CHUCK “Chuck Versus the Santa Claus”: Times to Break the Rules

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We’ve said before that the delights of Chuck can be found in the sizzle rather than the steak. The sizzle is even more fun than usual this week, which suggests they should work harder to get all the main characters in the same room more often. From Casey being told an electronics store isn’t Basra and growling about a lost toe being his first war wound to an inept bad guy being named Ned R(h)yerson, Santa’s Workshop was filled with little treasures. Our favorite was the jaw-dropping Die Hard homage with Reginald VelJohnson reprising his role as Sgt. Al Powell…who just happens to be BuyMore manager Big Mike’s cousin. They even throw in snippets of “Ode to Joy” to complete the effect. We just want to know if the same Twinkies from the movie are reprising their roles, too.

What’s different about Chuck this week is that the steak is as good as any of the sizzle. Chuck’s shock at Sarah’s execution of a Fulcrum agent isn’t just another obstacle to stretch out their love story: it’s both a fundamental wedge that separates Chuck’s two lives and new glue that cements Sarah’s two lives. Chuck’s the one who introduced the idea that when it comes to family and friends, there are time when you should break the rules, but Sarah’s decision show that not only does she place Chuck squarely in that rarified company, but that Chuck may still think there are rules that shouldn’t be broken (whether that special rule is “don’t shoot an unarmed man in cold blood” or “don’t lie to me about shooting unarmed men in cold blood” remains to be seen). In addition, they’ve planted the seeds to blow up the format of the show. We kind of doubt they will–the BuyMore set can’t be cheap, and we’d miss Ellie, Awesome, Morgan, Anna, Lester, Jeff, Big Mike, and Big Mike’s fish–but the fact that Fulcrum has noticed John Casey and the CIA “yogurt girl” protecting someone or something at the BuyMore suggests the Intersect can’t stay there forever. In one fell swoop, Chuck has reintroduced genuine tension to the show’s central relationship and injected genuine uneasiness and questions into the overall structure. Obviously, the titular Santa Claus thinks we Chuck fans have been very good girls and boys this year.

Choose Your Chenoweth

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I guess there really can be too much of a good thing. At 8pm Eastern and Pacific tonight, you can catch the incandescent Kristin Chenoweth as Olive Snook, the best thing about the brilliant Pushing Daisies. This may be the last episode of Pushing Daisies we ever get on broadcast TV (an additional couple of eps have been filmed and would show up on an eventual DVD release), so of course you’ll want to tune in…

…unless, of couse, you need a little Christmas right this very minute. If that’s your circumstance, you may want to catch dazzling Broadway and recording star Kristin Chenoweth on TNT’s Christmas in Washington. Which is, of course, also on at 8pm Eastern and Pacific. I’d go into an extended rant here about how this is a perfect example of networks not understanding their own schedules, but TNT is wisely rebroadcasting Christmas in Washington several more times, including multiple showings tonight. (And, frankly, if you’re in flyover country, it’s all going to work out for you anyway–check local listings.)  Our recommendation, then, is to catch Chenoweth dealing with rival Norwegian detectives (led by Orlando Jones!) on Daisies at 8 and then to switch over to TNT, careful to avoid host Dr. Phil, to catch Chenoweth perfoming the geeeeoooooorgeeeeeeous, Eastern-tinged version of “What Child Is This?” from her new Christmas album. Apparently other people will be performing (Julianne Hough and Darius Rucker, for example, in case you want oddly country-fried Christmases), but it’s hard to believe they’ll be able to hold a candle to Chenoweth.

Of course, none of this provides a solution as to how to see A Muppet Christmas: Letters to Santa (Jesse L. Martin! In a letter carrier outfit! Probably singing!), which airs at exactly the same time–insert that above-mentioned rant about scheduling here and try to think of Kristin Chenoweth rather than Jay Leno.

NBC Comedy Christmas: If You’re Going to Decorate the Drunks, Please Have a Fire Extinguisher Standing By

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Who would have guessed that the entry in NBC’s comedy lineup that has put shards of glass in an old man’s eye and married a berry-addled guy off to a raccoon and used crotch-focused heat-vision cameras to catch cheaters would be the one that actually gets Christmas?

What did we learn on The Office this week? Angela is sleeping with Dwight (which the viewers knew) and you can’t check a drunk into rehab against her will. Given that I was in fact questioning the teachings of the Mormon Church (and every other major world religion) not after having a drink but while missing this Thursday lineup to see a surprisingly limp Christmas performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Princess Unicorn’s horn piercing the sky restored my faith in funny but did little to restore my faith in Christmas. What did we learn on 30 Rock? Lonely white ladies and traumatized executives will ruin Christmas every time (although they can try to make up for it by singing a boozy rendition of “The Christmas Song”). A Tracy Jordan reference to Basquiat will crack me up every time, but Jack deciding not to murder his mother isn’t exactly “The Gift of the Magi”. Both shows were funny, and 30 Rock even had as sentimental an ending as they ever will, but the cynicism I so appreciate the rest of the year clashes slightly with the season.

It was My Name Is Earl that really got into the Christmas spirit, even if they lit exactly as many drunks on fire as The Office did. They’ve had brilliant Christmas episodes (mostly focusing on reuniting feuding families before), but “Orphan Earl”‘s message that being generous to people who have hurt you is liberating cuts right to the heart of the season. The morality police often draw a bright line between “naughty” and “nice” TV by excoriating anything that addresses sex or incorporates swearing but giving a pass to empty sitcom garbage that tarnishes souls and makes people stupider just by shooting low. My Name Is Earl, which had a sex-for-money transaction as part of a scam last night, blows up that kind of simple-minded categorizing by keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long (or at least from September through May).