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Saturday, 31 of October of 2020

“Chuck vs The Honeymooners”: One Year Later

Chuck and Sarah answer the door on the train.

I wouldn’t leave the room either.

With the Season 2 premiere of Treme on HBO last night, NBC apparently wanted us to observe one of their own man-made disasters. Instead of using an off-night for the networks to catch people up on recent episodes of Chuck, we’re being subjected to a repeat of what I consider to be the worst episode of the series, one that I malign more often than I call for the dissolution of Huddy, more than I champion Peggy on Mad Men. We call that festering, weeping mess “vs The Honeymooners.”

The episode comes right after a high point of the season as the Shaw storyline comes to a close (or at least a temporary hiatus), Chuck defending Sarah by firing an actual gun as a live human being. “vs The Other Guy” was an inspired episode ending with the event even a non-shipper was happy to see: Chuck and Sarah getting together. A lot of complications were in front of them and they brought a lot of baggage into their relationship but, finally, we had some level of real consummation.

And then there was “vs The Honeymooners.”

Some might think I’ve been too hard on the episode, that it was a necessary romp to let the audience have a breather post-Shaw. Perhaps my expectations for the first episode of an official Chucknsarah were too high. I’m a man willing to learn. So I decided, in honor of NBC deeming this particular episode important enough to show you on a break, that I would take another look, enlightened as I am with the gift of hindsight.

And you know what …

… I still don’t like it. But for other reasons.

Originally, my problem with the episode was it felt out of place for the season leading up to this episode. Chuck takes a darker mood in the middle of Season 3 (as it did in Season 2, as it did in Season 4) that culminated in “vs The Other Guy” (an episode written by co-showrunner Chris Fedak). By comparison, the episode to follow was cartoonish. It had the feel of a filler episode except that it represented the first time we got to see Chuck and Sarah be a couple. My review focused heavily on that tone.

I still feel like “vs The Honeymooners” is a completely ridiculous episode but I can’t fault it for tone. What makes Chuck such a fun show is that it’s able to mix in different levels of humor within the context of the show. Was I disappointed that Chuck and Sarah’s long-awaited union had a little more gravitas? Sure, but I also have to admit that something deeply serious wouldn’t allow the jubilation necessary to celebrate them finally getting together. Immediately saddling the happy couple with all the baggage from Season 3 (starting from the betrayal at the outset all the way through dating other people just before pushing Shaw over the bridge) and the difficulty in spy-dating would have short-changed the audience out of reveling in the moment. There needed to be a light-hearted element for everyone.

After watching it today, my major problem involves the false stakes Chuck is unfortunately willing to so-often employ. Again, I don’t think there needs to be a lot of heft to this story but they present a problem that isn’t actually a problem. I mention this in the other review that the basis for them “running” (which never really happens since this is, essentially, a bottle episode) is the fear that the agency will split them up. I wish I could chalk it up to some kind of lovesick paranoia after having their hearts continually smashed by work. But there’s no sensible reason for them to feel this burden and they don’t focus enough on the climb to this assumption for us to feel how trapped they say they are. Their binary thinking (Burbank and no kissyface, run and kissyface all the time) makes this consideration all the more ridiculous, something echoed by the Basque squealer they capture.

With the premise being so completely weak and having no support in dialogue, situations, or even a Jeffster performance that’s not stepped all over, the episode crumbles around the core. That might sound familiar to readers of the blog since that’s been a problem with several episodes in season 4, notably “vs The Balcony.” That episode has a similar issue involving gamechangers (Chuck scrambling to ask Sarah to marry him AND Sarah being carted off to go undercover at Volkoff Industries) but, sitting in a story that isn’t strong enough to support any of it, the emotional structure collapses. Unfortunately, “vs The Honeymooners” not only represents a poor execution of an episode but also marks the prototype for Chuck’s inconsistency. So many episodes since (during the “mini-season” post-0313 last year and throughout Season 4) have been hit or miss and the ratings reflect the audience’s waning interest. A new age was ushered in and it isn’t pretty.

While I may not hate the episode for all the same reasons I hated it before, it still feels like a turning point in the series. And those Texas accents? Still the worst.

Also of note, my prediction for how Chuck would use “Feeling Good” never came to fruition. I imagine it’ll come up as the wedding gets closer but I was hoping that would be a theme for hiccups in their relationship or (what I though were inevitable) distances between Chucknsarah. But it didn’t come up when Sarah was part of Volkoff and Chuck was unsure what side she was on. It didn’t come up during “vs Phase Three.” It didn’t even come up when Chuck finally did propose. One of the things I was hoping for was one of the more wan or bluesy covers to appear during serious problems but there really haven’t been any for Chucknsarah outside of her fear of commitment, which, as far as problems two spies dating each other go, with sexpionage on the table, is not really an issue. I can’t blame the show for making Chucknsarah the one true thing in their lives, the one thing that can’t be put asunder by the gray area morality of spy life but the obstacles for them weren’t there either. Oh well. I’ll just hang up that crushed expectation with the rest of them.

The season will end with a punch (they always do) and I’m looking forward to the run. Hopefully we’ll have fewer episodes like this one to round out the season (series?).

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