WARNING: Minor spoilers ahead! If you don’t want to know anything about Chuck before you watch the episodes, go get your next mission from Zac and Josh instead.
I’ve seen the first five episodes of Chuck‘s third season, and they are a…mazing. You thought I was going to use that other “a” word, didn’t you? Rest assured, Matt Mitovich, I’ll observe the moratorium.
NBC’s decision to air the first three episodes over two consecutive nights (January 10 & 11) is brilliant and serves those episodes well. Episodes 3.01 and 3.02 almost play like a single, 2-hour episode, while 3.03 ends with a cliffhanger that should persuade viewers to return the following week. Those who do return will be treated to more of what Chuck does best: intertwine action, drama, and comedy into 42-minute packages of pure entertainment. But enough of the generalities, let’s talk specifics. Or as specific as I can get without getting a phone call from any studio lawyers.
What struck me strongest after watching just the first two episodes was how much more mature Chuck has become, both the character and the show. From the writing to the acting to the characters themselves, we’ve reached a new level of confidence and honesty. Don’t assume this means Chuck is Mr. Suave, though. He’s still our lovable Chuck, but he continues to grow and develop as a person rather than stagnate as sometimes happens with television characters. Zachary Levi balances the new Chuck with the old seamlessly, giving us glimpses of the nerd we first met as well as the man he could become, all without sacrificing the character’s likability. It’s a fine performance that I hope will draw more critical attention this season.
Yvonne Strahovski also shines as she navigates Sarah’s tangled feelings about Chuck and this job that has been her life for so long. Just as Chuck’s world is expanding, so is Sarah’s. Which leads us to the Chuck/Sarah relationship. Don’t expect puppies and rainbows, but do expect a level of honesty and a desire to communicate that has been missing so far. It’s a refreshing change of pace, although not a promise of a smooth ride. I am impressed with the direction the show is taking regarding these two, opting to take the path toward real intimacy rather than “oooh, sexual tension, let’s hook up!”
Speaking of maturity and honesty, even Chuck’s wardrobe gets an upgrade this season. I know what you’re thinking, “With all the exciting things she could talk about, she’s going to discuss clothes?” Yes, yes I am. My eye is drawn to the nuances of wardrobe, and Chuck’s attire this season provides us with subtle visual clues to his character growth. The slightly disheveled, rather lackadaisical style of old has been replaced with better tailoring and, on occasion, a tucked in shirt. I know, right? The Nerd Herd uniform hasn’t retired completely, but is no longer Chuck’s uniform outside the Buy More. Instead we see Chuck sporting casual button-downs and polos, all beautifully fitted, when he’s not undercover. Even when we see him in a suit for a mission, it’s better tailored and he looks more comfortable wearing it. Chuck no longer needs to hide behind his Nerd Herd/slacker uniform; he’s beginning to reach for his potential as an adult and it’s reflected in his wardrobe.
Chuck isn’t the only one with a changing wardrobe. Have you ever noticed that Sarah’s clothing is generally designed to allow her to engage in “kick butt-ary” at a moment’s notice? Even her attire at a black tie affair, which we’ll see a few times in these early episodes, features either a short skirt or has a high slit. All the better to roundhouse you, my dear. This season, however, her off-mission attire gets softer, a bit more casual, a little less tomboy. These are miniscule changes, yet they underscore the overall character development.
Worried that all this maturity and honesty means the show has lost its sense of humor? Fear not! The geek references and inside jokes are plenty (including the “spastic colon” bit we see in the promos), as are the grunts from Casey and the comedy surrounding Chuck’s new skills and Devon’s integration into his brother-in-law’s double life. The Buy More also presents ample opportunity for levity, but exercised with more restraint than the broad comedy we saw previously. In addition, the Buy More storylines are better connected with the primary stories, making it much easier to effectively include the Buy Morians in the show.
And now, some bite-size morsels for you to chew on:
- We’re given several quick references to happenings in the latter part of season 2 that help tie up some loose ends.
- Carina’s return in 3.02, the standout in a collection of excellent episodes, is most welcome. I hope she comes back again soon.
- Casey gets to go undercover as someone other than a waiter in 3.02, with very amusing results.
- 3.03 is a combination Devon/Casey episode. We get glimpses into both their pasts, which develops into the mission. Looking back at the structure of the episode, it’s pretty clever how the writers orchestrated that.
- Angie Harmon in 3.04 is terrific! Excellent casting – she owns the role of Sydney.
- We meet Shaw in 3.04 and the context took me by surprise, even with Ausiello’s first look photo.
- Kristin Kreuk/Hannah’s entrance into Chuck’s life is much more organic than many fans have feared.
- Sarah demonstrates a skill I don’t think we knew she possessed and which adds to her reputation as a first-class spy.
- The writers experiment with structure in these first few episodes, keeping the show fresh. They also pack so much into each episode, it’s hard to believe they’re only 42 minutes long.
- If I hadn’t been told ahead of time that there were budget cuts, I’d never have guessed.
- I hope you get iTunes gift cards in your stockings, Chucksters, because you’ll want a playlist of songs from each episode.
Chuck returns Sunday, January 10 with back-to-back episodes at 9/8c, followed by a third episode Monday, January 11 at 8/7c on NBC.