"Come with me if you want to live." - Linda Hamilton (as Mary Bartowski)
The problem facing most series that last more than a season or two is how to continue the show and give the fans what they like without repeating what's come before. Basically the creators have to come up with something that's exactly like the earlier seasons, only different. Chuck has been particularly adept at doing that, having season-long story arcs that mix things up just a bit while each individual episode has all of the action and comedy that fans have come to expect. Season Four is no exception, another funny and exciting series of show that has the concept firing on all cylinders.
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, Jill, and then conspired to get him kicked out of college. That was five years ago (as the series begins) and Chuck finds himself living with his sister, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), a doctor, and her boyfriend Devon, 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 the Intersect, a program that downloads a CIA database into Chuck's brain. Now whenever he sees someone or something that's in the database he'll 'flash' and instantly gain all the information that the CIA knows about that person or thing. After the original Intersect is destroyed, Chuck is the ONLY source of that information. 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.
As the show went on Chuck got upgraded to the Intersect 2.0, found out his crazy father was actually a genius, and has gone from the guy who's supposed to stay in the car to a full fledged spy. At the end of the third season however, things get a bit crazy and Chuck discovers that him mother who abandoned him when he was 9 was a CIA spy at the time that was possibly captured by the Russians and he and Sarah finally get together and agree to cohabitate. Oh yeah, and the Buy More blows up.
As the season opens, Chuck decides that he is going to use the information he inherited from his father to track down his long missing mother. Sarah and Casey, being the good friends that they are, agree to help him in any way they can. It's a good thing too, because the search for Mary Bartowski (Linda Hamilton) is filled with twists and turns. They quickly discover that she was a CIA operative working on taking down a Russian arms dealer Alexei Volkoff (the person who plays Volkoff is a bit of a surprise, but suffice to say he does a wonderful job.) It appears that Mary was captured by Volkoff, but then it looks like maybe she defected, or could she just be deep undercover? Every time Chuck thinks he understands what's going on, something happens to make him question his conclusions.
While all this is going on, Chick is feeling a little unsure about his relationship with Sarah. She's living with him, sure, but she hasn't unpacked her suitcase yet. He's sure that he loves her, but how does she feel about him? It can be hard to get a professional spy to talk, especially about their feelings.
A good amount of the humor in this season revolves, as usual, around the Buy More. The CIA decided that it was a perfect cover, so they rebuilt the store as a state-of-the-art spy facility manned by experienced agents. General Beckman (Bonita Friedericy) is the manager, but she doesn't have time for the day-to-day running of the place so she passes the coveted managers keys to the only person who knows about the whole Chuck/CIA thing but has nothing to do: Morgan (who becomes a CIA employee with access to 'the castle' the hidden facility under the Buy More.
I was a bit apprehensive about this season. I wasn't really sure that the search for Chuck's mom story would work. After all they did something similar with his father. Turns out I didn't need to worry. The larger plot had a lot of twists and turns and while they did repeat themselves somewhat (Chuck looses the Intersect at one point) the show never felt tired or that it had overstayed its welcome.
If anything they've ramped up the comedy a bit by putting in more parodies. These were really funny and worked well. If you have never seen The Court Jester, for example, the sequence in Chuck Vs. The Balcony where Chuck had to find a particular bottle of wine at a wine tasting contest was hilarious. Morgan, back at The Castle, describes the bottle as "there's a stable on the label and a stork on the cork" a phrase that Chuck messes up a couple of times. The best parody this season has to be in Chuck Versus the Leftovers. It's the day after Thanksgiving and some foreign agents have stormed the Buy More after closing. Sarah, Casey, and Chuck are trapped in The Castle, and the only person who can help them is Morgan who hides in the air ducts. It's a hilarious take off on Die Hard that ends with a great moment for Morgan.
Linda Hamilton does a good job as Chuck mother, but the person who steals the most scenes is Timothy Dalton. As Mary's MI-6 handler who never goes out into the field he's the perfect spy nerd, and it's hilarious to watch the one-time James Bond fumble and fold under pressure.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The 24 episodes that make up Chuck Season Three arrive on four Blu-ray discs in a double width case with slipcover.
Like the earlier seasons, I wasn't impressed with the video quality of this program. The show is presented with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, encoded at 1080p with the VC-1 codex, and it looks pretty average at best. 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. 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. The whites are often too bright and details are frequently lost. Chuck's white work shirt often seems flat and lacking texture, and there is very rare blooming.
Aside from the noise issue things look pretty good. The colors are fairly stable and the flesh tones look fine. The level of detail is on the soft side, but there is no confusing this with a SD DVD. There are even a couple of scenes where the detail is too good, revealing that wounds that Casey suffered are clearly a latex applications for example. Overall this doesn't look bad, it just has several problems that keep it out of the top-tier Blu-ray releases.
This time around fans are treated to at DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack which sounds great. The dialog is 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.
There are some nice bonus features included with this set, all in HD. The main bonus is the Top Secret Chuckipedia Experience a video commentary to the episode Chuck Vs. the First Fight. It has a nice commentary as well as icons that viewers can select to go to interviews and more information. It was very nicely done. That's followed by Buy Hard (14 min) a collection of 5 Jeff and Lester webisodes that are fun if you enjoy the two screw-ups. I really like the duo, and this was the highlight of the bonus material. Spying on the Chuck Cast - Operation Gomez is a fake interview that didn't really work for me, and Chuck Vs. Directing trails star Zachary Levi as he steps behind the camera to direct an episode. There are also deleted scenes to several episodes and a fairly lame gag reel.
Like the previous seasons, this is a wonderfully entertaining show that's willing to take risks to keep the program fresh and interesting. This season's guest stars Linda Hamilton and Timothy Dalton do a fantastic job and add a lot to the show. The stories are fun, the characters are likeable and the acting is excellent. It comes Highly Recommended.