Let me tell you a secret: I love Chuck. (Okay, fine, maybe not so secret.) I watched the first season on a twelve-inch screen in the dorms, choosing it over House and Monday Night Football. During the second, I converted my family to loyal Nerd Herders. And last spring, I put off valuable final exam cram time to handwrite letters to NBC, pleading them to give the show a third season.
Well, Chuck is back, and it’s already saved NBC by premiering early and roping in good ratings. With half a season to go, my expectations are still high. And that’s because they’ve been disappointed so far.
Chuck’s new intersect uploads new abilities at opportune moments, from throwing ninja stars to fencing to speaking fluent Japanese. He’s no longer a geek pretending to be a spy; he is becoming a spy. Chuck went on his first solo mission and became a handler, among other accomplishments. But as Chuck moves towards spyhood, he–and the audience–sees less of the Buy More, sci-fi references, and Chuck’s Clouseau-like blunders, antics that the show’s humor relied upon in the first two seasons.
Guest stars are heaped in too, mostly to complicate Sarah and Chuck’s “just friends but not really” relationship. Daniel Shaw (Brandon Routh) is the new Bryce and Hannah (Kristin Kreuk) is the new Jill, and while we don’t mind the eye candy it’s doubtful Sarah and Chuck are truly over. And Chuck, the audience on my couch has to warn you: Hannah got over your escapade with Sarah a bit too quickly. She’s a Ring agent and we’re calling her on it now.
But on the upside, the recent Mask episode signals a turning point for the second half of the season. The plot felt more at ease; Chuck-becoming-a-spy was less paramount than the simple fun of the show, with a refreshing balance of adventure, comedy and romance. Chuck flashed on information, not abilities, showing both aspects of the intersect; Sarah was able to do her spy thing without the romantic angst; and Casey got the best (black-and-bitter) line. For the first time, the third season went back to Chuck’s essence and became a great show again, instead of an almost desperate attempt to impress everyone.
At some point, we fans just have to be thankful that Chuck has a third season. But we’ve also seen how great it is, and how attainable it can be. Even with its flaws I trust the Chuck writers and their direction for the series; I wouldn’t be a fan if I didn’t have faith.