Although a rather quiet debut for NBC, Chuck quickly grew a fan base, likely due to his lead in of Heroes on Monday nights. Whatever the reasons, fans flocked to the series and despite the writers’ strike, the show survived and is currently readying a second season for airing in the last week of September. With this second season just around the corner, there’s no better time to catch up on Chuck than now with this first season on DVD.
Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) is your average computer geek who works at the local BuyMore as part of the Nerd Herd. When his estranged college roommate sends him an email, Chuck is flashed with all of the governments secrets, all of which get stored in his brain. Now Chuck is receiving flashes based on the intel that downloaded into his brain and being protected by two government agents, CIA agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and NSA agent John Casey (Adam Baldwin). With all of these government secrets now in his brain, Chuck is a target everywhere he goes and unfortunately he cannot let his family and friends in on what is going on for fear of their safety—something Chuck is having a hard time with, especially since he’s so close to his sister, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and his best friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez).
Like all shows featuring Firefly alumni, I only started watching Chuck due to Adam Baldwin’s involvement but I quickly found a show that I enjoyed watching more than most on television. About four episodes into the season I gave up one of my other favorites, Prison Break, in favor of watching Chuck full time, which was both a testament to the quality of this show and the waning quality of Prison Break (although that’s still a good show too, don’t get me wrong). Either way you cut it, Chuck was the first show in…well, ever, that made me give up a previous show based on the first few episodes alone.
The 2007 – 2008 season seemed to be a great time for “geek culture” shows. Whether it was Heroes directly fueling the need for pure comic book style story telling or shows like Chuck which combined the culture that geeks have become known for with the action of a spy-like show. Comedies even got in on the action, with The Big Bang Theory ,which just straight-up wrapped itself up in the geek net and delivered plenty of laughs along the way. What Chuck was able to accomplish that these other shows weren’t, however, was to maintain a level of believability about it all while enveloping the main characters up in with one another and creating drama via that method.
A lot of Chuck is simply just fun to watch, which is enough to keep me coming back more than anything, but it’s the characters that really started to become interesting as the show went on. Chuck’s interest with Sarah was eye-rolling worthy at first, but as the season progressed, it seemed less foolish and something that genuinely could happen, were it not…rather impossible to. Then there was the family angle Chuck had to deal with, as well as his duties at the BuyMore. Drama was infused throughout the season with the sexual tension between Sarah and Chuck, which was diffused and infused at various times between the thirteen episodes, maintaining a low in the first half of the season before ramping it up with the introduction of a new girlfriend for Chuck which changed the plans of everything the show was setting up. Regardless of how the show progressed and how the characters interacted with one another, it was just incredibly fun to watch and it was the characters that made it that way.
Of course, the action had a large part to do with it as well. For every character building sequence the series had, it was backed up by something action-packed. Take, for instance, Chuck and Casey being tied up together, back-to-back, and having to defend themselves in a room full of armed men who wanted to kill them, all the while moving their relationship forward. There were several scenes like this throughout the season and while Casey remains the most shrouded of the characters in the show, we finally did get to see more of him towards the end, which was fantastic simply because I loved Adam Baldwin so much to begin with.
On a superficial level the series filled the quota for attractive faces as well. While women had Adam Baldwin and Ryan McPartlin (“Captain Awesome”) to look at for the majority of the series, men were bestowed with Yvonne Strahovski in the co-lead role of the series, alongside Sarah Lancaster as the sister of Chuck. As if those two weren’t enough, we were treated to several foes from both Sarah and Casey’s past and Chuck’s new girlfriend, Lou, was played by Rachel Bilson for a pair of episodes. What was so great about Chuck’s relationship with Lou was, due to her two-episode appearance, you actually felt as if it could have been worked in as a permanent part of the show. Rather disappointed it ended so fast, but alas, that’s the way television works sometimes.
There’s plenty to enjoy about Chuck and quite frankly you can boil it down to a few areas to determine if you will enjoy it or not. If you enjoy action, comedy, pretty faces and witty dialogue all of a film-like caliber, then Chuck is right up your alley. Those more geek-inclined will find the humor in the show a tad bit funnier than the casual passerby, but no matter which area of life you hail from, Chuck is a fantastically entertaining show that, I hope, will have a successful future on NBC. Highly Recommended.
As great as the show is, this first season set is a bit of a haphazard release. There are a few flaws with it I’ll point out as we go along, but first up we have the set itself. Arriving in Warner Home Video’s new preferred release format of cramming as many discs inside of a single width amaray case as possible, which, by the way, I am all for (less shelf real estate being taken up, the better), we find the four disc set spread across two double sided trays with a booklet detailing the contents of the set stuffed in on the left side. Menus for the set are easy to navigate and fit the tone of the show (as well as the tone of the package, with the same use of white, red and black). Oddly enough, while a Blu-ray release is planned, it won’t hit until two months after this DVD set does, which his…very, very strange.
Video arrives in a standard 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is of good quality. There seems to be a large amount of grain spread across the series, something I never noticed while watching it on TV before. It creates a bit of an unclean feel for the series at times, but this may just be my Blu-ray spoiled self expecting more from a standard definition transfer. Whatever the reason, it still does look good and the accompanying Dolby Surround 5.1 mix sounds fantastic when mixed with the visuals for this show. Plenty of surround usage during the action packed scenes and crystal clear dialogue for the rest of them, the show certainly looks and sounds good on the DVD format.
All of the discs of the set contain “Declassified Scenes” for select episodes on the discs. The first disc features scenes from “Chuck Versus the Wookie” (1:30), which I’m proud to say I can’t remember if that’s supposed to be spelled as Wookiee or not…all that Star Wars knowledge finally seems to be leaving my brain (damn you, college!). In any case, the scenes are presented in finished quality and are presented in anamorphic widescreen and are quite fun to watch. The second disc features deleted scenes on “Chuck Versus the Sizzling Shrimp”, “Chuck Versus the Sandworm”, and “Chuck Versus the Alma Mater” (4:13 total for all three), the third disc houses “Chuck Versus the Truth” and “Chuck Versus the Imported Hard Salami” (2:01, for the two) and disc four contains deleted scenes on “Chuck Versus the Crown Vic.” The manual doesn’t list the fourth disc as having the “Declassified Scenes” and they’re listed as one file on the menus, so it’s hard to tell what’s from what exactly.
Moving onto the rest of the extras we have on the third disc a set of extras under the “Chuck’s World” header. These are all in 16×9 letterboxed resolution and each one covers a specific character of the series and includes audition tape footage and why they were chosen for their roles. Videos include “Chuck” (2:31), “Morgan” (3:09), “Sarah” (2:30), “Casey” (1:50), “Ellie” (2:47), and “Devon a.k.a ‘Captain Awesome'” (2:00).
The fourth disc is home to the lengthiest of the features, and that’s the “Chuck on Chuck” (26:54) extra. Scene-specific commentary as chosen by Christopher Fedak, Josh Schwartz, Zachary Levi and Johsua Gomez, who all sit on the Chuck living room set and comment on the scenes they chose. The writers’ strike clearly wasn’t kind to the actors, as Zachary Levi grew an incredible amount of facial hair, while Joshua Gomez shaved all of his, so it’s…kind of jarring to see them switch facial hair structures at first. Most of the time it’s just their voices over the footage from the show anyway, so fans won’t be disturbed for long; this extra is presented in anamorphic widescreen and is really the best on the set. I hoped for commentaries, but this is just as good, I suppose.
Next up is a fantastic “Chuck vs. The Chuckles” (7:15) blooper reel and the final area of the set, “Chuck’s Online World.” These are videos, I assume, from the Chuck website and this is where the flaw on the set pops in. While “Meet Jeff” (1:20) is a funny little featurette with NerdHerd worker Jeff acting in-character, the next extra, “Morgan’s Vlog – Movie Villains” (3:09) is the exact same extra as the “Morgan” clip from disc three. I’ve no idea whose job it was to quality check these discs, but whoever it was fell asleep when they got to the fourth disc. I’ve never seen an error of this type crop up on a set before and I was incredibly confused as to why they were repeating the same dialogue and footage from the third disc until I realized they both had the same run time. The final extras on the fourth disc are “Anna’s Amazing Talents: Karate Moves” (0:24) and “Anna’s Amazing Talents: Sword Skills” (0:36), which has actress Julia Ling showing off her mad martial art skillz. Odd extras to wrap the set up with, but that’s the world of the NerdHerd.
Overall this is a decent set with the selection of deleted scenes, blooper reel, “best-of” commentary track and online extras, but I’m deducting points for the repetition of extras between discs. That is something that really should have been avoided and I’m hoping is something they’ll have fixed for the Blu-ray release. Still, one small extra screw up isn’t enough to avoid this set and as such this one comes Recommended.
Chuck – The Complete First Season arrives on DVD on September 16th.