'Chuck,' 'Bones,' Fringe,' 'Community': Season Premiere Thoughts (UPDATED)

Today's cuppa: peppermint-raspberry iced tea

Yesterday, I worked my way through some of the season premieres for the coming week, and I thought I'd share a few random thoughts.

Chuck_Buy_More_Olivia_Munn_Joshua_Gomez_Zachary_Levi.JPG "Chuck" (NBC, Monday, Sept. 20): "This is not the opening of a TV show. This is real life." Chuck (Zachary Levi) to Morgan (Joshua Gomez), "Chuck Vs. the Anniversary"

(Photo: from left, guest-star Olivia Munn, Gomez, Levi)

While this season premiere is only one-tenth as meta as its NBC stablemate "Community" (more on that below), it's fearless about continuing to have fun with the spy genre -- and the key word in that sentence is "fun."

While there are real emotional stakes for all the characters, "Chuck" never takes itself too seriously, even when the fate of the free world is at stake. That's been the key to success with many shows from its cable sibling, USA Network -- from "White Collar" to "Covert Affairs" to "Psych" to "Burn Notice" -- and something the Peacock Net could do well to emulate a bit more.

This season's storyline is the search for Chuck's mom -- played by guest star Linda Hamilton, who looks terrific and has lost none of her gun-wielding and butt-kicking skills -- and there are also big changes in store for the Buy More, which also looks terrific and has acquired all sorts of gun-wielding and butt-kicking skills.

But I won't ruin the surprises for you.

What I liked most -- Harry Dean Stanton with a gun; Dolph Lundgren doing what Dolph Lundgren does best; Zachary Levi in a lean black suit (I do think he's turning into this generation's Jimmy Stewart, with added kung fu moves); and "Tangiers."

In the words of a familiar face, "Welcome back, Chuck."

"Bones" (Fox, Thursday, Sept. 23): Regarding "The Mastodon in the Room," first up, big fan Bones_Mastodon_Emily_Deschanel_David_Boreanaz.jpg of Brennan's (Emily Deschanel) new hairdo, which looks a bit shorter, a bit darker and has bangs. It's very flattering. Not too sure about Sweets' (John Francis Daley) face fuzz, but maybe that will change.

But I'm happy with pretty much any opportunity to see Booth (David Boreanaz) in combat fatigues.

It's essentially a limited reboot of the series, taking place one year after the last season finale, in which the characters scattered to far-flung corners of the globe in search of various personal and professional pursuits.

In the ensuing 12 months, nobody has gotten a sex change or gone to prison or anything like that, but it has allowed for a subtle realignment of the characters' relationships and lives, just enough to keep the show fresh but not so much that it upends the apple cart.

It was entertaining and charming, with some clever plot twists. In essence, it was "Bones."

But I really want to know how they got the mastodon in the room.

"Fringe" (Fox, Thursdays, Sept. 23 and 30): Fox sent two episodes, "Olivia" and "The Box," so I'll do them together. It does get a little confusing, what with strawberry-blonde Olivia in the Fringe_Anna_Torv_Andre_Royo.jpgalternate universe and golden-blonde Olivia (both Anna Torv) in our universe (hint: each looks like the other universe's Olivia), but again, the bangs are a definite improvement for both.

We're back to universe-hopping, with a little conspiracy theory thrown in and a very welcome guest shot from Andre Royo (at left in photo, with Torv), who played informant and struggling addict Bubbles on HBO's "The Wire." I don't know if he's planned to be in any episodes after the premiere, but I sure hope he comes back. He's a warm presence in the cold, technological world of "Fringe," giving me someone to root for along with our-universe Walter (John Noble).

(Frankly, alternate-universe Walter is reminding me of the wacky Denethor that Noble played in "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," and I keep expecting him to call out, "Bring wood and oil!")

Anyway, Torv does a bang-up job once again, managing to be tough, feminine, strong and 201_newday_0469.jpg vulnerable all at once, and that's really not easy, especially since she's playing two characters at the same time in the same show, a challenge for any actor (especially since they're essentially the same person, but kinda not).

I didn't see the cow, though, and that was very disappointing.

"Community" (NBC, Thursday, Sept. 23): The season premiere so nice I watched it twice (actually thrice, since I popped it in again today). Any half-hour comedy with this many self-conscious TV and pop-culture references, one-liners, sight gags AND Betty White should have sunk under its own pretensions, but it does not, because it has none.

NUP_141500_0379.jpgIf the words the characters say came out of the mouths of people who were cooler, more successful, less bumbling or less inherently good, it would be intolerable, as such things are on many other sitcoms. In the words of Betty White (OK, and Yoda), "That is why you fail."

Besides, anything that makes the show's one semi-cool (at least in his own mind) character, ex-lawyer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), clutch his books to his chest like a 14-year-old girl can't be bad.

Also, unlike just about every other time White has made an appearance lately, there isn't even one sex joke involving her (but don't take that to mean there are no shocking moments).

Watch it for your funnybone; watch it for your soul; watch it for the National Review shout-out.

Mostly, just watch it for the next episode in which Joel McHale takes his shirt off (no, it isn't the season premiere, but a girl can dream).

BTW, I just visited the set last Friday during production for the Halloween episode -- which Star-burns.jpg just may outdo last year's, which is saying something -- and while I was sitting on a semi-broken chair between two generators and two drink coolers (yes, the life of an entertainment journalist is just THAT glamorous), I saw Dino Stamatopolous, who plays Star Burns, coming in to work.

As I didn't immediately see his character's star-shaped sideburns, I commented that it was nice that Stamatopolous didn't have to wear them all the time. He replied that he did, but they are colored in darker for filming, and that his job "is to keep them properly trimmed."

Just a little tidbit for you.

UPDATE: "Community" is planning a "Twittersode" to lead into this year's premiere. Click here for details. And, for those of you on Twitter, follow @oldwhitemansays . Trust me.