In 10 Words or Less
They made it to a third season thankfully
Loves:Spy spoofs, Kick-ass action, spy gadgets, The Awesomes
Likes: Chuck, Adam Baldwin, Yvonne Strahovski
Dislikes: Slipping extras
Hates: Not getting commentaries, Not getting Julia Ling
The Story So Far...
Chuck tells the story of the titular Mr. Bartowski (Zachary Levi), a slacker working a dead-end job in a big-box store, until one day he gets an e-mail that downloads all of America's security information into his head, turning him into the Intersect, a human computer. As a result, he finds himself with a pair of government handlers, Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) and John (Adam Baldwin), and a quick enrollment into the spy biz. The first season was released on DVD in September of 2008, and was followed with season two in January 2010. DVDTalk has reviews of both sets.
There was a good chance there wouldn't even be a third season of Chuck, as the ratings were low and the show cost a bit of cash, and the creators even saw the writing on the wall, and set up the last episode of the second season to be a series finale, if that was how things shook out. But with some creative financial decisions, a loyal fan base, some fast-food support, and a good deal of critical acclaim, the series made it to a shortened third-season order (eventually extended to 19 episodes.) That's a very good thing, as the third season saw the show reach its storytelling prime, even if the ratings didn't match the quality.
When the final episode of season two aired (and more obviously when the promos for season three came out), and the new version of the Intersect suddenly gave Chuck new Matrix-like abilities to tap into banks of special abilities, it was a bit of a cause for concern for the show's fans. If he could instantly turn into a kung-fu expert or use whatever other skills were in his head, could he still be a loveable screw-up in over his head in the spy game? Well, the answer we learned quickly was he certainly could be, thanks to some smart plotting, starting with his failure to become a full-time spy right off the bat in the season three premiere. That the Intersect has some "side effects" that prevent him from utilizing his skills at 100-percent helps keep Chuck from being the perfect weapon no one would really want to watch.
There were a few major storylines running through the season, in addition to the tale of Chuck's struggles with his new Intersect, one of which introduced a major new character, Daniel Shaw, one of the highest ranking spies in the NSA, played by Brandon Routh (Superman Returns.) Shaw steps in to take over the Buymore operations, representing everything Chuck wants to become, but he's also a rival for Sarah's affections, which creates problems for the group. Sarah and Chuck have a bit of a rocky go of things this season, as Chuck's ascension as a spy takes him further from the man Sarah found herself falling for, and Shaw's presence doesn't help either. That's even more of an issue when Shaw proves to be something more than he seems, which sets up the season's outstanding finale.
Though the ramped-up spy action gets far more attention this time around, the humor isn't abandoned, as the Buymore remains ever-present in Chuck's life, mainly through his connection to his best-friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez), the store's assistant manager. Just when the show risks becoming a bit too serious, the misadventures at the store help lighten the mood, especially when they involve the resident goofballs, Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay). Sadly, Anna Wu (Julia Ling) was a victim of budget cuts (appearing in just one episode), but with Morgan and company, including a few episodes where Casey finds himself a full-time Buymoron, there's enough to make these scenes a worthy respite from the spy stuff. Especially when Hannah (Kristin Kreuk) joins the team, setting up the love quadrangle between Chuck, Hannah, Sarah and Shaw.
Kreuk and Routh made two excellent additions to the cast, which is probably the strongest part of the show, both in terms of the main cast and guest stars. Some of it may be stunt casting, drawing on actors' sci-fi and genre fan bases to draw in viewers, but overall, if you're on Chuck, you're probably a solid actor. Consider you've got Scott Bakula making his return as Chuck's dad in some of the series' best episodes, Christopher Lloyd as a CIA psychologist and Robert Patrick playing a old military mentor of Casey's and you've got yourself a healthy amount of fanboy catnip. Then add in fun appearances by Diedrich Bader, Cedric Yarbrough and Fred Willard and Swoosie Kurtz as a pair of veteran agents instructed to teach Chuck and Sarah how to spy as a couple, and you've got the comedy side covered as well. Special mention has to be made about Adam Baldwin's performance as Casey, as he's crafted an iconic character, aided by the developments this season, especially his spotlight episode, "Chuck versus the Tic Tac." It's hard to imagine this show without him.
Though the season as a whole is rather outstanding, there are two things that are a bit off. One is the progress of the season. Watch the first 13 episodes, and it feels like a complete and finite arc. In fact, when I, and friends who also follow the series, watched it when it first aired, we thought the season was over, only to be surprised when it came back for six more shows. Admittedly, those six episodes include the finest three-episode stretch of the entire series, but it felt, and still feels tacked on in the context of the third season. However, the creators really didn't have the chance to make a smooth segue, and to move the story to the fourth season would have spread it out too much to work correctly. So it is what it is.
The other issue is the way this season brought nearly every character into the spy business. Sure, it was pretty cool to see Chuck's brother-in-law Captain Awesome get in on some of the action (a spin-off show featuring the Awesomes (the outstanding Ryan McPartlin and Sarah Lancaster) would be, well, awesome) and Morgan made for a fun sidekick to Chuck and Casey, but part of being a spy is keeping secrets, and that kind of went out the window with everyone knowing about Chuck's adventures. Again, it all paid off at the end of the season, but it could completely change the feel of the show (even if that kind of has to happen following the season three finale.)
The less said about yet more over-the-top in-show ads for the series' signature sandwich shop (not to mention an entire episode named for it) the better. Once again, a necessary evil, but geez, don't make it so obvious.
With three less episodes, there's one less disc, and thus the five-DVD set arrives in slimmer packaging than last time, with a single-width clear keepcase tucked into a slipcover, along with a 12-page booklet (featuring that beautiful Drew Struzan-esque poster on the cover and episode info inside) and a double-sided cover. The discs feature essentially the same static, full-frame menus as before (with updated art), offering a choice to play all the episodes, select shows, check out the extras or adjust languages. Audio options include the ulikely choice of English or Portuguese, while subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese and Thai. There's no closed captioning included.
Like last time, the anamorphic-widescreen transfers on these episodes aren't as good as you would expect for such a recent series, with an image that's got an excessive amount of noise and compression artifacts, while the level of detail isn't very high either, resulting in an overall soft image. On the plus side, the color is appropriate overall.
The audio, presented via Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, is much better than the video, with nice separation between the center channel and the side and rear speakers, giving the surround speakers the music, well as atmospheric effects, including the ever-present gunfire and explosions. The soundtrack for Chuck is rather excellent, featuring plenty of great songs, and they all sound quite nice on this DVD.
Like the previous sets, there's a big featurette about the show, this time the almost 22-minute "Chuck-Fu and Dim Sum," which starts as a series overview, before focusing on season three. Interviews with the cast and crew cover the characters, storylines and connection with the fans, along with the evolution of the show thanks to the introduction of the Intersect 2.0 and Daniel Shaw. The piece also reveals the reason why the 19 episodes feel more like one and a half seasons, helping to absolve the show's creators of what seemed like pacing sins. It's definitely worth a look for fans and newcomers alike.
"The Jeffster Revolution" spends nearly 11 minutes profiling the unusual band from inside the world of Chuck (in other words it plays it all as real.) Seeing them take it so seriously is funny, especially the frequently hilarious Sahay, but a featurette featuring only these two characters serves to point out that the reason they are so good on the show is the way they play off their more grounded castmates.
Like the previous sets, there's a large dose of "Declassified Scenes," 20 in all running just over 21 minutes. Not much of this changes anything from the show. In fact, it's probably best this stuff was cut, because scenes like Awesome getting interrupted while meditating or Casey and Sarah looking into Shaw just don't fit with the characters as established. Also like the previous DVDs, there's a gag reel, with six minutes of goof-ups and on-set silliness (and of course, dancing.) It's no surprise that with a cast like this show's, that the way they mess things up is hilarious, especially when it's done on purpose, as seen when Routh and Krinsky team up and get topless.
The Bottom Line
Changing the nature of Chuck's abilities and making him more of a bad-ass spy was a risky move, as it threatened to strip away too much of the series' comedy, but in the end, that made the show's storylines more meaningful and built to a solid climax for the season (while still providing a good deal of laughs along the way.) The DVDs look and sound as good as the previous releases, for good and bad, though the extras have taken a dip once again, further reducing your reason for picking up this set unless you're going to revisit this season again or never saw it in the first place. If you haven't go back and catch up before diving in, but do make sure you watch it.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.