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Back in the Spy Game: An Advance Review of Season Three of "Chuck"

Anticipation is running high for the third season premiere of NBC's action-comedy Chuck, which has been off of the Peacock's schedule since May. It's been far too long of a wait for this fun and offbeat series to have been on hiatus. But the wait is nearly over.

And, having greedily devoured the first five fantastic episodes of Chuck's third season in the last 24 hours or so, I can say that the wait will have been worth it.

When we last saw Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi), he had just downloaded the Intersect 2.0 into his head after the death of its intended recipient Agent Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer)... and that the updated software had granted him new physical-based abilities. Abilities that, judging from the first few episodes, would appear to be limitless.

Or are they? As creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak promised, Chuck Bartowski hasn't transformed overnight into a super-suave 007-type. Nor has the series, a winning blend of comedy, action, romance, angst, and workplace drudgery, morphed into a cutthroat spy thriller.

While Chuck himself may have had a few upgrades since we last saw him, Chuck the series has kept true to its formula, juggling a host of genres and tones with a perfect dexterity, and the series' whip-smart team of writers--including Chris Fedak, Matt Miller, Ali Adler, Scott Rosenbaum, Phil Klemmer, and Zev Borow, who all turn in scripts here--deliver a batch of episodes that showcase Chuck's numerous strengths and deliver some of the strongest episodes to date.

Want to hear more about the first five episodes of Season Three of Chuck? Read on but be aware that there are minor spoilers ahead.

There's no getting around it: Season Three of Chuck begins with a bang and delivers on this promise by offering five incredible episodes. Personally, I think that the second (written by Ali Adler and Scott Rosenbaum), the fourth (written by Zev Borow), and the fifth (written by series co-creator Chris Fedak) are the strongest installments of the bunch. (Episode Two, entitled "Chuck Versus the Three Words," written by Adler and Rosenbaum, might just be my favorite episode of the series to date.)

Rather than paint themselves into a corner with Chuck's new abilities, the writers' use of the Intersect 2.0 has opened up the series to some new narrative possibilities, which are explored deeply within these early episodes. Chuck's role within the team has changed somewhat, due to his ability to "flash" on various skill sets (in the first few episodes, those skills include kung fu, swordplay, nunchucks, and Spanish guitar), but that's not to say that handlers Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and John Casey (Adam Baldwin) have been given pink slips. While it's true that Chuck can handle himself better than before, his new-found abilities come with some, er, complications and Chuck doesn't have much control over how and when he's able to interact with them.

Team Bartowski, therefore, doesn't need to start looking for other employment. While the core trio's mission has changed slightly, what hasn't is the foundation of their interpersonal relationships, though how they perceive one another may have shifted slightly.

Which is to say: there's definitely some tension in the ranks and I wouldn't have it any other way. But is it professional or romantic? Well, both when Chuck is concerned. While I won't give too much away, I will say that Chuck and Sarah's relationship features prominently in several subplots among the first five episodes and unfolds in an unexpected way. There are some major complications that could forever change their relationship but their will-they-or-won't-they romance is explored in a very adult way with some heavy thoughts about risks and consequences.

Due to a time-jump within the narrative, we're able to see just how Chuck's abilities affect his life and the lives of those around him, including the now-married Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and Awesome (Ryan McPartlin) and best friend Morgan (Josh Gomez). Chuck has always operated on a philosophy of wish fulfillment and the season premiere forces Chuck Bartowski to come to terms with what it means when you get everything you always thought you wanted... and what it means giving up in the process. (Don't worry, though: flashbacks will reveal just what happened between now and Chuck downloading the Intersect 2.0 and, let me tell you, there are some very interesting twists.)

McPartlin's Devon, meanwhile, has an increasingly more important role within the espionage storyline and two episodes nicely utilize Captain Awesome not just for comedy value but for real, action-oriented stuff that changes the way that he perceives his brother-in-law... and leads to some relationship issues with Ellie. (Look for Devon to play a major role in both the third and fourth episodes.)

Several familiar faces return in these first few episodes, the most notable of which is Mini Anden's deadly and sexy spy Carina, who turns up in Episode Two ("Chuck Versus the Three Words"). I've been wondering just when the writers would bring Carina back into the mix; she adds an element of unpredictability as well as offering a different perspective on Agent Sarah Walker. Anden fits in quite nicely within the world of Chuck and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that, like a bad penny, she turns up again down the road.

While some faces might be familiar, there are also a few new characters turning up, with the most compelling being the enigmatic Shaw (Brandon Routh), who adds a very intriguing new dynamic to the mix and makes quite an entrance. I can't wait to see just where the writers take his character and some reveals late in the game add some nice layering to what, in lesser hands, could have been a stereotypical hard-edged spy role. I'm also curious to see just how seemingly innocent Hannah (Kristin Kreuk) changes things up. (She enters the picture in Episode Five, entitled "Chuck Versus First Class.")

Additionally, the production team's thoughtful use of single-episode guest stars--which here include Armand Assante, Vinnie Jones, Steve Austin, and Angie Harmon--is top notch, with each of the actors adding something to their individual episode without stealing the spotlight away from the core cast.

What else? There's a management reshuffle at the Buy More, new living arrangements, and a testosterone-laden exercise in adrenaline behind the scenes at the store. Not to mention: Casey's past catches up to him, Chuck gets acrobatic and gregariously honest at an inopportune time, Devon finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place, Sarah faces some hard truths, Morgan must find some inner strength, and a certain unwisely hurled epithet gets someone in some serious trouble.

And, oh, there's a kick-ass fight sequence between Chuck and guest star Steve Austin at 30,000 feet that involves... swords. And a scene in the second episode that will prove to be a favorite of many male viewers. Ahem.

All in all, these first few episodes of Chuck's third season are sensational and engaging. They also point to what promises to be an incredible season that builds on the plotlines that have come before, but which also forges ahead in new directions, setting up new mythologies and ongoing subplots that are intriguing, complicated, and, well, awesome. In other words: Season Three of Chuck is back and better than ever. And you don't need a flash from the Intersect, or have gone to the El Segundo School of Finance, to come to that conclusion.

Season Three of Chuck launches January 10th at 9 pm ET/PT with a two-hour premiere before moving to its regular timeslot Mondays at 8 pm ET/PT on January 11th.


Razorback said…
Agreed on every part. Episodes 2 & 5 are the standouts, though episode 1 & 4 are excellent. Episode 3 is very good too but when you consider how great the others are, it doesn't stand out as much... though it has a great cliffhanger ending.

I think Shaw could become my favorite character. The slight reveal you talked about adds a lot to his character. Oh and Hanna & Chuck are really cute together.
MC said…
CHUCK ME!!!! I'm soooo pumped, thanks for the delicious teaser Jace!

Jan. 10th will go down in history!
Mel said…
Excellent review, Jace. I'd give you 5 thumbs up if I had 5 thumbs.
OldDarth said…
Now you have done it! It is official. The wait for Chuck's return has just become UNBEARABLE!

But your table setting for Season 3 is greatly appreciated.

Thank you!
ranger99 said…
For those of you that haven't heard yet - the SyFy Channel is doing a CHUCK marathon on January 7th - 8 straight hours of CHUCK!!!
maryploppins said…
J said…
Wow, worse than I imagined. Count me out. WT/WT is a piss poor plot device that should be sent to the death chamber. It bugs me to no end that it continues to be used by any show. God forbid if you actually bring couples together and then try to write something. I guess it's too much of a challenge.

TBBT proved that you don't need that WT/WT garbage and still keep the ratings. It just takes some imagination and some guts to buck conventional wisdom.
Unknown said…
More scoop on Hannah please......
Mark S said…
everyone who loves Chuck in Los Angeles and San Diego please come to Chuckfest 2010. chance to meet Chuck and Morgan all to raise money for the LA and San Diego Chapters of the American Heart Association
Kevin said…
Can not wait!!!! I want CHUCK now! This review only made the wait more hard. Give us more spoilers!!!!
abigfanofchuck said…
hey is there a possibility of getting an early viewing? caaannnttt waiit any longer!!! this is probably what chuck feels when it comes to sarah. so near yet so far!!! =D

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