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Reviewed by Will Harris
iven that “Chuck”dodged the bullet of cancellation on more than one occasion , it’s hard to describe it as anything short of miraculous that NBC should have given the adventures of unlikely spy Charles “Chuck” Bartowski a 13-episode final season in order to wrap up in a proper fashion. Was it the show’s obsessive fanbase that led the network to provide such a kind and generous opportunity, figuring they’d turn out in droves to say farewell to their favorite member of the Nerd Herd? If so, the NBC suits must be kicking themselves, because lord knows the numbers were abysmal for just about all of the episodes contained on “Chuck: The Complete Fifth Season.” But, hey, at least the fans were left happy, right?
Well, right-ish, anyway.
There’s a strange phenomenon in television nowadays where the producers of cult TV series have just suddenly started to go, “Fuck it, we’re never going to get any better ratings than we’re getting right now, so let’s just make the show for the people who are already watching.” It’s happened with “Fringe,” it’s happened with “Community,” and, yes, it’s what happened with “Chuck” as well. When the series wrapped up its fourth season, it was with a development that only the fans could possibly embrace: taking the intersect out of Chuck and putting it into Morgan. Taking this change of dynamic and combining it with Chuck, Sarah and Casey starting their own independent spy operation was a way to freshen things up, that much is certain, but with the end in sight, fans might well have been better served by revisiting more of what made them love the series in the first place rather than try to build something new with precious little time to explore it.
Fortunately, while things may have been switched up somewhat as a result of having Chuck and the gang step outside of their comfortable government gig and go freelance, the existing chemistry between the cast/characters means that things ultimately still feel pretty darned familiar as often as not. Plus, there’s also still quite a bit of the old “Chuck” spirit to be found via the series’ longstanding enjoyment of bringing on familiar geek-friendly faces as guest stars, starting right out of the gate with Mark Hamill and Craig Kilborn. From there, Carrie-Anne Moss (“The Matrix”) pulls a several-episode arc, with such notables as Jeff Fahey, Justin Hartley, Danny Pudi, Angus MacFayden, Cheryl Ladd, Bo Derek and Stan Lee all turning up before season’s end. Also earning return appearances to the show: Brandon Routh and Linda Hamilton. In addition to the usual undercover goings-on, there’s also still plenty of time spent at the Buy More, which means that Jeff, Lester and Big Mike all get their time to shine as well.
The big question, however, is whether or not “Chuck” concludes its run in a manner which proves satisfying to the longtime viewer. As with all such things, one’s individual mileage may vary, but the long and the short of it is that the series was, from start to finish, a love letter from creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak to the people who really, really got it. It’s probable that some walked away so pissed off that it had to end at all that they couldn’t appreciate the way it wrapped up, but all things being equal, it’s hard to imagine that it could’ve been handled much better.
Special Features: No surprise here: the final season of “Chuck” proves to be just as chock-full of fan-friendly bonus material as every one of the seasons that preceded it. In addition to audio commentary on the final two episodes from the cast and executive producers, and an extended version of the series finale, the set includes a gag reel, several “declassified” scenes (that’s “deleted” to you non-spies), and some exclusive Buy More commercials. In addition, there are several featurettes as well, including “Sandwiches and Superfans: The Saving of a Show,” “Chuck vs. the Final Episode,” “Scoring the World of Chuck,” “Chuck: The Beginnings,” “Chuck: Through the Years” and “Goodbye, Buy More.”