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Reviewed by Will Harris
here haven’t been many series in recent memory that have had their fates hanging by a thread quite so often as NBC’s “Chuck” has. It is in no way hyperbolic to suggest that the fact that the show just kicked off its fourth season is nothing short of a miracle, one performed in equal parts by a kind and forgiving network, an insanely dedicated fanbase and, possibly to a slightly lesser extent, the fine folks at Subway. Given this perpetual uncertainty about the fate of the series, it’s no wonder that “Chuck: The Complete Third Season” includes not only payoff for those who have been waiting for Chuck and Sarah to get together since the first episode but, indeed, several episodes which feel as though they could’ve been effective finales for the series.
Season Two of “Chuck” ended with one of the great lines of recent TV history: “Guys, I know kung fu.” Despite the best warnings of his father, Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) had been placed in a position where he had no choice but to upload the Intersect 2.0 into his brain, thereby giving him the ability to flash onto “muscle memory” and do anything from dance a tango to play flamenco guitar – plus, of course, a whole lot of other spy stuff. As a result, Chuck himself is upgraded to full-fledged spy status, an opportunity which leads him to throw away the possibility of a happy life with Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) in favor of trying to help make the world a better place. Yeah, I know, it’s ridiculous: I’d probably have taken the life with Sarah, too, but it’s TV, so you roll with it.
Even with the Intersect in his head, it still takes a whole lot of additional training to get Chuck up to snuff as a proper spy. Enter Daniel Shaw (Brandon Routh), one of those CIA agents who are only spoken of in hushed tones, to help transition Chuck into his new role. He’s an interesting character, one who keeps you guessing throughout the season, but because of his chemistry with Sarah, there’s a brief period where you may find yourself thinking that he’s only there to keep Chuck and Sarah apart. Hang in there: there’s a twist that, if you’re like me, you won’t see coming, and it definitely serves to transform your perceptions of Shaw. Plus, as you’ve already read in the first paragraph of this review, it’s not like he succeeds in keeping Chuck and Sarah apart.
Yes, you knew it was only inevitable that the hot spy and the geeky guy would get together, and three seasons was about as long as anyone could comfortably expect creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedek to keep them apart. It doesn’t happen right away: in addition to the Shaw and Sarah pairing, Chuck gets a brief opportunity to hook up with Hannah, played by Kristin Kreuk. When it finally does, though, the hilarious storylines that emerge – the most notable of which finds Fred Willard and Swoosie Kurtz turning up as an elder husband-and-wife spy team – give you the idea that, all things being equal, Schwartz and Fedak probably would’ve been just as happy if they’d gotten them together at the end of Season Two.
The ensemble of “Chuck” is pretty substantial, so there’s not a great deal of opportunity for significant growth in all of the characters’ storylines, but, by God, the producers try their damndest. Unlike his fellow agents, John Casey (Adam Baldwin) doesn’t get a chance at love in Season Three, but he does get more of a back story, one which reveals that he’s been in love before. And, as he learns in an episode entitled “Chuck Versus the Tic Tac,” it resulted in a now-teenage daughter. Also in Season Three, Chuck’s brother-in-law, the man known as Captain Awesome, ends up further involved in the CIA’s goings-on, and in another case of “it had to happen eventually,” Chuck’s buddy Morgan (Joshua Gomez) not only finds out that Chuck is a spy but, indeed, becomes a spy himself. Yes, it’s one of those things that could be looked upon as a jump-the-shark moment in retrospect, but damned if they haven’t taken a ridiculous concept and made it work surprisingly well. (Note: your personal mileage may vary.) Unfortunately, the most interesting thing Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) does in Season Three is to get tricked into betraying Casey, unless you count the storyline where she and Awesome go to Africa, but I wouldn’t. In addition, the Buy More storylines tend to be pleasant yet not overly substantial, but you can’t fault Vik Sahay and Scott Krinsky, who once again imbue the duo known as Jeffster with as much personality and humor as humanly possible.
If Season Three had been the final season of “Chuck,” it would’ve sucked, but at least we’d have been comfortable in the knowledge that Chuck and Sarah would live happily ever after as spies in love. Beyond that well-earned reward to the faithful fans, though, it’s an action-packed season that’s also filled with lots of character development (Casey’s come a long way, baby) and a ton of guest stars, once again begging the same old question: why isn’t this show a bigger hit?
Special Features: Not the greatest collection of bonus material this time around – read, “No commentaries, dammit!” – but in addition to deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a really nice behind-the-scenes featurette (“Chuck-Fu…and Dim Sum: Becoming a Spy Guy”), there’s a mockumentary about “The Jeffster Revolution” which is, like the band itself, awesome.