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'Chuck' recap: Does this show deserve a renewal? Let's discuss

Chuck There’s some hilarious stuff in the penultimate episode of Season Four of “Chuck” (and maybe the next-to-last episode ever), but there’s also stuff that doesn’t work so well, and much of that stems from the worst decision the show has made this season: the decision to make Vivian Volkoff such a big player in the season’s endgame. In theory, I like the idea of there being this exact opposite to Chuck in every way, but in practice, the development of her character has been so scattered and random that it’s hard to gain much sympathy for her or even build up a good dislike of her. She’s just kind of there, neither as a cautionary tale or a good villain.

I know that the reason this has developed this way is because the show has been renewed and nearly canceled so haphazardly over the years. This season alone, episode 13 was one where the producers had every reason to believe they’d never be coming back, and then they had to come up with a storyline for another 11 episodes of television. This was accomplished well in some cases (I really liked the reveal about Alexei Volkoff’s origins last week) and poorly in others (Vivian might have made more sense stretched over an entire season, instead of a handful of episodes). It’s hard to hold this against the show, but every time it starts to build some momentum, as it did last week, there’s Vivian again, holding things back.

And it’s a pity, because Monday night’s episode had some fine ideas in it, from Chuck being quite literally torn between his mother and his fiancée while on a mission (and just days before his wedding!) to a final twist that put Sarah in mortal danger. Now, granted, this show isn’t going to kill Sarah, particularly in an episode that may end up having to serve as the series finale, but having the usually capable Sarah felled by Vivian, if only for a little while, will make Chuck’s emotional investment in bringing her down that much stronger. And I also found plenty to laugh at in this episode, from Lester’s insanity invading the first draft of Chuck and Sarah’s wedding video to Chuck getting Morgan psyched up by humming the “Imperial March” from the “Star Wars” movies (complete with transition to the full version on the soundtrack).

So it’s not like the episode was a total waste, but everything involving Vivian and her new evil pals fell flat for me. I’m sure there’s a way the show can pull all of this together next week, but I’m far more invested in the health of Sarah and Chuck and Ellie’s work to save Volkoff from his life as a bad guy, thus returning him to his status as Hartley Winterbottom. Vivian just doesn’t register for me, as either a foil for Chuck or some way for the show to do a “what if” scenario featuring our fair hero.

So that dispensed with, let’s tackle another question: Does “Chuck” deserve to get renewed?

First, from a business standpoint, it’s clear that if NBC cancels “Chuck” next week (the network holds its “upfront” meeting, where it will announce its new schedule, on Monday), no one will be terribly surprised. The show’s ratings have crumbled quite a bit in 2011, and even though NBC has huge holes on every night of the week, the success of “The Voice” may have convinced the network that doing something new will be better than hanging on to the old. At the same time, no one would be too surprised if NBC picked up the show. Its ratings are bad, but it’s cheap, and it has a built-in fan base. Picking it up for 13 “final” episodes would allow the show to get one last chance to tie up all loose ends.

But does it have that many loose ends to begin with? Now that the show has let virtually every other character in on Chuck’s secret (or every character we wanted to learn about that secret) and now that Chuck and Sarah are on their way to the altar, there aren’t a great deal of things still hanging over the show. Some of this has come about because the show has aired so many potential series finales over the years (since at least the midpoint of Season Three), but there still isn’t a great dramatic impetus driving the characters forward. The story of “Chuck” is all but done, especially once Chuck and Sarah are married.

That said, would I stop watching the show if it came back for a fifth season, one specifically billed as the end? Probably not. Many of the problems of seasons Three and Four have stemmed from the unusual episode orders NBC keeps tossing at the show. With a set number of episodes and a set end-date, the show could likely come up with a sweet story that lets us know what all of the characters are going to be up to in the years to come (when we’re not watching them). It could also come up with some fun standalones and so on. That said, the show’s budget would likely be so low if it returned that every episode would be a standalone on the BuyMore set, where Captain Awesome talked about the virtues of his awesome minivan. Is that a show I want to see? I’m not as sure about that.

Regardless, when I write my piece next week at this time, we’ll know whether the series is coming back or not. If it does, well, we’ll watch those episodes, I’d assume. And if it doesn’t, we’ll certainly have our memories of the show as it was. Even if it was never able to rise again to that Season Two level, it’s never been anything less than pleasant. And that’s not nothing.

Photo: As we contemplate what might be the end of the road for this show, let's remember how this all started, with Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski), Chuck (Zachary Levi, center) and Casey (Adam Baldwin). Credit: NBC.

Related articles:

'Chuck' recap: Who is Hartley Winterbottom?

'Chuck' recap: Don't waste Gary Cole!

Complete Show Tracker 'Chuck' coverage

-- Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)

 
Comments () | Archives (22)

KEEP CHUCK!

Oh... I agree about Vivian. Is she bad or not? It is a little ridiculous... but, man... the last few moments of this previous episode had my heart wrenching! I would love for Chuck to come back again. I'd actually be very sad to see it go. I wish however that they allow it to be done right and give it a bit more of a budget!

One positive, if Chuck gets cut, is that Yvonne Strahovski will have more time to hopefully make an impact in movies. Currently, with her Chuck production schedule, that doesn't leave much opportunity for her to accept many movie roles. I really hope this fine actress makes it big in movies. Optimistically looking forward to the release of her movie, The Killer Elite in 2011.

worst case scenario, the show gets canceled and the fans rally to convince some major studio to produce a feature length movie, a la Firefly/Serenity. There's such a strong fan base that I can't see that NOT happening if the show doesn't get a season 5. Plus, making the jump from a TV series to a feature film is familiar territory for Adam Baldwin!

I think Chuck should come back for a 5th season. I agree Vivian Volkoff is just killing the show. However the drama between Sarah and Chuck has decreased since season 2. Only last night's episode it was at its high, Chuck and Sarah protecting each other.
I also thing a great next season could come from one of the episodes in season 4, Chuck versus Phase Three. Chuck has his mind erased clean and he is on a renegade team manipulating the intersect and it is up to Team Bartowski to bring back Chuck and restore his memory.

Although alot of the episodes this season are much better than previous seasons. I stopped watching and DVRing Chuck in March. Lost interest.

I still love this show & would be so happy for a 5th season.

Please, NBC...renew 'CHUCK'!!

Not sure what everyones problem with Vivian is.. She isn't even the main focus of the story right now and really hasn't been all season. I think you guys are kinda missing the point of the storyline this season if Vivian is ruining it for you lol. Yea obviously she is a horible nemesis but if you think about it it had to be that way.. Have you not noticed all the down time they have had and not having to worry about things because Volkov is out of the picture. If they had some huge nemesis in this season especially later on in the season a lot of the main story line with chuck and the family and friends would not be there. I truly enjoy that part of the story, the show isn't all about the spy side. I enjoyed this season as much as any of them and i don't agree at all with 90 percent of what is written in this article but you are entitled to your opinion i guess lol.

Every week when I read about the previous week's ratings, invariably the story will say that Chuck had a new series low rating. Give it up NBC. I know you're pretty much in the toilet, but renewing shows hardly anyone watches year after year isn't going to change that.

While I think that Vivian's character is rather flat and is certainly a detriment to the show, the main qualities of "Chuck"--the nuances of the Chuck-Sarah relationship, Casey's character development, and, of course, the villainous twists--continue to be strengthened over time.

I still can't understand why the show has such poor ratings. I hope that it doesn't get cancelled!

While it seems like a lot of stuff has been wrapped up already, it seems obvious that there will be more that will be unraveled in the next episode that will leave us with some open questions. After all, the finale is called "chuck vs the cliffhanger." and while I'd be sad about chuck only having, say, 13 more episodes in the potential next season because I only started watching in February, it would be nice to have the last few to wrap everything up, and there is such a benefit for the writers to knowing exactly how many episodes you have left. I hope we can get at least that. I just don't want to be left hanging after Monday's finale.

Although, I've thought about other bubble shows that have gotten picked up on other networks (i.e. Scrubs on ABC, Medium on CBS) and I've wondered why NBC universal wouldn't take Chuck to USA, to sum everything up at the very least. I know a lot of psych fans who are also Chuck fans, and I think they could do really well alongside each other in the fall. Just a thought.

While it seems like a lot of stuff has been wrapped up already, it seems obvious that there will be more that will be unraveled in the next episode that will leave us with some open questions. After all, the finale is called "chuck vs the cliffhanger." and while I'd be sad about chuck only having, say, 13 more episodes in the potential next season because I only started watching in February, it would be nice to have the last few to wrap everything up, and there is such a benefit for the writers to knowing exactly how many episodes you have left. I hope we can get at least that. I just don't want to be left hanging after Monday's finale.

Although, I've thought about other bubble shows that have gotten picked up on other networks (i.e. Scrubs on ABC, Medium on CBS) and I've wondered why NBC universal wouldn't take Chuck to USA, to sum everything up at the very least. I know a lot of psych fans who are also Chuck fans, and I think they could do really well alongside each other in the fall. Just a thought....

It's been a great, if underappreciated, ride, and I'll watch as many episodes as they choose to make. Chuck is a smart, clever change of pace from all the cookie cutter fare they give us. Thank you, NBC, for Chuck.

keep Chuck. It needs the last season to be with him married. So glad that sister role is evolving. Still have not really resolved Casey and his love life, or met Morgan's mom. Chuck is fun comedy. I would love for Chuck to come back for at least one more season. What a kicker if Vivian wound up being his sister too and mommy was really undercover for her birth. So Chuck would have to get Vivian to understand family and that her dna is also part of his dna.

I love this show & would be so happy for a 5th season.

Please, NBC...renew 'CHUCK'!!

danny from austraila

CHUCK NEEDS A SEASON 5, IT IS THE BEST SERIES EVER. Season 4 has come a long way since the beginning, to me i find they have really stepped up and have produced some of the best episodes i have ever seen. IT MUST HAVE A SEASON 5, AUSTRALIA LOVES YOU CHUCK!!!!!

I have to say that while I agree with the article that Vivien is underwritten and boring, who really cares? I don't need to like or dislike her particularly to enjoy the show. As one poster pointed out, if Vivien were an honest-to-goodness, full-fledged bad guy, it would take away a LOT of time that has been very nicely spent, in my opinion, showing Chuck and Sarah as a real couple, with real problems and real arguments outside the CIA. It has been funny, sweet, and utterly charming. Yes, there have been some frustrating moments for me this season, but really, the writers can't be expected to get a steady through-line going when every couple of episodes they're afraid they might get canceled. And what they have been able to come up with has not done anything to shake my love of this show. There are still a lot of loose ends out there - Alex's mom knows about Casey, for instance, and just because Chuck and Sarah are getting married that doesn't mean their story is ending - far from it (I can say this having just gotten married a few months ago: AFTER "I do" is when things start getting interesting). It's the only show I watch faithfully, and if NBC does cancel it after this season I will be very upset.

It's coming back for 13 more -- just announced on Deadline. Yippee!!!

A piece of crap.It should never have been on in the first place.

I REALLY HOPE NBC DOES NOT CANCEL CHUCK. THIS ONE HOUR SHOW NUMBS THE ACHES AND PAINS OF THE DAY WITH ACTION, COMEDY, AND ENJOYABLE CHARACTERS. DON'T CANCEL CHUCK, NBC!

 
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