Chuck vs. The Role Models 3.15 **
The writer of this episode, Phil Klemmer, had penned one before, “Chuck vs. the Final Exam.” My problem with Exam was how the humor diluted some of the suspense that gave the story some needed bite that Chuck had to face. In Role Models we have all humor and no bite, well, there’s the tiger but I don’t think he counts.
Concerned about them officially being a couple, General Beckman assigns Chuck and Sara to shadow Craig and Laura Turner, a revered married spy couple played by Fred Willard and Swoozie Kurtz. Beckman wants Chuck and Sarah to gain insight into how to function successfully as a spy couple by observing the best in the business.
Meanwhile, Casey has his own mission impossible to deal with in training Morgan Grimes to become a spy–or at the very least a guy who can handle himself in the field.
Unbeknownst to Chuck and Sarah, however, the years of espionage and spydom has disillusioned the Turners. They’ve become spies for hire and are perfectly willing to sell world-security threatening weapons and technology to the highest bidder. If it’s not a marriage built on love and trust anymore, at least it can be built on profit gains.
This show has always worked when it is balanced. The Beard was also a light-hearted Chuck, but it still had the Ring presenting a serious threat when they infiltrated Castle. Danger was still present and lives were still threatened. Of course, we knew our heroes would turn out okay, but the episode still gave you that illusion, that suspension of disbelief, that all successful adventure comedies have to have.
In this one, everything is a bit too tongue-in-cheek. We don’t buy for a second that Chuck and Sarah are in any danger or that the Turners would make serious antagonists. The idea of using a tiger as a security measure is also a bit over the top, and it certainly doesn’t help when it starts turning into a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon. Yep, we even have to have the delayed sneeze from an allergic Chuck.
I think it’s a common mistake that befalls many a show in that the producers overcompensate when they try something different and get a negative reaction from their audience. This is an episode that is very ginger in its execution and it’s too bad, because they have some nice setups here for a potentially interesting story. And sometimes that’s better than making everyone happy.
For instance, I think Willard and Kurtz should have relied less on super agent bickering Bickersons than a spy version of George and Martha. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? George and Martha are a bitter middle-aged husband and wife who seem to enjoy hurting each other. We really don’t get that here, and I think it’s to the story’s detriment. Why wouldn’t you be bitter about something you’re so good at doing but have come to despise through the years and mission after mission after mission?
So it would have been interesting to see the Turners as people who can’t stand each other but wholly dependent upon each other, ironically making them very formidable. In some ways, it reminds me of the relationship between Macbeth and Desdemona on the animated series, Gargoyles. Two co-dependent teammates who would turn on a dime against each other if given the chance. But, in a way, kind of reluctant to because regardless of the mutual hatred, they work well together. The job they hate brings out the best in them.
This, I think, is the biggest fear that wasn’t quite articulated enough and given a whitewash here. What if Chuck and Sarah get disillusioned by the job and the missions and constant distrust? What if instead of wanting to be together they are stuck together, unable to function as effectively solo as they do as a team…and hating every single minute of it? What if Chuck and Sarah get to the point where they secretly want to kill the other one, but don’t have the stones to actually sever the team?
It’s these things that get swept under the rug when the Turners rediscover their old idealistic heroism when they see how in love Chuck and Sarah are. And while that’s a wonderful message for the shippers, I think angst is tolerable if it’s internal rather than external, like Shaw posed with the external threat. There’s nothing wrong with angst about the unknown in a relationship. Particularly one so rife in strife based merely on the job itself. This is not going to be a case where they can separate the job from daily life. They are intermingled for good and ill.
In purely practical purposes, though, a lack of resolution for the Turners would have made them legitimate threats. One thing I’ve been wanting for Chuck is his own Rogues Gallery. Recurring villains with a bit more of a personal angle than Fulcrums and Rings. The engineer from Nacho Sampler was a nice start, a mirror version of Chuck. The Turners would have been even more interesting because they don’t just show what Chuck and Sarah might have become under different circumstances but what they still can turn into. The Turners are the ultimate cautionary tale and potentially their most dangerous foe. Because thanks to the Turners, perhaps their lives are not the only casualty at stake here, but their love.
From a thematic standpoint, Role Models also seemed to abandon one of my favorite themes of this season: the pros and cons approach. It seems like the season has alternated back and forth with certain storylines. The one that comes most to mind is Awesome’s indoctrination into the spylife. One episode he’s experiencing a new sense of adventure and excitement he’s never felt before, which is like crack to an adrenaline junkie like him. But the following week he experiences the flip side of being in constant danger and sobering life-threatening situations. This is no game, no do-overs.
It’s this approach I was looking forward to seeing with Morgan. I loved the whole training montage and how hopeless Morgan looked, and I even kind of bought the whole selfless heroism on Morgan’s part even if the tiger didn’t fly for me. But I wish we didn’t get that damned wish-fulfillment angle that I hope doesn’t get overplayed. We can’t all be Chuck. We can’t all be nerds who become spies. I was hoping that Casey came to the decision that Morgan will never be a spy but he is invaluable as a field analyst. He can handle himself in a way not conducive to spying per se, but he’s still a valuable member of the team. It would have been neat to see some kind of scene where Casey finally just lays the brass tacks down. That it’s not about the mission or girls or adventure or any of that. The ultimate success in being a spy? Staying alive. That’s all that matters.
But the worst Chucks still have that little hook that wants them to reel you in. So glad to see the Ring back. And I really like how we’re seeing the new plan develop perhaps. They tried going through Chuck’s employment. Now they’re going through his family. But like all great espionage thrillers, this is a meticulous effort. The Ring is moving their chess pieces into place and the first pawn to be used against Chuck looks like it will be his own sister, who is getting played by her doctor friend. That’s the meaty potential I’m looking for and am disappointed that Klemmer failed to see that. Considering that his pedigree includes Veronica Mars where twists and turns happened at every act break, this is doubly disappointing. But I‘m confident that Chuck will deliver when it counts.