I’ll be honest, at first Chuck sounded like a pretty bad idea to me. I expected it to be a kind of modern Get Smart with a reluctant geek hero. And that’s pretty much what it turned out to be. Except it turned out to also be pretty darn entertaining as well. It all really starts with a solid cast and tightly written stories. Each episode manages to capture just the right blend of drama and comedy. I resist the trendy word dramedy, but if any series fits the mold, it would have to be Chuck.
In the first season we met Chuck Bartowski (Levi). He was a super smart student at Stanford when his best friend Bryce Larkin (Bomer) set him up to take the fall as a cheater and be kicked out of school in disgrace. The only job he can get now is working at the Buy More (Best Buy) on the Nerd Herd (Geek Squad). But Bryce wasn’t done with Chuck yet. Turns out that Bryce is a CIA agent who has been working on the top secret project called Intersect. The Intersect is a computer program that can down load the entire government’s database into a person’s brain through a series of coded flash images. Not content with getting him kicked out of school, Bryce tricks Chuck into getting the Intersect inside his brain. Now Chuck is an important government asset and in need of protecting. Enter CIA agent Sarah Walker (Strahovski) who is Chuck’s CIA handler. Their cover is boyfriend and girlfriend, which confuses Chuck’s family and friends who never thought he could get such a hot girlfriend. The muscle for the team is Agent John Casey (Baldwin), who resents being assigned to such a lame mission. Not only do they have to keep Chuck and the Intersect safe, but they must take untrained Chuck on their missions because of the intel stashed in his brain. While Chuck is not consciously aware of the information he carries, when he sees something that triggers a piece of the data, something they call flashing, he is able to access the relevant data. The bad guys are part of an organization called Fulcrum which is this show’s Kaos or Spectre.
Chuck lives with his sister Ellie (Lancaster) and hr fiancée Devon (McPartlin), also known as Captain Awesome because of his propensity to use the term awesome. Both are doctors at the local hospital. At the Buy More, Chuck is joined by his best friend since childhood, the lazy Morgan (Gomez). Morgan is the kind of guy who will work twice as hard to avoid a job as the job itself would have required. Also at the Buy More is Jeff (Krinsky), a burned out druggie and drinker, and Lester (Patel) a rather clueless Indian (from India). Morgan’s girl Anna (Ling) is a kick-butt no nonsense Asian girl. The store is managed by Big Mike (Lawrence), who would rather be fishing.
Season 2 picks up exactly where the first one left off. The government is about to fire up the new Intersect, which makes Chuck expendable. But things don’t work out for the new program, and Chuck must spend another season with the Intersect in his head. Episodes give us a chance to see some real history for many characters this year. Most of the main characters face some element of their past. We discover that Sarah was an ugly awkward little girl whose father was a criminal. She was about to go down the same path until the CIA found her. We get to see her real persona when a mission sends the team to her high school reunion. Jeff was a superstar Mission Command player. He once held the game record and was the stuff of magazine covers and television shows. When it is discovered that a mythical kill screen built into the original game allows the user to control a real laser weapon, Chuck turns to Jeff and he must face the demons of his original fame. We meet Casey’s old mentor and trainer when it looks like he’s gone rogue, and Casey might be the only one who can stop him. In a nod to Alias, the trainer is played by that show’s Carl Lumbly. It was pretty sweet to see the old “Marcus” back in action. They saved the biggest blast from the past for Chuck himself. Chuck meets his absentee father played by sci-fi veteran Scott Bakula. This whole plot becomes the setting for the big season finale.
The second season also features its share of interesting subplots. The Buy More gets a visit from a corporate efficiency expert who becomes the store’s assistant manager. Emmitt is played by Tony Hale and is a wonderful comedic villain to help offset the … you know … villainous villains. He’s a threat to everyone at the store and might even be close to uncovering Chuck’s secret. Sarah gets a new cover job at a Freezie store near the Buy More. In one of the biggest changes, the team gets a swanky new Bat Cave. It’s called Castle, and it has everything you might need. It’s under Sarah’s Freezie store. There are computer banks, tracking stations, holding cells, ammo storage lockers, and a new big screen video conference room for their mission briefings. Finally, Ellie and Captain Awesome have set a date to get married. Said wedding serves as a backdrop for the season finale.
It’s a perfect combination here that delivers a better show than the premise might suggest. The acting is all top notch with the notable exception of Sarah Lancaster as Ellie. She’s American, but she sounds like she’s trying hard to hide an accent, with a lisp. Her voice is actually pretty irritating, and I just hate it when she talks. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. Meanwhile Yvonne Strahovski does a wonderful job of hiding her natural Aussie accent, even though she’d probably be so much cooler with it. She’s no Jennifer Garner, but she can pull off the sexy spy routine when she needs to. She’s likely far more realistic. I doubt all female spies could have covers as supermodels anyway.
Finally, the best part of the show is the ease with which you can join in. Certainly, it’s better to know the back story. But if you don’t, you’ll catch up quickly enough to have a good time. Honestly, if you’ve never seen this show, go out and get both seasons. You won’t be disappointed.
Each episode of Chuck is presented in its original HD broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. For the most part the show looks pretty good. I did encounter a lot of white noise. Particularly during white close-ups the picture denigrates into a snowy artifact-filled mess. I really wish Warner had sent me the Blu-rays to review, as I suspect this issue is resolved there. Otherwise, colors are better than average, and detail is pretty high for a DVD. There is compression artifact but that’s always what you’re going to get with four or more episodes per disc.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track works just fine. The subtle ambient stuff here is wonderfully placed, allowing you to immerse yourself totally in the show. Dialog is always clear and right where it should be in the mix. There’s a lot of pop here for a television show with plenty of explosions and firefights.
You get the historical 3D episode in both normal view and in 3D. There are two pairs of glasses for the 3D version which is found on the extras disc. The version in the play list order is 2D. It’s pretty cool and worth checking out.
Chuck vs. The Webisodes: These are short production diaries that were made as internet promos.
Tips From Captain Awesome: These can be found throughout the set and feature Devon’s tips on how to be awesome in dating job interviews.
Truth, Spies, And Regular Guys – The Mythology Of Chuck: (20:25) There are two parts here: The Secret Agents (cast and crew profiles) and The Agents’ Secrets (the mythology of the show itself is explored.)
John Casey Presents – So You Want To Be A Spy: (2:40) Tongue in cheek orientation video by Baldwin as Casey. You get important tips like: Careful, you can’t unkill someone.
Dude In Distress: (17:45) This one looks at the role reversal of the series. It’s the girl who keeps having to save the guy here. You get a good look at the action and stunts.
Chuck Versus The Chuckles: (7:36) Bloopers
Declassified Scenes: Throughout the set there are these deleted scenes.
Chuck was a surprise hit for everyone except the gang connected with the show. There’s a lot of confidence in the entire production of Chuck. They’re not afraid to take chances and mix things up a bit. Of course, they remain mindful of what makes it all tick and what the fans want. It’s an interesting group of characters all led by Chuck himself, who is regular guy who also learn he can kick some serious butt. “Sounds more like Chuck Norris.”