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First Frost: An Advance Review of the Chuck Season Four Premiere

When we last left Zachary Levi's Chuck Bartowski, he had received a revelation--or two--that shocked his world to its core. Having buried his father, slain in the line of duty, Chuck learned that his father had maintained a secret underground headquarters beneath the family's Encino home and that his mother, Mary Elizabeth Bartowski, had her own secrets as well... and that his father had devoted his life to finding Chuck and Ellie's errant mother.

I can tell you that we see the elusive Mary (played by Terminator's Linda Hamilton) within the very first seconds of Season Four of NBC's Chuck, which begins on Monday with a fantastic and funny installment ("Chuck Versus the Anniversary") that sets up the overarching plotline for the fourth season while creating a new status quo for our favorite spy.

I had the chance last night to watch "Chuck Versus the Anniversary," written by Chris Fedak and directed by Robert Duncan McNeill, and was struck by how much humor and whimsy--and action--they managed to shoehorn into those forty-odd minutes. As I tweeted last night about the episode, "Chuck premiere: sexting, skydiving, Seinfeld references, (Harry Dean) Stanton? Sensational. Very fun opener."

Which it is. Without giving too much away, I can say that Chuck and Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) are still very much a couple, though with some new obstacles to overcome, Chuck's promise to Ellie to leave the spy life behind stands (or, well, sort of, anyway), and divergent plotlines end up beautifully intersecting before the end of the hour, when Chuck is forced to make a choice that could have some consequences for his current covert mission: tracking down his mother.

What else did I think of the season opener? Read on...

[As always: please do not reproduce this review in full on any message boards, websites, or blogs.]

It's the above task that shadows the action unfolding within "Chuck Versus the Anniversary," but the episode is not all doom and gloom. In fact, it's one of the most lighthearted and funny episodes of the series in quite some time, as executive producer Chris Fedak constructs an episode that equal parts Get Smart homage, gadget-influenced romantic comedy, and a high-flying, globe-hopping espionage drama that's set against such diverse cities as Hong Kong, Moscow, and, well, Burbank. (The gang's jet-setting lifestyle is visualized through a hilarious map gag that makes use of the credit sequence's little stick figure man.)

While I don't want to give too much away about this fun and fantastic installment, I will say that several of the series regulars don't make appearances here, so don't hold your breath waiting to find out what Lester, Jeff, Big Mike, or Captain Awesome have been up to since we last saw them. However, what you will find is an episode that puts the spotlight on the core group--that would be Chuck, Sarah, Casey (Adam Baldwin), and Morgan (Josh Gomez), naturally--while reconfiguring them a bit and pushing them into a new and exciting direction within the confines of the series.

As for the Buy More gang, I'll be interested to see just how they fit into this new world order within Chuck and just how they'll interact with the newly promoted Bonita Fredericy's General Beckman, who takes on a most unusual role within the infrastructure of the series. I'll say no more on that front for the time being.

Chuck and Sarah's relationship--a romantic one for those worried--is the bedrock of the season. While the two are challenged by circumstances, there are no ex-lovers, would-be love interests, or other external pressures on their relationship, but rather a realistic situation that tests their bond even as it proves their loyalty and depth of feelings for one another. And, yes, involves the ubiquitous trend of the moment: sexting. But said trend is used for both comedic and dramatic effect and Fedak creatively uses it both as gag and plot point here.

Ultimately,"Chuck Versus the Anniversary" is a hell of a start for what promises another fantastic season of Chuck, one filled with intrigue, excitement, romance, and comedy. Not to mention Mary Elizabeth Bartowski. In the hands of Hamilton, she becomes an impressive and powerful figure in Chuck's life, albeit one who might either be friend or foe. Suffice it to say that a scene in which Mary figures prominently will not soon be forgotten...

Meanwhile, the episode also features Harry Dean Stanton, Dolph Lundgren, and Olivia Munn. I have to say that I'm extremely impressed that Fedak and Josh Schwartz were able to get Stanton, who turns up here in a most unexpected role, one that sets in motion a series of events involving getaways, menus, and public transportation. As for Lundgren, his appearance signals the arrival of a new criminal organization for Chuck and Co. to take down over the course of the season, perhaps taking advantage of the power vacuum created by the destruction of The Ring.

Just who is Lundgren's character working for and what is their ultimate aim? And how does Mary fit into all of this? What's her agenda exactly? Hmmm...

Season Four of Chuck launches Monday at 8 pm ET/PT on NBC.


OldDarth said…
Thanks Jace. Great appetizer tease for the start of the season.

Come on Monday!
sweetiepie1019 said…
Gah ... Chuck and Sarah sexting. That just sounds so wrong to me for some reason.
Anyway, love the overview, and I'm so excited for the first episode of the new season! Chuck is the show I'm looking forward to coming back the most this season. :D I'm glad there's no more third parties for Chuck and Sarah, and I can't wait to see Morgan as a spy - missions and all - and the Buymorons in a spy store. Season four sounds like fun already.
Amrit said…
Hi Jace,

Great post but from the sneak peaks and promos it is very hard to figure out whether or not chuck is back in the CIA. I love Team B and I do worry that Fedak and co just enjoy playing with danger. They tested fans patience last year and I just do not think they should do it again if they harbour any chance of more episodes. If I were them I would just put chuck back in the CIA and run with it with the team together.
Jace Lacob said…

Just watch and see. Your question and concern will be dealt with in the season opener, I promise. They haven't steered this one wrong...
Luke said…
Hi Jace,

I understand that it will work out, now that you have told me it will be dealt with, but how does he go back to being a CIA agent along with casey, sarah and morgan but still keep his promise to Ellie? Unless the government lets him stay out of the CIA but has him as a consultant even then he will still be part of the spy world and Ellie did not want him there at all. Can they just write Ellie out, she is getting in the way of my beloved Team B. I love that they still keep that relationship between chuck and casey where he still manhandles him, lol.
Gina said…

My best guess would be that in order to go back to being a spy he will tell Ellie at the end of the episode that he is looking for their mom, and you saw at the end of season 3 she really wanted to know about their dad, so she may give chuck her blessing to try and rescue the only blood familly they have left in this world, by doing that they can return to status quo sort of, best guess.
Bella Spruce said…
I was already excited for the new season of Chuck and now you tell me that Harry Dean Stanton is in the first episode? Brilliant!
Anonymous said…
Did you just say SEXTING? Oh goodness gracious, that will be hilarious! I simply cannot wait. Your review even raised my excitement up a notch.
Unknown said…
Amrit, Luke, and Gina, I can clarify all of your questions. For starters, from sneak peeks Chuck is definitely back in the CIA, considering the options that Beckman gives him, of which there aren't any. She basically says, "I changed my mind. Your back in. Discussion over". As for the whole thing with Ellie, I don't think he'll be keeping his promise. That's one of his conflicts for this season. He takes the promise seriously but he's back in the CIA also. As for will he tell Ellie, I'm pretty sure he won't because they said at Comic Con that that's going to be a big part of Chuck and Ellie's dynamic this season. He's going to be keeping secrets from her and lying to her again, which I don't mind because I've hated Ellie all summer for making him promise to quit. And btw, I'm not spoiling anything. All this info can be found on YouTube.
ted23 said…
@Tyler Dude, that IS spoiling. If you are saying stuff from upcoming episodes it doesn't matter where it came from it's still a SPOILER. Thanks a lot, asshat.
Luke said…
Yeah Tyler man I totally agree with you on the Ellie situation, they have to change her characters personality because she has become way too annoying. You look at the clips that have come out and chuck really misses sarah and sarah and casey really miss chuck and I love my team b and they will be back but chuck has to abandon this notion that he has to keep living the life that Ellie wants him to live because all she says is do not be friends with morgan, do not live with morgan do not date sarah if you do not see a future and then she attacked casey physically and never apologised for making the mistake that most likely got their dad killed. If they continue to use her as a way of keeping team b apart and especially chuck and sarah and they use her to attack the characters whether physically or verbally then the fan base will not have it and there will be a melt down. TPTB need to be very careful if they cannot do anything else with ellie then for the sake of the show and ratings write her out and just keep captain awesome, seriously.

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