Last fall my roommate, neighbor and I had a very specific Monday tradition. Half-price dinner at the bar down the street, then rushing home at 8 in time for How I Met Your Mother. Heroes came on at 9, and because there was a half-hour gap between the two shows, we started watching whatever came on before Heroes. In a season where Heroes was totally lame, we all fell in love with Chuck-- well, at least the second half of Chuck. Committed to HIMYM, we'd turn on Chuck at the halfway mark, where he would always be in some kind of mortal peril, usually with a gun pointed at his head. We never had any idea how he'd gotten into the hijinks this time, but it was always satisfying to see him find his way out.
Now that I've seen the entire season of Chuck, as well as the first half of so many of those episodes, I've gotten to see how all the pieces fit together, and how this charming show takes formulaic action plots and mixes them with geek comedy to create something entirely unique. Created by The O.C. mastermind Josh Schwartz, Chuck contains a lot of that show's pop culture-savvy wit, as well as its willingness to ogle the bikini bodies in the L.A. locations. But it also has the same sweetness, and the same willingness to take typical types-- the superhot secret agent, the grumpy supervisor, the goofy best friend-- and make them lovable, real people. The formula can wear thin after a time-- exactly how many people on the CIA watch list are we supposed to believe are hanging out in Los Angeles?-- but the characters are what make Chuck infinitely watchable.
The show's setup is unnecessarily complicated, but luckily gets explained quickly in the first episode. Chuck is accidentally turned into the human equivalent of the CIA's supercomputer when his former college roommate Bryce e-mails him all the files in "the intersect," the computer where the CIA and NSA encoded all of their top-secret data. A CIA agent named Sarah and an NSA agent named Casey track Chuck down and are assigned to protect him, as Chuck pretends to go about his normal life as a tech support geek at the Best Buy equivalent Buy More. His best friend Morgan, his sister Ellie and her boyfriend, who Chuck calls "Captain Awesome," assume Sarah is his girlfriend and that Chuck's life is nothing out of the ordinary.
So every week Chuck's brain "flashes" on some crucial clue that leads him, Sarah and Casey to another criminal mastermind. There's the renowned international art dealer, the Korean mogul illegally laundering money, the sleazy son of a Greek shipping magnate and plenty others, all of them, as I learned for myself last fall, pointing a gun at Chuck's head sometime during the second half of the episode. There's also always a B-story involving Morgan and the adventures at the Buy More, and sometimes the motley crew of geeks who work there are more entertaining than the espionage antics.
As Chuck, Zachary Levi is perfectly bewildered and funny in all of the wild circumstances, and he and Yvonne Strahovski, as Sarah, have fun with the sexual tension between their characters. Even characters like Casey and Morgan, usually intended for comic relief, get to take the lead in a few episodes. Adam Baldwin is particularly fun as Casey, Chuck's nemesis and guardian, always anxious to take him down a peg.
Though the formula can wear thin in a marathon viewing session, Chuck is a pleasant and funny weekly event-- how many other shows currently on the air let you laugh and see people get kicked in the face at the same time? Delayed by the writer's strike and debuting again this Monday, hopefully Chuck can bring back its audiences from last season and finally get its shot at primetime glory.
Perhaps befitting a freshman show that was delayed by the writer's strike, the Chuck DVD is thin on extras-- no commentaries whatsoever, and limited behind-the-scenes content. It makes it seem like the creators had so little faith in the show that they figured no one would be interested in the DVD extras.
The extras that are there are fun, especially a sit-down between Zachary Levi, Joshua Gomez (who plays Morgan), and the show's creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak. They pick scenes from their favorite episodes and chat about them, taking plenty of opportunities to crack jokes and make fun of each other. It's one of the few opportunities you get to see Levi and Gomez's actual offscreen personalities, and worth it for that alone.
There's also some interviews with cast members and writers talking about each character, including snippets of audition videos and some behind-the-scenes clips. You learn that Strahovski moved from Australia to L.A. before she even knew she had the role of Sarah, and that Baldwin was the first actor to be cast.
The deleted scenes are mostly worthless, explaining portions of the plot that really didn't need any extra time spent on them, but the blooper reel is more entertaining. Standard stuff, really, but all you get if you're looking for any idea of what life is like on the set.
I'll be generous and assume the lack of special features is because the show was interrupted by the strike and there wasn't time to put effort into, not because no one working on the show cared about it. We'll have to wait until the season 2 Chuck DVD to find out for sure-- that is, if Chuck makes it through its sophomore season and lives to see a season 2 DVD.