9/21/2010

TV on Blu-ray Review: Chuck -- The Complete Third Season (2009-2010)



Now Available to Own




Originally, Buy More Nerd Herd team member Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) become a secret government operative after opening an e-mail from an old Stanford classmate in the show's ingenious series premiere from series creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak.

And over the next two entertaining but slightly repetitive seasons, we followed Chuck's struggle to live a duplicitous existence as an underachieving computer techie on one level and the assistant to CIA and NSA handlers Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and Colonel John Casey (Adam Baldwin) on another in a surprisingly successful blend of mundane workplace humor mixed with top notch spy action.

Yet because Chuck never had a say in the direction his life had taken, there was always an undercurrent of pathos mixed in with the series as we watched him deal with endless lying to his best friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez), big sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and her husband Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) throughout.

And his dilemma was particularly magnified by the fact that our clumsily geeky lead had fallen head over heels in love with his CIA handler turned “cover girlfriend,” Sarah which became a dragged out “will they or won't they” subplot of epic proportions.



Admirably taking great strides to not only remedy these issues but also expand upon the character arc for the eponymous hero, the previous season ended with a major game changer for Chuck.

This time around, instead of accidentally opening an e-mail, Chuck opted to subject himself to another intersect download delivered right into his brain which in addition to the secret files to bring down traitorous super villains also gave the computer techie spy level combat knowledge in how to handle himself physically on a mission.

Now well on his way to becoming a real life super-spy in his own right, Chuck hopes his days of being told to wait in the car will now be over but before he can be sent out into the field solo, Chuck must prove to his handlers in both Burbank, California as well as those watching in Washington D.C. that he's fully capable of turning his emotions on and off so they won't interfere with the call of duty.



And despite Sarah's fears that the man she loves is changing before her eyes, sure enough Chuck becomes far less conflicted than he ever was before about lying to his friends and family members, which no doubt is helped along considerably in this season since a majority of the main cast members eventually discover the truth about the man they thought they knew so well.



Moreover, the decision to get everything out into the open so that the characters can start fresh appears to be not just the theme for the season but no doubt the strategy for the show at large as well as Schwartz, Fedak and the writing staff continue their perpetual fight to keep this fan favorite series on the air, regardless of its less than Earth shattering ratings.

Unfortunately even though it promises major changes given the Intersect 2.0 download and development of Chuck as a spy, overall the third season of Chuck succumbs into more predictable repetition as it continues.



While personally I found it dubious that so many people could be in on Chuck's secret life that by the time Ellie and a few others were worked into the plot it just became silly, it does earn bonus points for finally doing something with the traditionally annoying character of Morgan Grimes as well as providing us with a fascinating backstory for John Casey.

Needless to say, given how many orders are disobeyed and obvious villains and double crosses are let into the circle of government trust including a newcomer to Castle we see right through from the start, it's a good thing these individuals aren't really in charge of our national security. Nonetheless Sarah Walker continues to be the coolest female heroine on TV since Alias's Sydney Bristow.

But unfortunately since they've devoted so much time to sabotaging the on again and off again relationship between Chuck and Sarah, it even becomes a onscreen joke when they finally do hook up, making the romance lose some of its heat before we're presented with a Hitchcockian train adventure episode.



However, things perk up considerably when too many loose plot strands come together to form an intense multi-episode tapestry of a finale that shocks us completely by the sudden death of one major player before introducing us to another offscreen in what's become an expected Chuck style season cliffhanger.



And while overall given some of the silly work subplots and run-of-the-mill missions, I'm not completely confident that the writers have a clear game plan for where they want the characters to all end up including which twists they need to plant to maximize an eventual arc or payoff since it seems like priority number one is trying to keep it on the air, it's still a mindlessly fun diversion.

Similarly, it benefits from the fact that it doesn't fit into any specific genre as well as the simple truth that as original premises go, you won't find something this unique anywhere else in a sea of traditional cops, lawyers, medical, and dysfunctional families series.

However, I only wish that the behind-the-scenes staff could worry less about ratings and more about injecting that much unexpected originality throughout each and every season since they're clearly capable of knocking our socks off.

And even though the technical quality of this slightly grainy four-disc Blu-ray set most likely wouldn't meet the standards of the electronics store snobs at the show's fictitious Buy More, the content always usurps our attention as despite its flaws Chuck still remains the type of series you watch with a smile each and every week.


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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.