Chuck: The Complete Third Season

In its third season Chuck mixes things up a little with a new member on the spy team and an upgrade to the title character’s Intersect programming that gives him some cool new powers. But changes that would normally be the death knell for a series instead spur organic growth, and Chuck continues to amaze a far-too-small audience. So, here are a few things about Chuck you need to know, or maybe you forgot.

Chuck (Zachary Levi) was an average guy working at the Buy More in Burbank, California, a job for which he was way overqualified. As it turns out, though, Chuck’s college roommate had gone on to become a top CIA operative, and he decided to protect a piece of super-secret wetware tech, the Intersect, by e-mailing it to the one person he could trust -- Chuck. Now, our hero has every secret of the combined government intelligence agencies lodged in his subconscious and -- thanks to a major Intersect upgrade at the end of season two -- an array of skills and abilities designed to make him the greatest secret agent in the world. Which, in Chuck’s opinion, is just fantastic, because all he wants is to serve his country and help people by becoming an agent like his two undercover CIA handlers: the large and always-threatening Colonel Casey (Adam Baldwin) and the lovely but deadly Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski), who may just be the love of Chuck’s life.

Which is why it’s such a shock when season three begins with Chuck bombing out of agent training and separated from Sarah. He’s sent back to his life at the Buy More, while Sarah and Casey now have the unfortunate task of making sure he doesn’t harm anyone (or endanger state secrets) with all the material crammed into his head, which tends to pop out at random or not at all, depending on Chuck’s emotional state. Fortunately for everyone, the CIA sends in Shaw (Brandon Routh) to be the team’s new leader against a group of rogue spies and traitor agents known as the Ring. Shaw is a veritable superman -- a phenomenal agent who encourages Chuck, inspires Casey, and begins to win the affections of Sarah. As the team battles the Ring and Chuck gets closer and closer to his dream of becoming a real agent, he discovers it might mean losing his friends, his self, the woman he loves... and maybe even his life. Turns out the upgraded Intersect has a few flaws that are slowly shredding his mind.

Chuck is that rarest of things these days, a show that just tries to be fun. Oh, there is some fantastically clever writing and action scenes in these 19 episodes, the cast has a phenomenal chemistry with each other, and there are a few plot twists that would make a recently ended island show jealous. The real point of Chuck, though, is simply to have fun. The series never tries to burden the audience with melodramatic characters, thought-provoking stories that tug on heartstrings, or monologues that smell of wannabe Emmy clips. A “very powerful episode” of this show involves Sarah in a bikini, Chuck getting to fight Ring agent “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in the cargo hold of a plane with a pair of nunchucks, or our hero finally getting to tell his best friend Morgan (Joshua Grimes) that he’s been a spy-in-training for the past two years. It’s a show that revels in the fact that it’s entertainment, never forgets that fact, and is all the stronger for it.

It’s hard not to talk about the fun without mentioning that Chuck is a geek dream come true. Chuck and Morgan provide constant pop-culture references, plus dozens of more subtle ones peppered through each episode. The guest cast list reads like a ComicCon program. Kristin Kreuk of Smallville shows up as a new love interest for our hero when things fall apart between him and Sarah. Scott Bakula returns as Chuck’s conspiracy-nut/computer-genius father who created the Intersect. Christopher Lloyd is the CIA psychologist Chuck opens up to. Vinnie Jones, Armand Assante, Angie Harmon, Udo Kier, and Robert Patrick all show up to take the villain’s seat for different episodes, and the Ring leader (pun intended) is probably going to look familiar to Battlestar Galactica fans.

Really, the one weak point in Chuck at this point (aside from the truncated season) is the Buy More. After the show did a phenomenal job of getting all the main characters out of that retail hellhole last season, it feels more than a little awkward to have them all dumped back there again. Yeah, it gives the show a solid, relatable grounding in the real world, and the extended cast in the store (affectionately called “the Buy Morons”) are great, but it’s kind of like having to ride in the back seat of your parents’ car once you’ve got your own license. No matter how much you like where you’re going, there’s still this nagging sense that you’re taking a step backward. For a slightly undersized television season, this set packs a fair amount of extras. “Chuck-Fu and Dim Sum” is an extended featurette about the creation of the show, the decision to make Chuck a more active part of the missions with his new Intersect, and the effect the fan base has had in keeping the show going. There’s also a gag reel that feels a lot more honest than some of the ones that seem like spliced together attempts at being funny.

One of the only disappointments are the “Declassified Scenes,” which dive right in with no explanation. Seen out of context and without even tags to their specific episodes, it’s hard to tell if it’s too bad they were lost, obvious they should’ve been cut, or if they even match the tone of scenes around them.

Overall, though, Chuck: The Complete Third Season is a pretty solid block of television filled with comedy, action, romance, and a bunch of likable characters in a clever ongoing story. What more could you really ask for?