Over the next few weeks, I’ll be summarizing my thoughts on many of the series that ended just as the “official” television season came to a close recently.
Overview: After much hubbub about whether or not it would actually return for a third season, Chuck did return and delivered an entertaining group of episodes. Thanks to some wonky scheduling and a struggle with tonal transitions, season three unfortunately could not match the consistency of season two. But there were a number of great individual episodes throughout S3 — especially in the season’s back portion — that made for fun, entertaining television.
Pros: With Chuck, there’s always a whole lot of pros. I know some people still had issues with the title character having abilities and even I thought sometimes the series could have put Chuck in more situations to use a more diverse group of them outside of kung-fu, but there’s no way to deny the ambition and desire for evolution. And after a few episodes totally focused on that story, it’s not as if the season became lost in one “Chuck has major skills!” story after another.
Instead, as the finale proved, it seems that Chuck’s always been on this path — and I love that. As a story, you can only get so much mileage out of Chuck being a regular guy with an extraordinary situation thrust on to him. In that sense, the season built very nicely on Chuck’s desire to be a real spy and regularly showed him getting incrementally better at the task so now he is ready to take up the mantle that his father once held.
And because Chuck moved towards a more professional spy skill set, it only made sense to key Morgan in on the secret because now he can fill the void that former Chuck used to hold. Not only does it create an abundance of comedy possibilities, but it pushes the Chuck-Morgan friendship away from the stale “gotta go, buddy!” stuff that was done to death. The series also parsed out some nice comedic storytelling out of Devon being in on it as well, most notably in “Versus Operation Awesome.” Hell, now Ellie’s knows what’s up too and although that removes any secrecy from the story, it will hopefully mean bigger things for her moving forward — especially if the story is now more family oriented.
Which reminds me: The conclusion to S3 that suggests a completely different story next season is a welcome one, if only so we don’t have to hear characters use the word “spy” 40 times an episode amid a sea of civilians. The writers are smart enough to work Casey and Sarah into any individual hero-for-hire work Chuck does in the future and oddly, this is a series that tends to work better when individual episodes are self-contained and pure fun. I’d be interested to see Chuck start working cases on a Michael Westen-like basis, wouldn’t you?
Cons: Nevertheless, there are issues that stick out to me when thinking about Chuck‘s third season. The S2 cliffhanger of Chuck now having actual abilities more than just an information center in his brain meant big changes for everyone involved, particularly Chuck and Sarah. I personally didn’t have a problem with keeping them apart for the first 13 episodes and appreciated Chuck’s explanation in “Versus the Three Words.” My issue with the whole arc came when separate love interests were introduced for both characters in Hannah and Shaw. Not only did those characters really not need to exist, but at points, the execution of their connections to Chuck and Sarah seemed a little weak. The Shaw-Sarah pairing felt misguided from the beginning and was never quite fleshed out in a way that made us think Sarah ever cared about him past simply filling up her heart with anyone not Chuck. In the end, turning Shaw into a straight up villain worked out much better for the last eight episodes or so because that’s something the series hasn’t ever really had — even it retroactively proved that the character never worked as a romantic foil.
Because of said relationship drama, Sarah did get lost for the majority of the season. She was much less active, aggressive and strong and sometimes didn’t add much to episodes whatsoever. That’s not a fault of Yvonne Strahovski, who did some powerful work in the episodes that Sarah did get to be emotional.
In the end, these issues were overcome by the slew of positives and it seems as though some of them could have been fixed if the writers had known about the back-six of episodes. I would guess that the Chuck-Sarah-Shaw drama would have lasted four to five episodes less and the season would then have spent more time on Chuck’s degenerating mind, something that could have legitimately lasted 10-15 episodes.
Best storyline: Morgan finding out Chuck’s secret.
Worst storyline: Shaw and Sarah as a romantic pairing.
Best performer: Zachary Levi — His ability to hold his own amid the sea of tonal changes is totally underrated. He plays Chuck as an action hero just as well as he plays him as a romantic sap.
Best single moment: The Chuck-Shaw fight in “Versus the Ring Part II” — Well choreographed, intense and full of emotion; one of the series’ best fights.
Three best episodes: “Versus the Other Guy,” “Versus the Ring Part II,” “Versus the Subway”
Worst episode: “Versus the Nacho Sampler”
Where does it fit in context with the whole series? Not quite as good as S2 for the issues mentioned above, but damn close and still much better than S1.
Final grade: A-*
This is something I should have noted in my introductory post: Grades are all relative. Meaning an A- for Chuck and an A (hypothetically) for Smallville aren’t the same. The grade is given based solely on what I know/expect the specific series being graded is capable of.
Your thoughts on Chuck season three?