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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Chuck - The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Chuck - The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // Unrated // November 11, 2008 // Region A
List Price: $49.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted November 7, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Show:

Every year there are one or two TV new shows that never get the attention they deserve.  Sometimes they're more niche, cult programs but sometimes they are shows that would appeal to a wide audience.  One of those programs that flew under a lot of people's radar last year (myself included) was Chuck, a comedy/spy show that on the face of it sounds pretty stupid, but is executed so well that it turned out to be one of the better shows premiering last season.  For those who missed it, all 13 episodes from the writer's strike shortened season have arrived on Blu-ray.
 

Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) was a brilliant student at Stanford until his life came crashing down on him.  It all happened when his roommate and best friend, Bryce, stole his first (and only) girlfriend and then conspired to get him kicked out of college.  That was five years ago and Chuck finds himself living with his sister, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), a doctor, and her boyfriend, a mountain-climbing sky-diving doctor who Chuck refers to as Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin.)  He works at the local Buy More, and when he's not working hangs out with his uber-nerd friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez).

Things all change one evening when, out of the blue, Chuck receives an e-mail from Bryce.  It turns out to be a massive series of images that hold Chuck transfixed for hours.  When the images stop cycling, he passes out.

It turns out that Bryce was a spy for the CIA who went rouge.  For some reason he broke into the computer that contained all the information that both the CIA and NSA had collected over the years in encrypted form and downloaded it, destroyed the computer, and then tried to escape.  He didn't quite make it and with his dying breath e-mailed the information to Chuck.  Chuck now has the sum total information that the US government has collected since 9/11 stored in his brain, and when his computer accidentally gets destroyed when the CIA tries to steal it, he is the ONLY source of that information.

The problem is that he can't access the data at will.  There has to be a visual trigger that will make him remember something.  Since such important information can't be allowed to walk the streets freely, he gets two agents assigned to watch his every move:  cute and sexy CIA agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) who poses as Chuck's girlfriend, and psychopathic killer NSA agent John Casey (Adam Baldwin) who gets a job at the Buy More and moves into the apartment across from Chuck's.

Naturally this isn't the ideal situation, but it's better than the alternative:  keeping Chuck locked in a cell for the rest of his life.  Chuck just wants to go back to his dull boring, underachieving life, but he can't when he keeps saying things like "why is one of China's top spy's working in the kitchen of a Chinese take-out place?"

The show is a lot of fun and they manage to walk the fine line of mixing action with comedy and not having it turn out campy.  One of the reasons they're able to pull it off is due to the wonderful parodies that they throw in.  Chuck works at a Best Buy clone, Buy More, where he's the head of the "Nerd Herd."  Everyone who has gone into a B&M consumer electronics store will instantly recognize the various employees too, including the manager who just wants to be left alone so he can take a nap.  One of the best moments in the show, since it hits so close to home, is when Chuck is the only employee on the sales floor and a customer asks him for help.  He apologizes that he can't assist her since he's part of the Nerd Herd.  I can't count how many times that's happened to me.

The show really succeeds because of the actors who play the main characters.  Zachary Levi is wonderful in the title role, playing him as an ordinary guy in extraordinary situations that everyone can relate to.  He has just the right amount of panic and grasping at straws that makes him seem real.  When he finds himself the only conscious person in a helicopter flying over the bay, for example, he hopefully asks Sarah via cell phone thinking back on videogame flight simulators he's played "Is this one of those helicopters that can turn into a boat?"

While the rarely seen Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) is my favorite character Adam Baldwin's John Casey comes in a close second.  Casey's a killer, who wouldn't blink while snapping Chuck's neck if ordered to, but he has a sarcastic streak when dealing with Chuck that's hilarious, such as when he tell Chuck, before his first mission, that his life may depend on knowing how to Tango.  Seeing him working at the Buy More is also outrageous, since he doesn't really have people skills.

This show has a great mixture of comedy and action and features an ensemble cast that works well together.  Chuck is one of last years breakout shows and shouldn't be missed.

The Blu-ray Disc:


The 13 episodes that make up Chuck Season One arrive on three Blu-ray discs in a double width case with slipcover.

Video:

This show is presented with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, encoded at 1080p with the VC-1 codex, and it looks pretty bad overall.  I was astounded at how much digital noise and grain was present in the image.  Much of the show is plagued by mosquito noise, especially in the background.  While this isn't a problem with every scene, that almost makes it worse.  When they switch from a relatively clean interior scene to a location shot where the sky is filled with noise it just reminds viewers that this isn't a great transfer.  I never saw this show when it was broadcast so I have no idea if it appeared like this originally or if it is a problem with the encoding, but I was expecting a lot better.

Aside from the noise issue things look pretty good.  The colors are stable and the flesh tones look fine.  The level of detail is nice, and there's no confusing this with a SD DVD.  There are even a couple of scenes where the detail is too good, revealing that the scar on an enemy spy's neck, for example, is clearly a latex application.  If they could do something about the excessive grain, this would be a great looking show.

Audio:

It's a little disappointing that this season set only comes with a DD 5.1 soundtrack.  While I guess I should be happy that it's not just a stereo track, I was hoping that we'd be treated to lossless audio.  In any case the audio sounds fine with the dialog being easy to discern and the music and background noises coming through clearly.  The soundstage wasn't used much, mainly during the few action sequences when some audio effects were thrown to the rears, so the show isn't as enveloping as I would have liked it.  The sub channel was also fairly anemic.  For a TV show the sound is fine, just not as impressive as it could have been.

Extras:

WB has ported over all of the extras from the SD DVD release, which is as it should be.  First off are ten deleted scenes spread out over the three discs.  These were mainly chopped for time reasons and are fun to watch.

There are also a couple of featurettes.  Chuck on Chuck (27 min) has stars Zachary Levi and Joshua Gomez sitting down with creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak to talk about the show.  They discuss their favorite scenes and give their thoughts on the show. Chuck vs. The Chuckles is a gag reel that's okay (not as funny as the best, not nearly as painful as most.)  Chuck's World is a look at the casting with clips from the stars auditions and finally Chuck's Online World is a brief selection of video from the show's web site.  All in all it was an okay set of extras, but nothing here really got me excited.

Final Thoughts:

Chuck is a very fun show.  It's hard to mix action and intrigue with comedy and not have it turn into camp, but the creators behind this show have managed to do exactly that.  The stories are fun, the characters are likeable and the acting is excellent.  The network has picked the show up for a second season, and I'm looking forward to a full year's worth of shows this time around.  The video quality on the Blu-ray isn't spectacular but even with that flaw, this set comes recommended.

Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.
 

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