman-Roan pairing, but at least the episode didn’t play it as gravely serious business. Sarah wants to elope, not sure she can handle the pressure of a big wedding (or of Chuck meeting all of her apparently crazy family). Chuck, who’s so devoted to his family and friends, wants to have a nice wedding that everybody they know can attend. The episode mostly plays this argument for laughs -- of course the two are going to have a big, festive wedding with Morgan as best man and Gary Cole returning to give his TV daughter away, so there’s no real conflict here. But it’s still a little tiring for the show to continue to feel like it has to introduce a relationship conflict for the two on a nearly weekly basis. Couldn’t they just enjoy being together and fighting bad guys for once?

Finally, there was Ellie getting used to having her new baby. This was less a storyline than an excuse to drop in on the home of Ellie and Awesome after the birth of Clara, but I liked the early scene where the house is crowded with friends and family. This cast works so well together that it’s always a pleasure to see all of them crammed together in a room for whatever reason. The later scenes didn’t work quite as well, but it was nice to have Linda Hamilton around for at least another episode, to play little Clara’s spy grandmother. (I also assume that Ellie’s acceptance of her mom’s occupation is setting us up for a scene where she handles Chuck’s reentry into the spy game with something approaching calm. At least I hope so.) I was worried the show would abruptly write the character out, since she’s mostly served her purpose, but Hamilton’s good in the role, and she and Sarah Lancaster deserve more scenes together.

So if we’re not quite back to “Chuck” at full speed, I’m happy to have goofy little standalones like this one. Sure, they may remind us that the show’s glory days appear to be behind it, but they’re also a nice nod to the show’s past and the fun it’s still capable of conjuring. On a long-running show like this, bringing back a character who was fun at one time is just a nice way of acknowledging that, for our favorite characters on our favorite shows, life does go on. Old friends sometimes stop by, and they’ll often have some new problem taking up all of their time. Or, put another way, Chuck and Sarah may have grown since Roan last visited them, but he’s stayed, enjoyably, the same.

Some other thoughts (all-quotes edition):

  • "Woodcombs usually walk at 6 or 7 months."
  • "Chuck, if you get us caught because you sneeze, we are officially the worst spies in the world." (What a nice way to make the hoariness of this plot device into a joke.)
  • "I feel a chafing. The chafe of ... stylelessness."
  • "Morgan, I'm on a mission. I'm in a wall!"

-- Todd VanDerWerff
twitter.com/@tvoti

Photo: John Larroquette is Roan Montgomery, master of seduction. Credit: NBC

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