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Reviewed by Will Harris
he 2007 – 2008 TV season was a great one for the uncool kids of the world. And I should know, because I have been one of their number for quite some time now. Not only did we get a hilarious sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory,” which managed to be funny to a wide audience without sacrificing punchlines that only geeks would get, but we also got a series which took comedy, action, drama, and nuanced characterization, blended it all together, and came up with one of the most loveable spies this side of Maxwell Smart. And, yes, I’m talking about the Don Adams version.
“Chuck,” the creation of Josh Schwartz (“The O.C.”) and Chris Fedak, introduces us to Charles Irving Bartowski (Zachary Levi), otherwise known as Chuck, a guy whose greatest achievement in life is that he’s a member of the Nerd Herd within the electronics chain known as Buy More. Things should’ve gone much differently for Chuck, but when you’re thrown out of Stanford University after your roommate falsely accuses you of cheating, it’s pretty tough to recover. As it happens, that same roommate – Bryce Larkin (Matthew Borner) – changes Chuck’s life yet again when, while in a desperate situation, Bryce sends him an E-mail which contains, well, basically, all of the information contained within the database of the CIA. It’s quite a headful of info, and although Chuck doesn’t want it (let alone understand it), not only is he stuck with it, but he soon finds that it’s triggered automatically whenever he sees something that’s within the database.
As a result of his new gifts, Chuck quickly finds himself under the close supervision of two government agents – CIA agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and NSA agent John Casey (Adam Baldwin) – and when we say “close,” we mean close. Casey gets a job at the Buy More and moves into Chuck’s apartment complex, while Sarah takes a position at a nearby wiener house and begins to pose as Chuck’s girlfriend. It’s a very weird situation, as you can imagine, but it’s made even weirder by this combination of facts: 1) Sarah’s really hot, 2) Chuck begins to fall for Sarah, and 3) Sarah and Bryce used to have a thing. Does Sarah share Chuck’s feelings? Even if she does, would she be able to reciprocate, given that she’d inevitably become too close to the job at hand?
You can see the dilemma.
The scripts for “Chuck” provide a solid blend of action and comedy, and the emphasis on the latter is never more profound than during the scenes at the Buy More. That’s where Chuck gets to hang out with his best bud, Morgan (Joshua Gomez), who’s profoundly in love with Chuck’s sister, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster). But, alas, it’s a love that’s doomed to come to naught, since she’s in a long-term relationship with a guy known more often than not as Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin), due to his tendency to describe everything as “awesome.” As the season progresses, we also get to see more of Chuck’s other fellow work cronies, including his boss, Big Mike (Mark Christopher Lawrence), his nemesis, Harry Tang (C.S. Lee), and a really hot Asian girl named Anna (Julia Ling). Also in the mix are Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay), who are the Mutt and Jeff of the store. The Buy More storylines are often so solid as to make you think, “This could’ve been a show unto itself” (especially if you’ve ever lived the life of a retail employee yourself), but the way they’re blended into the overall plot makes you glad to have them right where they are.
Yes, “Chuck” is a show which requires you to set your brain to “accept what’s said as possible, no matter how ridiculous it might be” mode, since anything else will send you into overload at the amount of implausibilties. But in addition to the spy action and witty dialogue, Zachary Levi makes Chuck someone you can root for. Even though he’s saving the world night after night, he’s burdened with a secret he can’t tell anyone about, which makes it a living hell to maintain his relationships with his sister and his friends – but he does. Even when the events and characters around him reach cartoonish levels of improbability, you still want Chuck to come out victorious. There are also some really great pop culture references scattered throughout the series, including at least two moments scored to the music of Hall & Oates and a fantastic sequence which unfolds to the tune of Neil Diamond’s “Love on the Rocks.” But the greatest moment of geekery may come when Chuck is forced to prove his identity by showing his fluency in… Klingon. That’s just about too awesome for words.
Season One of “Chuck” ends with a surprising amount of closure, offering no real cliffhanger and a finale which, had things gone a different way, could’ve been the final episode of the series. Thankfully, however, it wasn’t, and after you’ve checked out the set, I think you’ll agree that this is a very good thing, indeed.
Special Features: The cast and crew really put some work into the features for this set. First off, we have “Chuck on Chuck,” where Levi and Gomez sit down with producers Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak to pick their favorite scenes from throughout the first season; ultimately, this is probably way better than getting full commentaries for various episodes, if only because we get constant conversation throughout the featurette as well as onscreen interaction between the guys. Also included are deleted scenes – oh, sorry, de-classified scenes – and a gag reel (“Chucks vs. the Chuckles”), along with a gallery of various mini-featurettes which appeared on the web, where the various supporting characters get the spotlight for a few minutes. Lastly, there’s “Chuck’s World,” which gives an idea of how the show’s characters developed over the course of time, which – like some of the aforementioned mini-featurette – contain footage from the original casting sessions for the series.