After a good five year run, cult spy-comedy show Chuck calls it quits. Looking back on the whole series, the show gets a lot of credit for consistently advancing the plot, season to season. They changed things up pretty dramatically by the time all was said and done. This kept the show feeling fresh and it was nice to see the characters evolving and growing over time. On the down side, with so much change there are bound to be some missteps and this final season has more than a few. It's uneven, starting out with some really lousy episodes (they were so bad my youngest son bailed on this season though he loved the first four) but then mixing in some solid, entertaining adventures before wrapping the series up with an excellent finale. Fans will want to go in with lowered expectations but it'll be worth sitting through the dogs to see how everything turns out.
At the end of the last season Chuck and Sarah were wed, at long last, and as a gift their one-time enemy Russian arms dealer Alexei Volkoff they receive nearly a billion dollars. Not bad.
No longer working for the CIA, they use the money to purchase the Buy More and their secret spy-base underneath it, dubbed "Castle" and start up their own spy-for-hire business Carmichael Industries (along with Morgan and Casey, of course.) Now that they're free-lancers, they can only take the missions that they want, and only work for the good guys.
Not everything is going smoothly though. Chuck has had the Intersect forcibly removed from him by an evil CIA agent, Decker. Decker has also revealed that there is an even bigger conspiracy than anyone had previously imagined which has been manipulating Chuck since the beginning. (Yes, you can roll your eyes at that revelation.) Finally, in a box of Chuck's personal effects, Morgan discovers a pair of cool looking sun glasses that he tries and gets a surprise: they were an Intersect delivery device, presumably sent by General Beckman, and after seeing a series of odd pictures Morgan Grimes has the most advance super-secret database installed into his brain.
The beginning of this season seems like a reboot back to season one, except that Morgan is stuck in the van begging to get out into the action. Oh yeah, and Morgan is the comic relief instead of the hero. That makes the first episodes painful to watch. Grimes, who can apparently 'zoom' (his term for flashing) at will, knows kung-fu and enjoys kicking butt (with the help of an obvious stunt double and some very quick editing in a feeble attempt to hide said double) but he always manages to goof up in the end. He'll take out six armed guards and then accidently drop the priceless Ming vase they've been hired to recover. Hilarious! Okay, it isn't. It's just irritating.
Carmichael Industries is also competing against a huge multi-million dollar security firm run by an ex-Russian spy, Gertrude Verbanski (Carrie-Anne Moss), who once disarmed Casey in a battle and still has his gun. Verbanski is taking all of the business away from Chuck's group, which is putting a sever crimp on their cash flow. Things get critical after Decker hacks into the team's network freezes all of their accounts indefinitely. They're broke.
Things go from bad to worse when Morgan starts acting very odd. He's pushing away all of his friends and even quits the team. Is he just being a jerk, or is the Intersect malfunctioning in a very bad way?
There was a lot that went right with this season and a lot that went awry. The beginning episodes where Morgan was the focus were just plain bad. He's a fine supporting character (not great, but good) and making his "I'm stupid but loyal" persona the focus of the show, and getting rid of the loyal part, didn't work at all. The first shows were hard to watch.
One of the things that the show does exceedingly well is keeping things fresh, and they do that in spades this season. Large, seemingly season-long plots are surprisingly wrapped up in the last minutes of an episode and the story veers off in unexpected directions. This happens a few times in the season and it was always exciting when it did.
I was a bit disappointed about how far removed they had come from the original concept of the show however. I'll definitely give the creators points for guts, I can't think of another show that has changed so gradually yet dramatically over time. When they started though, Chuck was a geeky college drop-out in a dead end job. In this season he's a spy who holds his own (without the Intersect!) with several other highly trained agents that have decades of experience. He's suave and cool; he's like a young James Bond which is nothing like the guy who we were first introduced to five years ago. He tell opponents that he's "a fully trained spy" several times and picks locks and gets into fist fights with the best of them. Exactly when did this happen? He was never trained to do those things because the Intersect would show him how automatically. There were several times I wondered out loud "what happened to the real Chuck?"
There were some excellent episodes in this short season however, and those make it worth buying the set. Bo Derek makes a guest appearance in one of the funniest episode from the entire series. Morgan had hid something while 'zooming' and then had his memory erased by a drug, and they have to track down where it is using a few clues. Derek does a great job playing herself and doesn't mind poking fun at her persona.
Jeff and Lester play a bigger role in this season too. Though it's disappointing that the duo claim their hilarious band "Jeffster" has run its course in an early episode, they still have some of the best scenes. Jeff gets clean and it turns out he's really smart. He starts noticing some odd things are happening at the Buy More and comes to the conclusion that Chuck, Sarah, and Casey are spies working for the CIA. He knows that there's one more person in their cell too, but he's not sure who. When Morgan finds out about his theory he confirms it all and tells him who the 4th member is: Captain Awesome. It's a great subplot that works well and adds a lot of humor through the season.
I'm also happy to report that the final episode is one very, very good. The show ends on just the right note. I won't say anything more, since I don't want to give anything away, but it brings closure to the show and wraps up all of the story lines. It's an excellent way to wrap up a very good series.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The 13 episodes that make up Chuck Season Five arrive on two Blu-ray discs in a single-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 final two episodes each get an audio commentary with the executive producers/creators Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz along with actors Zachary Levi (Chuck) and Joshua Gomez (Morgan). This is the first audio commentary that has been done for an episode of Chuck (there was a video commentary thingy on a previous season) and while I'm definitely glad fans finally get one, I wish the other two stars had been included.
Other supplements include Chuck Vs. the Final Episode - a behind the scene look at the filming of the last episode; Sandwiches and Superfans: The Saving of a Show - a nice tribute to the fans who were so very vocal in their support of the show; Spy Tunes: Scoring the World of Chuck - a look at the person behind the music; Chuck: The Beginnings - a featurette that looks at the show's genesis; Chuck: Through the Years - an overview of the series; Chuck: The Future - cast and crew predictions. The set wraps up with some Declassified scenes; a gag reel, and full versions of the Buy More TV commercials with Big Mike and Captain Awesome.
This final season is very uneven, with some not-so-great episodes mixed in with some very entertaining one. With only a scant 13 episodes in the season, I think that shows that the series ended at the right time. The good episodes definitely make up for the poor ones, and the final chapter of Chuck's story was an excellent way to wrap up the series. Fans should make sure to see this one way or another. Definitely rent it, but since if you're a die-hard fan like myself it comes recommended.