TV Review: NBC’s ‘Chuck’ – Season Three

01.10.10 9 years ago 5 Comments

 I could just bottom line this for you: Plenty of shows will be premiering and returning in the first few months of 2010. I know this because I watched more than 30 hours of screeners last weekend, an amount that verges on a mathematical impossibility. Many of the screeners I watched are for shows I enjoy, shows I respect a great deal, shows I fully intend to recommend to you further at a later date. I don’t think that any of those shows are more enjoyable than NBC’s “Chuck,” funnier than NBC’s “Chuck,” more exciting than NBC’s “Chuck,” more easily and instantly able to bring a smile to my face than NBC’s “Chuck.”

But you, regular readers, know that I just happen to really like “Chuck.” If I were a person prone to using outdated slang that I really can’t get away with saying — and I often am — I’d admit that “Chuck” is my jam. It’s music played in a key that this particular writer is always happy to groove to. I’ve always been convinced that the vernacular of my Inner Child of the ’80s is one in which Chris Fedak, Josh Schwartz and their wildly talented team of writers are fluent. I watch “Chuck” and feel like its cleverness and messages are pitched directly at me and since I know people who are *nothing* like me who feel *exactly* the same way, I know that “Chuck” must be doing something right and something universal, even if the show’s ratings suggest that not every part of the universe has discovered it.
Like I said, that’s the bottom line. After a long day of press tour, my ability to write as much as I’d like to about “Chuck,” which premieres on Sunday (Jan. 10) at 9 p.m. and then moves to its regular slot the following night, is limited. 
But I’ll try to say a bit more after the break…
“Chuck” is a show that’s become about a family of devoted fans, often made by Nielsen to feel like we’re the only ones watching. So now we’re all just doing our part to try to get people to watch the premiere because, selfishly, we really would just like a fourth season.
So I did a lengthy two-part interview with co-creator Josh Schwartz — Part I and Part II.
My Buddy Sepinwall listed six reasons why you should watch “Chuck” if you happen not to already be a fan.
Frequent HitFix blogger-of-record Todd VanDerWerff did a simple and super guide to catch you viewers up on the things they need to know, while did a slightly more advanced primer. I could go on and on linking to things my friends, real and cyber, have written.
Like most of my cohorts, I’ve seen the season’s first five new episodes of “Chuck” and I can assure fans that the show is in fine fettle. 
There were concerns, even my own concerns, that the decision to upload a new, more physically advanced, Intersect into Chuck’s brain might somehow cause the show to sacrifice its quaint charm. After all, the point was always that Chuck wasn’t a real spy, but he worked with enough real spies to make the most of his particular gifts and his newly advanced skill-set. If Chuck’s skill-set is suddenly infinite, why does he need Sarah (Yvonne Strahovki) and why does he need Casey (Adam Baldwin)?
The fact is that Zachary Levi was already becoming much too confident a TV star to be completely believable at the more socially awkward edges of Chuck’s persona. He’s too funny, too good-looking and too talented to be stuck playing a sack as sad as Chuck occasionally was in early episodes. That might be the Chuck that Zachary Levi used to be, but no longer. The version of Chuck who’s now featured is one that’s the equivalent of the current version of Levi. With Intersect 2.0, Chuck is a spy of limitless potential but sometimes erratic means of utilizing that potential. Don’t worry, fans. Intersect 2.0 may have taught Chuck kung-fu and sword-fighting and several less-easily-anticipated gifts, but they aren’t always at his fingertips, so sometimes he’s every bit as powerless as he was before. We could probably compare that to Levi, who may be a superb physical comic and a worthy romantic lead, but he’s still at a point in his career where “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” is a good idea. He’s growing and seemingly on the cusp of growing stardom, but sometimes he needs help.
Fortunately, while “Chuck” really is a star vehicle, Levi is able to shine because of those around him. Fans clamor and swoon for a Chuck/Sarah pairing because Levi and Strahovski have great chemistry, though she also has great chemistry with the Buy More wind machine and the generous slo-mo camerawork which often seem to accompany her. The beginning of the season does feel like a deceleration of passions between the two after the end of last season, but it turns out that you can deepen a relationship without pushing it to its logical extreme. [Check out the second part of my Schwartz interview for more Chuck-Sarah talk.]
In the early-going, Baldwin seems to be getting more showcase moments, with some of his best scenes of the series in “Chuck vs. The Three Words” (Sunday’s second episode) and “Chuck vs. The Angel of Death” (Monday’s episode). Also stepping up in “Chuck vs. The Angel of Death” and the Jan. 18 episode, “Chuck vs. Operation Awesome” is Ryan McPartlin’s Devon a standout in the second half of last season and only getting better as he becomes more and more involved with Chuck’s secret life. We’re also getting good contributions from the likes of Joshua Gomez, Vik Sahay, Scott Krinsky, Mark Christopher Lawrence and Sarah Lancaster (which is to say “nearly everybody”), plus guest turns by folks as eclectic as Vinnie Jones (tremendous), Kristin Kreuk (giving off a Bilson-esque vibe), Brandon Routh (Superman!) and Armand Assante.
Truthfully, I don’t know if the opening five reach the level of “Chuck vs. the Colonel” and “Chuck vs. the Ring,” which ended Season Two. Very little would. But the new season is suggesting a growing maturity for the show’s storytelling. There are mini-arcs and progressed mythology and the five episodes build as a unit in a way that neither of the first two seasons really attempted. This is less about one-off, stand-alone fun than a season that functions as a 13-episode (or now a 13-episode and a 6-episode) unit.
It’s just good to have “Chuck” back and I really wish y’all would tune in on Sunday night. Especially if you happen to have a Nielsen Box. But even if you don’t, tune in anyway.
Like I said, it’s been a long TCA day and I’m tired, but I was going to feel disappointed in me if I didn’t get a “Chuck” review out into the ether, because every little bit of buzz helps, even if it might be full of typos and incoherence. I think y’all probably know what I’m trying to get out.
“Chuck” returns to NBC at 9 p.m. on Sunday, January 10.

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