Original airdate December 15, 2008
For five years, Chuck was a show that was perpetually on the bubble at NBC that stayed on air through the sheer force of will from its fans. Thanks to numerous “Save Chuck” online petitions and fans buying enough foot long Subway sandwiches to feed the entire third world, this show about Charles “Chuck” Bartowski (Zachary Levi), a slacker nerd who works at a Buy-More in Burbank, California who becomes a C.I.A. asset after a computer program called The Intersect gets downloaded into his brain was a spy comedy that was also a loving tribute to geek culture. It was a “by geeks for geeks” series that was equally geeky, sexy and action packed. And since we live in a world where Die Hard is just as much a permanent fixture in the Christmas canon as “A Christmas Carol”, It’s A Wonderful Life and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, it makes perfect sense that Chuck would spend its first Christmas episode paying tribute to the greatest action film ever made.
We begin on Christmas Eve morning as Big Mike (Mark Christopher Lawrence) and Emmett Milbarge (Tony Hale) arrive at the BuyMore, excited for the onslaught of last minute shoppers and the record sales and profits thanks to the 15% price increase. at the Orange Orange, Chuck asks Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) over for Christmas at the Bartowski’s as part of her cover as Chuck’s girlfriend. She declines and tells Chuck that she doesn’t do Christmas. Mainly because she spent her past Christmases conning the Salvation Army with her grifter father. And as the BuyMore employees get ready for the day (and Chuck’s sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and fiancée Devon aka. Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) show up early to use Chuck’s employee family member discount), they watch the TV, taking bets on the high speed car chase that’s happening live. But as they’re about to open the store, the sirens on the TV get louder. And the car that’s being chased crashes through the front of the store. The driver, a Nathan Edward ‘Ned’ Rhyerson (Jed Rees, and I type this I only now get the reference), gets out and pulls a gun on everyone and takes everyone in the BuyMore hostage. From there, the rest of the episode (directed by Robert Duncan McNeill aka. Tom Paris from Star Trek: Voyager whose gone on to have a great career directing television) is Chuck negotiating with the cops on behalf of a nervous Ned and refusing to leave his family and friends behind, Sarah and John Casey (Adam Baldwin) trying to extract Chuck without blowing his cover, Awesome trying to implement a plan to take down Ned and the cops outside, lead by Lieutenant Mauser (Michael Rooker) with Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) at his side. Not only do we find out that Big Mike is Powell’s cousin, but when Mauser negotiates his way into the store in exchange for Sarah and John, Chuck flashes on his watch and realizes that Mauser and Ned are undercover agents for Fulcrum (the evil organization of the season) who staged this to figure out who Sarah and John are protecting and what he knows. Chuck then confesses to being The Intersect and agrees to go with them in exchange for saying goodbye to Ellie. As he does so, he whispers to Awesome to take Ned down. Sarah and Casey then pursue the ambulance Mauser is using to extract Chuck and end up at a Christmas tree lot where a hiding Chuck witnesses Sarah kill an unarmed Mauser as he proclaims that Fulcrum will eventually get to Chuck. And the episode ends with the BuyMore employees free, Big Mike and Powell embracing as “Ode to Joy” plays on the soundtrack, Sarah lies to Chuck about Mauser’s whereabouts and Morgan (who just saw his girlfriend Anna (Julia Ling) kiss Lester (Vik Sahay)) asking Chuck “What do you do when you see your girlfriend do something so horrific, it gets permanently burned into your brain?” ; “I don’t know buddy, but I know exactly what you mean.”
There’s not much here that really plays into the holidays, other than the theme of family and Sarah’s alienation from the holiday due to her upbringing and her life as a C.I.A. agent. This comes into play in the two scenes between Chuck and Sarah and their relationship. At this point in the series, Chuck was still pining for her as she pretended to be his girlfriend as part of her cover. But as the season and series progressed, Sarah’s guard was starting to come down as Chuck opened up to her and showed her what a normal life could offer. It was these character moments that helped to make the show an interesting family drama as much as it was a spy series and a workplace comedy.
As for the latter, some of the comedic highlights included Tony Hale using his weasel status as the 1st freed hostage to pimp the BuyMore to the live news crew, John Casey getting one of his pinky toes shot off as well as his bandaged fingertips from working the gift wrapping station and Big Mike’s determination to get any store activity by the end of the day. Surprisingly enough, the episode doesn’t use VelJohnsons’ presence enough. Like at all. Sue he reuses some of the lines from Die Hard and is munching on Twinkies, but Powell’s presence is just a glorified cameo, which is a shame since for such an inventive and playful series, you’d expect them to get more mileage out of their Die Hard episode.
But its ultimately the character moments between everyone as well as the dark element of Chuck witnessing his love interest kill a man in cold blood for him that helps to make “Chuck vs. the Santa Claus” worthy of covering for the Advent Calendar.