Charles “Chuck” Bartowski had a pretty good life. He was enrolled at Stanford, he had good friends, a great girlfriend, and a bright future. Then one day, his best friend and roommate, Bryce Larkin, accused Chuck of cheating on a test. In short order, Chuck finds himself kicked out of school. And as a final insult, Chuck’s girlfriend left him for Bryce.
Suffice to say, having his life destroyed left Chuck rather despondent. Now he’s stuck in a dead-end job working as part of the Nerd Herd at the Buy More (basically fictional versions of the Geek Squad and Best Buy). Chuck isn’t exactly thrilled with his station in life, but neither does he have the ambition to do anything about it.
As the series kicks off, Chuck receives an e-mail from his former friend, Bryce Larkin. When he opens the e-mail, Chuck is bombarded with countless flashing images until he passes out. When he awakens, he soon realizes he now has the Intersect, a government database containing pretty much all information from every agency, in his brain. And it doesn’t take long for the CIA and the NSA to figure out he has this knowledge either.
Unfortunately, before sending the Intersect to Chuck, Bryce destroyed the original. That means the only version that exists is the one that is in Chuck’s head. So until the CIA and the NSA can build a replacement, Chuck is stuck living a dual-life.
Helping to keep Chuck safe are NSA agent, John Casey, and CIA Agent, Sarah Walker. Agent Casey works undercover as a Buy More sales employee while Agent Walker poses as Chuck’s girlfriend. Why yes, there is romantic tension between Chuck and Agent Walker. How ever did you guess?
Like a superhero with a secret identity, Chuck faces constant conflict between his normal life obligations and his duties as the Intersect. And, the fact Chuck is the Intersect has to remain a secret so when Chuck has to blow off “real life” stuff so he can help catch bad guys, he is forced to come up with whatever flimsy excuse he can think of. As one might imagine, this leads to all kinds of problems for Chuck in his normal life. In particular, Chuck has always been very close to his sister; she knows something is going on with Chuck and she’s upset he doesn’t trust her enough to talk about it.
Chuck’s relationships with his friends, and his sister, help to give the show a real heart. Chuck isn’t just some guy who gets caught up in a government program and ends up having wacky adventures. He cares about his sister, Ellie, and his friends. It tears him up when he has to let them down to go off on one of those wacky adventures.
While Chuck is primarily a comedy, there are lots of other elements thrown into the mix. There’s action, there’s romance, there’s even the occasional “feel good family show” vibe. The mixture of genres feels totally organic though. With some shows, there the characters act differently from scene to scene or episode to episode as the script requires (i.e. if it’s a comedy episode, the characters are wildly incompetent, while if it’s a serious episode, they perform their jobs flawlessly). In Chuck, the characters never feel like they’ve switched from one mode to another. Whether Chuck is pining over Sarah, running away from bad guys, or toiling away at the Buy More, he’s always Chuck.
As good as Chuck is most of the time, it does have its downsides. For one, the suspension of disbelief is high, even for a comedic spy show. The whole idea of the Intersect is pretty silly in and of itself. Somehow the contents of the entire database, which had to have included hundreds of terabytes of data, is somehow send via a simple e-mail attachment and then transferred into Chuck’s brain. And now if Chuck sees something that corresponds to data in the Intersect he will sometimes have a flash and see corresponding data in his mind (data that is often missing some vital detail). This data, as time goes on, is getting more and more unreliable as the database obviously has not been updated since Bryce sent his original e-mail to Chuck. And yet, to date there has not been a single instance where Chuck had wrong or simply out-dated intel. As a premise, it’s pretty goofy; you just have to accept that goofiness and enjoy the show.
A related believability problem is that all too often Chuck just happens to randomly stumble upon some major clue that is vital to stopping whatever evil plot is on the go in any given week. There are countless threats to Chuck in particular and national security in general that are uncovered simply because Chuck is in the right place at the right time. Not to mention the times when Chuck’s friends, family and other acquaintances are inadvertently connected to a case in some way.
Chuck also suffers from a common ailment of the 2007-2008 TV season, the rushed season finale. Throughout the season, there is a steady build-up towards the new Intersect being completed and Agent Casey being ordered to eliminate Chuck Bartowski. And yet, the actual season finale has nothing to do with a new Intersect. It’s not a bad finale, but it still feels like an episode that was written at the last minute as a possible season finale in case the strike prevented the show from having a full 22-episode season. You can’t really fault the writers or anyone involved with the series, but it still makes the season feel somewhat incomplete.
Chuck is not a perfect show. The premise borders on ridiculous, there are far too many coincidences and the season lacks a sense of finality. Despite these flaws, Chuck is also a fun show with a good heart. It is definitely worth checking out.
The video is presented in 1.77:1 and the audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. The show made the transition to DVD just fine as everything looks and sounds just as good as it did when it aired on NBC.
Declassified Scenes – While most of the scenes are ones that were likely cut for the usual time/pacing reasons, there are actually a couple scenes that are basically alternate versions of existing scenes (the core of the scene is the same, but it may be set at a different time in the episode, or include different characters). For some reason the deleted scenes are unlabelled so it’s up to the viewer to place the scenes in their appropriate episodes.
Chuck’s World – This one has a couple minutes on the casting of each of the 6 principal characters on the show.
Chuck on Chuck – Chris Fedak, Josh Schwartz, Zachary Levi, and Joshua Gomez watch a selection of scenes from throughout the season. It’s like they wanted to do a DVD commentary, but couldn’t settle on a specific episode so they just each picked some of their favorite scenes to showcase and talk about. It’s a good featurette but, for some reason, the whole thing is framed by some kind of meaningless point competition between the actors and the writers.
Chuck vs. The Chuckles – Your standard blooper reel of line-flubs and the cast goofing around.
Chuck’s Online World – There’s actually a goof in this section. There are four videos here from the Chuck website. One is an in-character video of Jeff talking about himself, two are videos of Anna showing off her “Amazing Talents” and the fourth is supposed to be “Morgan’s Vlog – Movie Villains” but is actually the casting Joshua Gomez piece from Chuck’s World again. If you want to see the actual video, you’ll have to head over to NBC.com. I’m not sure if there was some sort of last minute issue with including this video, or someone just messed up, but either way it feels pretty sloppy to have the wrong extra here.
Demo for Madden NFL 09 on the Xbox 360 – I don’t have a 360 so I couldn’t try it out, but for some reason there’s a demo for Madden on the disc as well. While you could explain it away as an example of Chuck and Morgan’s video game love, I don’t think either of them are big sport fans. Still, if you have a 360, and you are into Madden, it’s not a bad little extra.
Chuck was one of the more entertaining new shows last year and fortunately, unlike many other shows, Chuck was picked up again for a second season. If you are looking for a show that blends geeks, spy drama, and comedy, you can’t go wrong with Chuck.
Warner Home Video presents Chuck: The Complete First Season. Starring: Zachary Levi, Joshua Gomez, Sarah Lancaster, Yvonne Strahovski, and Adam Baldwin. Running time: 556 minutes. Rating: NR. Released on DVD: September 16, 2008. Available at Amazon.