If you manage to sell the story and you’re a straight bachelor who forgot the cardinal rule of never leaving home without your wing-man (or better yet, wing-woman), then telling a woman that you work as a spy has definite “date bait” potential. And unless you’re Matt Damon on the run and desperately in need of assistance in Europe, obviously you're aware that the last thing a spy would actually do is tell a stranger they’re a spy, even if that stranger looks like Angelina Jolie. Therefore, your target would have to be inebriated, in the spy game herself, or in the possession of a low IQ for the spy routine to work at all.
Yet, what if you’re caught in between the spy world and the real world and the only woman with whom you were truly in love is not only an official CIA agent but your cover girlfriend as well?
Welcome to the world of Charles Bartowski (Zachary Levi), known to millions of television fans as Chuck.
After getting kicked out of Stanford because of a phony cheating accusation just a few credits shy of earning his baccalaureate degree, Chuck found himself the victim of actual cheating when his best friend and classmate Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer) stole his girlfriend Jill (Jordana Brewster) away from him as well.
Returning home to Burbank where he lives with his sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and her fiancé Devon aka “Captain Awesome” (Ryan McPartlin), Chuck’s ambition and self-esteem crumbled when he fell into a pattern of what Levi described as “arrested development.”
And before the CIA and the NSA landed into his life, Chuck was simply a member of the “Nerd Herd” performing technology repairs at the homes of both customers and at the Best Buy like electronics store Buy More where Chuck works alongside his even geekier best friend Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez).
Yet after Bryce sends him a cryptic e-mail in the pilot episode of the series created by Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak, all of the top secret files of the USA government are downloaded from the e-mail’s attachment directly into Chuck’s head.
Dubbed the “Intersect” because his brain doubles as the nation’s most important computer, allowing him to “flash” on people, words, or images that tie to some diabolical plots of America’s most dangerous enemies, the computer geek who earns twelve dollars an hour becomes the top priority of both the NSA and the CIA when spies from both agencies are sent to watch the asset (Chuck), keep him out of harm’s way, and ensure his true identity stays a secret.
Essentially using the “good cop/bad cop” routine, Chuck is given as the creators’ describe both Alias’ Sidney Bristow and 24’s Jack Bauer in the form of his beautiful CIA handler Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) who poses as his girlfriend alongside Adam Baldwin’s no-nonsense, military tactical expert NSA Agent John Casey who assume the identify of a fellow Buy More employee.
Unfortunately, he’s obligated to keep his true identity under wraps from his clueless friend Morgan who thankfully now has his own social life dating fellow co-worker Anna and more sadly from Ellie as well, who worries about her brother’s lack of motivation to do more with his life.
Yet as the second season begins, Chuck believes that his double life of the nine to five grind and dangerous overnights dedicated to undercover espionage are coming to a close when they discover that the government has created a second Intersect.
As Chuck looks forward to finally asking Sarah out on an actual date instead of endless fake dates alongside Ellie and Awesome now that their professional relationship will have come to a close, fate (aka the show’s talented writing staff) has other things in store when that leads to a dead end.
Although it’s bad for Chuck’s unrequited, indefinable “will they or won’t they” relationship with Sarah whose feelings for Chuck she’s having a hard time compartmentalizing as well, the continuation of Chuck as the Intersect turns out to be a very good thing for the Nerd Herder since unbeknown to Sarah or our hero, John Casey had been given orders to take him out once he was no longer needed.
With the rival rogue organization Fulcrum growing stronger than ever, Chuck proves he’s much more than merely a human computer when Jill, Bryce and some unexpected visitors from Sarah’s past return throughout the 22 episodes contained in this 6-disc compact DVD set.
Also including two pairs of 3-D glasses for the full-length twelfth episode “Chuck versus the Third Dimension” that aired entirely in the 3-D format during its 2008-2009 season which will never air in that format on television again, fans will find the episode in two different places in the set. Although unfortunately it isn’t labeled in the beautiful booklet that comes with the box set, to experience the 3-D episode the way it originally aired and with the two specially designed Chuck cardboard models, you have to go to the sixth disc where it exists as an extra.
Without any notation on the main menu of the disc that contains “Dimension” in the order NBC originally aired the titles, it was confusing to this reviewer who slid on the glasses until realizing that the booklet had no direction of just how to find this particular goodie, which Warner Brothers states will be released in the set “for a limited time.”
Still, despite this minor annoyance, the transfer quality is excellent as the first season of Chuck was actually one of the first Blu-ray sets I ever purchased. Although WB was kind enough to send me this product for review, initially I worried about the quality comparison of an HD filmed show in regard to its DVD counterpart but when played on an upconvert Blu-ray player, I discovered that there was minimal difference.
While one of the problems of the second season in terms of plot was that, in contrast to its dynamite pacing displayed in the premiere kick-off of thirteen episodes due to 2007’s WGA strike, they were creating nearly ten more shows and it showed as more time was wasted on The Office like Buy More humor and an all too familiar Chuck comedy/action paradigm of his double life.
Despite this, two of the largely Buy More focused episodes were among the series best, first in the A Fistful of Quarters: The King of Kong like showdown of a video game and a Rush song that could save mankind in “Chuck versus Tom Sawyer” and the pivotal holiday episode borrowed from Die Hard with “Chuck versus Santa Claus,” wherein he’s startled to see the woman he loves use her license to kill.
Yet, aside from a few clunkers and my fear that the show was repeating itself a bit too often, in the second season, the writers began building towards a wonderful twist as Chuck’s undercover work is ramped up and more is revealed about not just the Intersect program but also who designed it, why Chuck was chosen, and in an exciting twist now paying off from the recent start season three, just how he would evolve in the future.
In “Chuck versus the Cougars” and “Chuck versus the DeLorean,” we finally get a better sense of Sarah’s background, however it isn’t until the handful of episodes near the end of the season that we realize that it’s Chuck’s background—consisting mainly of plot devices, people, and motivations in which he wasn’t aware—that offers the most surprises when he tracks down his father.
Although the creators joke that all you need to know to understand Chuck is that he’s good and that Fulcrum is bad, there’s no doubt that knowledge of the first season helps considerably since what appears to be a rather run-of-the-mill premise about a retail employee grows into a mythology.
In fact the plot-line is so complex that there are two bonus features dedicated to unraveling it and they serve as a great refresher for those who want to either quickly catch up for season three or clarify the contents of the previous two seasons with explanations and spoilers.
The set also boasts series webisodes, “Declassified Scenes,” fun promos and educational shorts like “So You Want to Be a Deadly Spy” with John Casey and “Captain Awesome’s Tips.”
And while you wish there would’ve been behind-the-scenes commentary or perhaps a couple of pop up trivia tracks given the show’s love of homage and references that no doubt would’ve struck a chord with its Chuck-like “Nerd Herd” audience of loyal fans who continually leap into action to save the show from cancellation, in the end, we’re just happy to continually root that the nerd will have his day, get the girl, and defeat evil all in as long as it takes you to install your operating system.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
Labels: TV on DVD