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The return of 'Chuck,' last night and tonight: Now, it's really 'Chuck Versus Chuck'

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In the current issue of EW, I make the assertion that by turning Chuck Bartowski from panicky nerd to adrenaline-pumped super-spy, the show’s creators risk alienating their core fan base. (And until the ratings are in for a few weeks’ worth of episodes, we won’t know whether a core fan base is mostly what’s keeping Chuck alive.)

But watching last night’s two season-premiere hours again, I realized: Fans couldn’t care less about a shift in strategy designed to freshen Chuck and make it more appealing to a wider audience. What the fans want is solidly constructed plots that work within the often-wacky Chuck universe, and for the emotions underlying the joking to ring true — for those emotions to, ideally, even run a little deep. That’s what happened on last night’s season premiere, and will happen again tonight.

Last night’s back-to-backs, “Chuck Versus The Pink Slip” and “Chuck Versus The Three Words,” set up what Sarah enunciated quite succinctly: “You’re a spy now, Chuck; you have to keep your emotions to yourself.” By which she was also referring to herself, of course. This led to a pleasing tension between the two of them.

The missions themselves were pretty “Ring” standard, and, sorry, but Chuck being able to flip and dip between red lasers to avoid tripping an alarm — seen that too many times elsewhere.

What I liked most was Zachary Levi’s more delicate balancing-act that had nothing to do with avoiding red beams of light. Rather, it’s the way Levi is able to navigate between his old, squeamish-guy persona and his new, hey-I-can-do-this abilities. Chuck can’t get too cocky too fast, and he can’t shake the lack of self-confidence that, in the past, has tripped him up both on missions and in romance. Levi walked that fine line perfectly last night.

Loose ends:

• How do you feel about Tony Hale’s character being really dead-dead, and the return of Big Mike? Personally, I’m going to miss Hale’s unique mix of mince and malice.

• Did you buy the notion that Carina would be intrigued by Morgan because “no one’s ever said ‘No’ to me before”?

What did you think of Chuck‘s season premiere?

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