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Reviewed by Will Harris
nce again, time has come to review another season of “Chuck,” a series which has, year after year, continued to defy the odds and stay on the air despite ratings which would result in just about any other series getting the axe. The prolonging of life can be attributed to a few different things, including a not-insubstantial influx of cash from Subway sandwich product placement (which is handled in such a wink-and-a-smile fashion that it’s become an enjoyable in-joke), but when it comes right down to it, the show owes its survival to its insanely dedicated fans, who have followed “Chuck” wherever it goes on the NBC schedule, either watching live or serving up a season pass for the series on their DVR.
As such, watching “Chuck: The Complete Fourth Season” is like reading a love letter from the show to its fans. Given the precedent established by previous seasons, there was no particular reason for the producers, let alone anyone else, to expect that the show would ever earn a fifth season (even though it did), so one can only presume that they decided, “Okay, time to give ‘em all the stuff they’ve been clamoring for.” And, indeed, that’s what they did. Big time.
Like most seasons of “Chuck,” it’s hard to discuss the series without tackling the awesomeness of the guest stars, but with Season Four, you pretty much have to talk about them up front. For virtually the entire run of the series, Chuck Bartowski’s mom has been spoken about but never seen, having disappeared when Chuck and his sister, Ellie, were children. At long last, Chuck was reunited with her… and damned if she didn’t look just like Linda Hamilton. The producers deserve a certain amount of credit for holding off until the Thanksgiving episode to have her say, “Come with me if you want to live,” but they deserve even more credit for making viewers uncertain for a surprisingly long period of time as to whether or not she was on Chuck’s side or not. Sure, it seemed unlikely that she’d betray her son for the long haul, but, still, they kept us guessing pretty damned well. Bonus points for teaming her with a former Bond – Timothy Dalton – and for having him play the semi-despicable / semi-tragic Alexei Volkoff, a.k.a. Agent X, a.k.a. Hartley Winterbottom.
Those aren’t the only guest stars this season, of course. In addition to seeing the return of such fan favorites as Steve Austin, Nicole Richie, Armand Assante, John Larroquette, and Gary Cole, new faces to the series include Dolph Lundgren, Lou Ferrigno, Stacy Kiebler, Summer Glau, Robert Englund, Richard Chamberlain, Eric Roberts, Ana Gasteyer, Robin Givens, and Lou Diamond Phillips.
Ah, but what of our regulars? Due to cuts in the show’s budget, which were a necessity if it was going to stay alive, we don’t get quite as much time at the Buy More, but it’s hard to complain too much about that, frankly. (We love the guys from Jeffster! as much as anyone, but a little of Jeff and Lester in the midst of a show like this one goes a long way.) The big storylines this season – in addition to the ones already discussed, of course – are Chuck and Sarah slowly but surely working their way toward the altar, Mr. and Mrs. Awesome prepping for the arrival of a little Awesome, Casey developing a stronger relationship with his daughter, and Morgan becoming one of the spies as well as the manager of the Buy More. The storylines are sometimes slightly implausible, but, really, who comes to “Chuck” for 100% plausibility?
“Chuck: The Complete Fourth Season” is, first and foremost, fun. If you’ve been a fan of the series since its inception, then these episodes offer up a lot of things that you’ve been waiting for and wishing would happen. It’ll be a shame to see this show go at the end of Season Five – NBC has already clarified that this is it, but at least the producers know this to be so and can use them accordingly as a final farewell – but you can’t say that “Chuck” hasn’t made the most of its time on the air. It’s still one of the most enjoyable hour-long romps on television.
Special Features: Just as they have in the past, the producers have shown their gratitude to the fans for their support by providing them with a ton of bonus material. Once again, the DVD version is devoid of commentaries, but the Blu-ray offers “The Top-Secret Chuckipedia Interactive Experience” on the episode “Chuck Versus the First Fight,” describing it as “the ultimate way to watch a ‘Chuck’ episode’ and providing “video commentary, featurettes, and funny bits with the Nerd Herd.” As you’d expect, it’s a lot of fun for the fans. Other special features on the set include a collection of the so-called “declassified scenes,” a gag reel, featurettes about Zachary Levi’s trip behind the camera as a director of an episode and Joshua Gomez’s education in spy skills, and, lest we forget, there’s also “Buy Hard: The Jeff and Lester Story.”