300pp/$39.98.00/August 2008

Chuck, Season One

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Chuck debuted in 2007 and seemed precariously perched on the NBC line-up until it was given a reprieve by the writers strike, suddenly a definite renewal for a year in which very few pilots would be screened. The series is about Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi), a technician at Buy More, a big-box electronics store, who suddenly finds a CIA database downloaded into his brain.  Once the viewer accepts the initial premise, the series, which aired a mere thirteen episodes before it was derailed by the writer's strike.

During the course of those episodes, however, Chuck  did just about everything right.  Portraying Chuck and his best friend Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez) as a couple of geeks, the writers clearly understand geek culture.  They don't see themselves as losers, but totally embrace their interests, in a way which shows that the writers don't look down on them. Although Chuck's sister, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) looks down on her brother's interests, she loves him and sees his potential. Even Ellie's near-perfect boyfriend, Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) sees Chuck as an individual and goes to him for advice.

Chuck's two handlers, female CIA agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Stahovski) and NSA agent John Casey (Adam Baldwin) provide guidance to Chuck as well as get him into the various situations from which they must then extricate him.  While Sarah and Chuck maintain a cover as a couple, which causes Chuck a variety of emotional problems, Casey must work undercover at the Buy More despite his penchant for wanting to resolve issues with a gun, making him almost a parody of Baldwin's previous role as the mercenary Jayne Cobb from Firefly, something which the writers appear to be very much aware.

Although there are no cast commentaries on any of the episodes, one of the highlights of the special features is "Chuck on Chuck," in which actors Levy and Gomez and series creators Chris Fedek and Josh Schwartz each select three of their favorite scenes from the first season and discuss them, while the scene runs in miniature on the screen.  While this has all the strengths of an episode commentary, because it is so focused, it doesn't allow for the rambling comments or silences which so often are part of a full fledged commentary.

There are several interviews on the disc, and it is nice to see Gomez and Levy out of character, providing them with a more human side.  However, seeing the actors not in their roles can be disconcerting. Perhaps one of the strangest parts of the special features is when  Stahovski speaks.  Although the viewer wouldn't know it from her role in the show, Stahovski is from Australia and her accent betrays her when she is not in character.  

Not all special features work so well.  In the "Chuck on the Web" section, one of the four videos, "Morgan's Vlog: Movie Villains" actually causes the discussion of Morgan's character from disc X to run in an apparent coding area.  The two shorts which feature Anna (Julia Ling), "Anna's Mad Skills" and "Anna's Sword Skills," are rather similar and one of them could easily have been replaced by a different short from the website.

Deleted and extended scenes are included for six of the episodes, providing additional action and humor, although at times it is clear why the scenes were left out of the final episodes, either because they slowed the pace, or just didn't add anything new to the story lines.  In a few cases, these scenes highlight some of the show's support characters, indicating, perhaps, where those characters will be used in future episodes, and spotlighting their talents.

Chuck is an enjoyable television show, with likable characters and clever writing that shows an understanding of action, comedy, and the geek-world in which so many of the characters exist.  Even though the show requires suspension of disbelief at every turn, the show cordially invites the viewer to suspend that disbelief and enjoy the show.  The packaging on the disc and the special feature support the show's feel quite well and is an excellent introduction to the show as it enters its second season and beyond.

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