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Chuck Season 3
Reviewed by Mark Bousquet, © 2010

Format: TV
Genre:   Spy - nerd - action
Review Date:   July 02, 2010

I don’t eat enough s’mores. When I’m hungry and looking for a snack, I never think of them and yet when I do have them (usually when someone else has made them for me) I dig ‘em, eat too many of them, think to myself that I need to have them more often, and then before I’ve had them again 2006 has turned into 2010.

I’ll eat s’mores in individual parts quite a bit, too – I always try to have chocolate on hand, I’ll pick up some graham crackers a couple times a year, and I’m currently three jars of marshmallow gooeyness into a PB and Fluff bender, but I never put them all together and gorge on s’mores.

If s’mores were a TV show, they’d be Chuck. Episodes of Chuck pile up in the Hulu queue and I rarely get around to watching them until I get an expiration warning, and then I sit down and watch four or five episodes in a row, dig almost everything about them, tell myself I’ll watch the next one as soon as it arrives, and then before I know it zero episodes in the queue has turned to five episodes in the queue and I’ve got to watch all of them in 24 hours or I’ll have to wait until the DVD comes out.

I’m not sure why this continually happens. Chuck is exactly the kind of fun, engaging TV program that’s specifically made for me. It’s got great characters, a solid geek rating, isn’t afraid to advance the plot, has plenty of laughs (or smirks, at least), the best Baldwin, hot women, and solid guest casting. I honestly like every single character on the show, from Casey and Sarah to Awesome and Ellie to Big Mike and Morgan.

Even Chuck, a character that seems to continually dance on the edge of making me want to punch him, always seems to win me over. Zachary Levi is playing a better Peter Parker on the TV every week than Tobey Maguire did on the big screen. And I liked Maguire’s Peter Parker. (At least until the nightmarish garbage that was Spider-Man 3. )

So why do I keep forgetting I like the show?

Part of it, I think, is that Chuck has never been a show I watch on the actual television. Even when I had cable, I never watched it because NBC puts it on Monday night, and Monday night means football. I never got into Heroes for the same reason.

So while I bought bargain-priced DVDs of both shows’ first seasons and liked them both, they exist in this nether realm in my brain where they’re much more Halley’s Comet than they are the Moon.

Perhaps the biggest reason why I don’t remember how much I like Chuck is that what it does best is done better by other shows. Chuck is a fun show, but it’s not nearly as fun as Castle, which never piles up in the queue.

I’d even argue that Chuck is a better show than Castle, but neither Zach Levi nor Chuck Bartowski is as entertaining as Nathan Fillion or Rick Castle. Likewise, the Chuck and Sarah relationship doesn’t have a tenth of the chemistry of Castle and Beckett even though it’s a much more interesting relationship.

(Of course, neither relationship is as entertaining or well-acted as the Doctor and Amy, but Hulu doesn’t carry BBC America shows because they hate me.)

Chuck is also an enjoyable spy show, but it’s not nearly as enjoyable a spy show as Burn Notice, which might get two, occasionally three episodes deep in the queue but never more than that. Chuck may have the always watchable Adam Baldwin, but Burn Notice has a Baldwin Neutralizer in Bruce Campbell, who’s morphed so easily and comfortably into late-middle-aged, paunchy, second fiddledom that I have to remind myself that this was the guy who used to be Bruce Campbell.

It’s not that Campbell’s Sam is better than Baldwin’s Casey, either. But as both characters have mellowed and been declawed (both were originally marginally opposed to the show’s main characters, spying on them for higher powers), the joy in watching Campbell’s Sam is that he still gets to do what he does best – drink, crack jokes, wear awful shirts – while Baldwin’s Bad Ass Casey is continuously undercut by his newfound emotional concern for not only Chuck and Sarah, but now Morgan and his newly found daughter Alex.

What’s confusing to me is that it’s a much better storytelling move.

It’s great to see a show push its characters forward, but the flipside is that the more Chuck grows as a spy, the less he needs Casey and Sarah around to handle him. Sarah’s presence continues to be needed as a love interest (although I hope the show doesn’t shrink the character to accommodate this role), but Chuck no longer needs Casey’s constant protection or mentoring. The show keeps giving him new people to protect and mentor (Ellie, Morgan, Alex) but the character was more interesting when he was the solo guy forced to play teammate rather than Chuck’s sidekicky bulldog.

The last six episodes of season three are all solid, all enjoyable, and work as a mini-season in their own right, working off the ramifications of Chuck killing Shaw, focusing on Chuck and Sarah finally becoming a couple, and building towards Shaw’s inevitable return.

There’s great guest work from Brandon Routh (whose performance might not be enough to make me forget the sack of crap that was Superman Returns, but is good enough to help absolve him his role in that disaster), and a really fantastic performance from Scott Bakula as Chuck and Ellie’s dad.

The show solidly and determinedly works towards a real conclusion, although some of the story points seem included just in case the show was cancelled after season 3. Still, I’ll forgive the “why were they there”-ness of Awesome and Ellie in Africa, of Morgan’s ex coming back just so Morgan could shoot her down, and the “too-soon to return from the dead to really work”-ness of Shaw’s return because the show so satisfyingly delivers.

While it would have been nice to see the Ring’s takedown of the CIA, NSA, and Operation Bartowski play out over a half-season (Routh really does make a compelling villain) instead of a couple episodes, there are real ramifications here: the death of Chuck’s dad, the capture of Shaw, Chuck finally quitting the CIA, Casey revealing his identity to Alex, the destruction of the Buy More, and the set-up for next season worked as well as the end of any horror movie franchise.

I can’t wait for Season 4 to get here.

I’ll be sure to watch it as soon as Hulu sends me that expiration warning notice.

Mark Bousquet is writer and creator of Atomic Anxiety, where he better talk more about s`mores, or else.

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