Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Of Chuck Season 3

Now that we're heading towards the last week of the year, I've decided to go back and review a few seasons of television I didn't get around to earlier in the year, so those of you waiting for my thoughts on Chuck Season 3 and Supernatural Season 5 are in for a treat.

I'm going to open with the statement that Chuck Season 3 wasn't as good as Season 2. That's not in anyway a bad thing because Chuck Season 2 is an absolutely fantastic season of television. Season 3 mostly suffered from the fact that the show had had a reduced budget and some minor storytelling annoyances.

Chuck Season 2 finished with a fantastic twist in the form of the Intersect 2.0 and already a wealth of storytelling options were open for the show. Chuck was now able to claim that he was indeed a spy, he could perform kung-fu or even play an instrument without having any prior instruction. It's refreshing to see shows change up their formula slightly before the old status-quo became stale. We'd already had 2 seasons (although technically 1.5) of Chuck being a liability for a lot of missions with his natural abilities coming in handy throughout various missions such as the memorable Season 2 episode 'Chuck versus Tom Sawyer'. Now Chuck was actually able to go on missions on his own and handle them as seen in 'Chuck versus First Class' which had Chuck entirely alone on a plane to Paris where he had to arrest Stone Cold Steve Austin single-handedly. Whilst the changes made by the Intersect 2.0 it felt like there was a lot more mileage that could have been gotten from it. In the end the Intersect 2.0 became a little bit of a crutch for the writers to get Chuck out of bad situations. This wasn't the case in every episode, but it did become a regular occurrence for Chuck to just kung-fu his way out of problems in most episodes.

What Chuck did get very right this was dealing with the people who found out that Chuck was in fact a spy. Awesome had of course found out that Chuck was a spy at the end of Season 2 and the mini-arc that took place at the start of Season 3 was great with Awesome being roped into a number of spy missions and was one of the best uses of the supporting cast in a long time. Then there was 'Chuck versus the Beard' in which Morgan found out that Chuck was a spy. 'Chuck versus the Beard' was easily the stand-out episode of the season. The best episodes of Chuck will normally utilise the Buy-More in some way as well as the rest of the supporting cast and this episode used it fantastically. It was also just a purely fun episode which of course Chuck does fantastically. Then was Morgan actually finding out, whilst many people would have expected Morgan to be crushed his best friend never told him, Morgan turned out to be elated and over the course of the rest of the season became a more than welcome addition to Team Bartowski. Whilst he essentially filled the role that Chuck had filled pre-Intersect 2.0 it was still a feeling that had been missing through the early episodes of Season 3.

In Season 3 Chuck went for a darker tone than the preceding seasons and whilst some of that can be put down to the budget cuts in the wake of the near cancellation it did sacrifice the supporting cast in some episodes. Whilst this benefited certain episodes where having the Buy-More or the Awesomes would have made the show feel more cluttered, the show would go through long periods of not being as fun. Of course episodes like 'Chuck versus the Beard' showed the show could still be fun and the darker tone wasn't unwelcome it felt a little oppressive occasionally.

The biggest problems that Season 3 suffered from though were pacing issues. The biggest issue was in the "will they, won't they" of Chuck and Sarah. I wrote an entire post about the so called Chuck-pocalypse here earlier this year. This came from people who said that the show became awful purely because Chuck and Sarah hadn't gotten together yet and that characters such as Shaw (Brandon Routh) and Hannah (Kristen Kreuk) had been added to the show to purely act as a roadblock. In some ways those characters had been used in that way and a "will they, won't they" plotline does eventually become a little grating. But Chuck and Sarah did get together at the end of the 13th episode and created the memorable 'Chuck versus the Honeymooners' wherein Chuck and Sarah spent the entire episode having sex and fighting crime. The eventually hooking up was probably left a little too late and characters like Shaw were poorly implemented into this plotline, but the eventual hooking up was a well deserved pay-off.

Then there was the strangeness of the two mini seasons of Chuck. Both of which were satisfying but had their own issues. Such as The Ring was not nearly as well set up as Fulcrum in Seasons 1 and 2 but were then dispatched by the end of the season. The Ellie and Awesome trip to Africa didn't really go anywhere. But that can be laid at the feet of the network for adding the 6 extra episodes so late into production. Luckily only one episode of these extra was even slightly disappointing that was the Christopher Lloyd guest-starring episode 'Chuck verus the Tooth'. Mostly because the show didn't know whether it wanted to be dark or light in its tone.

But I'm being too harsh, Chuck Season 3 still succeeded on almost every level that Season 2 beyond those quibbles. I haven't even mentioned the rest of the cast yet with the normal great performances of Adam Baldwin and Yvonne Strahovski. Then there were the guests stars. Of course the most notable was Superman himself Brandon Routh. Whilst his involved in the romance portion of the show wasn't welcome, he became a fantastic Big Bad for the season and I was glad for the extended period of time that we spent with his character and his motivations. Then there were the single episode stars like Vinnie Jones, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kristen Kreuk, Robert Patrick, Mark Sheppard, Christopher Llyod and the return of Scott Bakula as Chuck and Sarah's father.

Chuck Season 3 wasn't the all out success that Season 2 mostly because of a few minor missteps with withholding the Chuck and Sarah pay-off and slight mishandling of tone. But everything was pure Chuck. Casey was still awesome, there were still pop-culture references, great music, fantastic use of guest-stars and JEFFSTER! Chuck is still one of the must and purely enjoyable shows on television and is still just a great all around show.


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