Friday, October 9, 2015

Chuck Versus Santa Claus

"You owe me a toe, Bartowski!" This is it, the episode that I had been anticipating when I started the Chuck Series Companion Podcast! Why? Because Chuck Versus Santa Claus is quite possibly my favorite episode of Chuck ever! It's the one that I can't wait to get to when I re-watch season two and it's the one that has everything that I love about Chuck as a series. First of all, I have said it many times now, Chuck does Holiday episodes like no other, be it Halloween or Thanksgiving to Christmas, Chuck rules and this episode is no exception.

It's Christmas time at the Buy More, Big Mike and Emmett have jacked up prices 15% and they are expecting a record day in profits. Another thing that the Chuck series does well and I'm sure you are well aware, comedy. Chuck is a funny show and put an episode in the Buy More for nearly the entire duration and there are bound to be laughs and there are aplenty.

Chuck visits Sarah at the Orange Orange and it's no big surprise to find out that she doesn't 'do' Christmas. Why? Her childhood with her con-man father involved the annual Salvation Army Con-Job. But leave it to Chuck and he quickly convinces her that Christmas at the Bartowski's is full of fun, you get to spend the day in your jammies and watch a marathon of Twilight Zone episodes. Sold!

I love the way this episode builds when we cut to the Buy More, Morgan is bummed that Anna won't speak to him because of his major balk at moving in with her. Jeff, Lester and Anna are watching a high-speed car chase on television. Even Awesome and Ellie visit the store to get some last minute shopping done using Chuck's discount (which they'll need with the prices raised 15% ouch!).

It's not long before the car chase winds up in Burbank which we all know is home of the Buy More and our characters. Jeff, Lester and Anna have made a friendly wager on how this chase will turn out. Anna's wager was that there would be a hostage situation and give the girl a freaking prize because that is exactly what happens! Nathan Edward but call him 'Ned' Rhyerson (Jed Rees) has driven his car right into the Buy More and taken everyone hostage at gunpoint. Bing!

So now we have Christmas, Comedy and Danger! Three things that Chuck does perfectly. Chuck is immediately elected to deal with Ned and handling his demands to the cops played by none other than Sgt Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) from freaking Die Hard!!! What else does Chuck do well at? Film references! We've got a hostage situation in a building and we've got Al Powell who is also Big Mike's Cousin! This episode, my friends is a love letter to one of the greatest action movies of all time. DIE HARD.

In another great moment, Ned accidentally shoots off Casey's toe. Naturally John Casey blames Chuck Bartowski for the incident. Ellie tells John that people get by just fine with nine toes. Jeff agrees as he's been getting by with only eight. Um.

When the hostage negotiator Lt. Mauser arrives and he's played by Michael Rooker, originally I just thought it was great casting but no, no, no. When they cast an actor on Chuck, they do it for a reason and that reason is that Rooker has weight. A presence. He's menacing! And when Chuck flashes on Lt. Mauser and it turns out he's Fulcrum the stakes in what has so far been a fun episode turn into something else. Chuck now has no choice, he must save Ellie from being killed by Ned who is no longer a didn't-mean-to-be-a-bad-guy gun-toting nebbish. He's a Fulcrum agent that will kill Ellie if Mauser orders it.

                                                        "Oh no, he didn't?"

The way the episode fools you into trusting Ned just like Chuck is ingenious. We wanted to believe the guy, In a great sequence, Devon is sick of this hostage situation and he explains to the guys that someone has to step up and take this guy out and it's going to be them. After talking them out of it several times, Chuck gives the go ahead when he thinks that all hope is lost. When the gang goes to take Ned down we hear a brilliant Tim Jones version of the Nut Cracker -- Buy More Style. How great is Morgan hiding in the fake snow like Rambo?

Listen to the Podcast Episode: S2Ep11 Vs Santa Claus

Being Christmas themed, this episode was full of holiday music. If you are like me, then you can't hear Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms without thinking about Lethal Weapon. In another great sequence in an episode full of them, we hear I'll be Home for Christmas by Bing Crosby as the Buy More hostages call home. At the end of the episode we get Christmas and Me are Through by Your Vegas when Chuck doesn't know how he will ever feel about Sarah again. I can't forget to mention the great use of Silent Night when Sarah confronts Mauser in the Tree Lot and Ode to Joy when Big Mike and his cousin Al are reunited.

Alan Sepinwall's review of Santa Claus reminds me that the days of watching Chuck on broadcast television could be particularly brutal. Chuck was to be benched for over two months after Santa Claus aired. Can you imagine? Chuck thinks he saw Sarah kill someone in cold blood and the viewer had to wait MONTHS to see what happened next. Eric Goldman loved Santa Claus and even Maureen Ryan got into the action by reviewing Chuck. Here also, is another review by AV Club, they gave the episode an A- while I gave it an A+. Viewers thoughts will at times drive me crazy. What can I say? I'm a sucker for punishment.

Well guys, this was a fantastic episode of Chuck that I like to think is my All-Time Favorite. I've said many times that I love all episodes of Chuck, but this is the essential Chuck, firing on all storytelling cylinders. We've got a Holiday episode, We've got the comedy of the Buy More. We've got a hostage situation and we get lots of danger. We've got all of the great characters of Chuck in one place. We also have the warmth that Chuck does so well. Before everything goes to hell, Chuck gives Sarah his Mother's charm bracelet as a token of affection. He cares deeply for Sarah and she was genuinely moved by the gesture. She later returns the gesture by eliminating the threat to Chuck's way of life. Mauser. It's too bad that Chuck only saw the part where Mauser was turning himself in only to be shot by Sarah.

Yes folks, this episode had everything and that's why I love it so and when I first watched it, it ensured that Chuck was my favorite show. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and listen to the Chuck Series Companion. This episode is one of the reasons that I wanted to do the podcast in the first place. I needed to scream from the roof tops how much I love it and I'm glad that you are here to hear it. A special thank you goes out to Adam Sexton for joining me on this special episode. Watch more Chuck.

Until then...

The Jastrom

1 comment:

  1. First off, kudos on the extended podcast. The second half with your discussion with Adam was a pleasure to listen to. I would love to see you do more extended podcast episodes as you continue to record them (it’s double the podcast goodness :-) ).

    Whereas the prior episode (vs the DeLorean) surprised me a bit on rewatch how much I enjoyed it, with episode 11 I went into the rewatch remembering it as a strong episode and it did not disappoint. I can see how this episode can be your favorite episode, it does so well delivering the full "Chuck" package of humor, fun action, and relationship warmth and drama.

    A peculiar, but nice thing about this episode is that nearly the whole ensemble (all of the regulars sans General Beckman) are together in one location and for most of the episode. I don't recall this happening prior to this episode and it certainly is a rarity for the show.

    Completely agree that the music for the episode was fantastic. I hadn’t consciously picked up on it before you mentioned it, but I agree the Tim Jones piece you describe as “Nutcracker meets Buy More” is very good.

    There is some great heartwarming moments in this episode, such as Chuck's insistence that Sarah join in the Bartowski Xmas, Chuck saying goodbye to Ellie when he fears he may never see her again and, of course, the bracelet scene. Starting from the moment Sarah, sad as she recognizes that she has no one she can call when others are speaking to loved ones on their phones, receives a call from Chuck, through him placing the bracelet on her wrist and having to leave her to resume being the leader of the situation, that stretch is nearly off the warmth scale. And I like how the scene is shot, capturing an intimate feeling with them kneeling/crouched down to grab a bit of privacy behind a display rack. This seems like the first big step since the disruption that Jill's presence caused for Chuck again revealing to Sarah that their cover relationship is more than that to him.

    The plot for this episode is wonderful. What seemed like a standalone episode that wasn't going to be connected to the big story arcs instead is revealed to be very much part of those. (I'm pretty sure on first watching I thought it was going to be a feel good holiday episode with Chuck somehow figuring out a way to get Ned back to his family without being arrested.) That it turns out that Fulcrum knew Casey and Sarah were protecting someone but needed to flush out who that was and so staged the hostage situation made for a great surprise, and good tension/drama when they ID'd Chuck as the person being protected but still don't realize he is the Intersect, instead thinking he's their avenue to finding Bryce with the Intersect until Chuck divulges that he is the Intersect believing it necessary to save his sister.

    And a great dramatic end with Sarah killing the Fulcrum agent in order to protect Chuck and the people he cares for, but Chuck only seeing it as a coldblooded killing, leaving the audience to wonder what will happen between Chuck and Sarah as he seems to see her in a different light while she is unaware of this.

    This marks the halfway point of S2, and I'm marveling at how good that stretch of 11 episodes is. Only one that I would say left me a bit underwhelmed, that being ...vs the Sensai, and even that one is solid.