Chuck: The Complete Third Season Review

*Spoiler Warning*

Anyone who watches chuck knows by now that we are lucky to have ever had a third season.  Although season two was a great season, the show failed to get back the viewers it had in it’s first season and the fate of the show rested with the fans.  To show their support, fans bought truckloads of Subway sandwiches and in doing so convinced NBC into renewing Chuck for another season.  Maybe that’s why season three feels like a love letter to the fans.  We gave everyone who works on the show another year of employment.

For those who may have forgotten, season two of Chuck ended with an Intersect-free Chuck deciding to upload Intersect 2.0 so he could be with Sarah.  He found out that without the Intersect, she would be reassigned and leave.  Now with the newly upgraded Intersect, the real surprise at the end was that Chuck could actually fight now.  In a homage to The Matrix, where needed skills were immediately uploaded into your brain, Chuck’s new Intersect allows him to do pretty much the same thing.  Need to know Kung-Fu?  Suddenly your a killing machine capable of taking out a dozen guys all by yourself.

This Chuck is no longer a liability, but at the end of the season Sarah asked Chuck to run away with her to be together.  So it’s a surprise when we see Chuck not with Sarah at the beginning of season 3, but washing out of CIA spy training in Europe.  He may have new abilities, but Chuck is still not really a spy.  Washing out sends Chuck back home where he seemingly spends months laying around the house while Ellie and Devon grow concerned.  He attempts to call Sarah who appears to be with a new man.  Is she reassigned?  No, it turns out she’s on a mission and undercover, but her resentment towards Chuck is evident.

Eventually however, the team forms again and resumes CIA missions but with a new member to the team.  Super agent Daniel Shaw(Brandon Routh) has been flown in to head the team to make it more efficient and to help turn Chuck into a real spy.  To do that he needs to ween Chuck off of Sarah and Casey.  Routh is excellent as a man of many talents and secrets, however his angle as a love interest for Sarah feels a bit forced at times.  As Shaw is introduced, we simultaneously get a new love interest for Chuck in Hannah(Kristen Kruek).  While Kruek and Levi have a nice chemistry together, Routh and Strahovsky don’t quite gel as nicely.

With only a 13 episode order for season 3, the producers and writers had little time to waste, so nearly all of the initial 13 episodes ranged from good to exceptional.  Early episodes dealt with Devon who learned about Chuck’s spy life last season, getting sucked into a mission and found that while it might be fun to imagine yourself as a spy, actually being one was far different.  We had Stone Cold Steve Austin guest star in a great episode titled “Chuck versus First Class” where he meets Hannah.

Throughout the season it’s obvious that there is more to the Shaw storyline than meets the eye.  In one of the best reveals in the shows history, early on Sarah recalls her “Red Mission”.  These are like the right of passage missions for agents in training because it’s the first mission in which they are assigned to kill someone.  Sarah fears that killing someone for the first time will change Chuck forever and tells Shaw about the worst day of her life when she had to kill a woman despite not wanting to.   The way the scene is presented, we assume it’s not meant to be anything more than a tie-in to Sarah’s fears for Chuck, despite knowing that Shaw’s wife was killed years ago on a mission.  The setup works perfectly and it’s revealed that Sarah’s mark was Shaw’s wife.  As you can imagine, when he eventually finds out, he takes it badly.

This big reveal illustrates that Shaw’s real purpose all season was in the creation of a bad guy.  After NBC decided to renew Chuck, an additional 6 episodes were ordered and Shaw, who was killed off in the original season finale was brought back in the same way as Agent Bryce was in season 1.   This time he was uploaded with the same Intersect as Chuck, and a true rival and villain was born.  It mirrors in many ways Lex Luthor’s gradual fall from grace.  The season long arc and storyline revolving around Shaw is very satisfying in it’s conclusion.  The great thing about it is that the writers hid it so well that it wasn’t until he turned bad that you could see the thread throughout the season.

One of the best things they did in season 2 was revealing Chuck’s secrets to Devon.  It began the blurring the line between Chuck’s spy life and normal life.   That blurring continues this season when Chuck is forced to tell Morgan his secret.  It’s been a long time coming and it is nice to see Chuck be completely open with his best friend.  Other than the Buy More friends, that leaves Ellie as the only major person in Chuck’s life who is still in the dark.

Among the other new and returning characters in season 3 are Mekenna Melvin as Casey’s unknown teenage daughter and Scott Bakula as Chuck’s father Steve Bartowski.

A big part of my love for season 3 is the long-awaited union of Chuck and Sarah.  When Shaw was first killed and the season was supposed to end, Chuck and Sarah finally came together.  However, with the extended season we got a chance to see them as a fully functioning couple despite the spy stuff.  That amazing chemistry that Levi and Strahovsky share really seems to bloom and shine even brighter somehow in the last third of the season.  The “will they, or won’t they” setup for a couple is compelling if done right, but regardless of the quality in the writing, acting and chemistry departments, you can’t keep that train going forever.  If you do, you risk losing audience members who get fed up with waiting.  It’s something that the Fox tv show Bones has struggled with until recently.

Despite a particular formula that Chuck has, one of the reasons I feel the show is so strong each season is due to the fact that it’s been on the chopping block so often, that they have one reserved each year just for the show.  The writers and producers have had to pull their best ideas and story lines and use them immediately instead of saving them for future seasons that may not have come.

While season 2 explored the deeper mythological aspects of Chuck, season 2’s aim is to delve deeper into the emotional core of it’s characters.  However in another great twist, a revelation about Chuck’s childhood and his father’s work is used to great effect.

With Chuck and Sarah seemingly together now, Morgan actually starting to grow up and emotionally resonant twists and turns, season 3 of Chuck really takes the cake for me.  It continues to be one of the wittiest and outright fun shows to watch on all of television.

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Chuck: The Complete Second Season Review

The first season of Chuck was like a male fantasy come true.   A computer geek manages to become the most important person in the world with both the NSA and CIA’s intelligence files uploaded into his head.  Oh, and his CIA handler is an angelic hottie who can kick almost anyone’s ass and appears to genuinely like Chuck.  I’d say that a certain Nerd Herder’s life is looking up.  The problem is that the intersect is keeping him from the girl of his dreams.

Despite a truncated season due to the writer’s strike, Chuck managed to get the go ahead for a second season.  With months of extra time to craft the storyline for season two and a 22 episodes order, the writers found a way to come up with a season that managed to upgrade nearly every aspect of the show and let supporting characters have a chance to steal some of the spotlight that season one just didn’t have time for.

Season two begins where season one left off.  Bryce Larkin, long thought dead since the pilot is revealed to be alive and well.  The problem however is that with Bryce back, the blossoming relationship between Chuck and Sarah comes to a screeching halt.  Bryce and Sarah were together prior to his supposed death and his return brings up complicated feelings.

Other threads running through the season include Chuck’s attempts to get the intersect out of his head, the return of his missing father, enemy organization Fulcrum’s attempts to build a new Intersect, and the goings on at the Buy More where Chuck works to maintain his cover.

Where season one was mostly just stand-alone mission episodes, season two takes great pains to expand it’s horizon.  There are certainly enough of the stand-alone episodes, but mixed in are episodes that deal directly with both the overall mythology of the series, and the plot threads that run throughout the season.

Along with more complex story arcs, and better missions, the writers really begin to add layers and real depth to the characters.  Each character is given his own chance to really shine, and supporting characters like Lester(Vik Sahay), Jeff(Scott Krinsky), Ellie(Sarah Lancaster), and Devon”Captain Awesome” are given much more screen time.  They make it count too.  There are even times when the surreal happenings of the Buy More are more interesting than the mission storylines.

Season two also began to blur the lines between Chuck’s spy life and his real life when Devon learns of his secret.  Watching Devon nervously try to keep the secret from Ellie is hilarious.  Chuck also finds lying to Ellie and the ones he loves about his absences to be extremely difficult.

As in the first season, the relationship between Chuck and Sarah is the main thread that runs through the season and indeed the entire series.  It’s a relief to see that the chemistry between Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovsky is just as potent as ever and they use it to good effect.  There may be a few too many long glances at times, but these two tortured lovers who long for one another is pulled off to great effect.  Actually it’s quite amazing how well the writers have managed to put complicated and believable obstacles in the paths of these two.  It can’t go on forever of course, but for now it’s done well.

There is a veritable laundry list of excellent guest stars in season two including Gary Cole as Sarah’s long lost father, Dominic Monaghan as a crazy rock star, John Larroquette as a washed up womanizing spy, Jordana Brewster as Chuck’s former college girlfriend Jill, Chevy Chase as an evil head of a corporation(and his best performance in years) and a surprisingly good Nicole Ritchie as a member of Fulcrum.

As usual, Josh Schwartz fills Chuck with a non-stop plethora of pop-culture references including Missle Comman, Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”, Transformers: The Movie, and many many more.

Season two also has some twists and turns that some other island-based, smoke monster filled shows would wish they had.  These game-changing episodes really push Chuck further along as a show.  While it may have started with a gimmick, the writers knew they had to really up the ante and craft a season that would service the show in the right ways and it did just that.

There may not be a more “fun” show on tv right now than Chuck.  It’s a show that embraces it’s own surreal and often unbelievable premise.  Despite this premise, the show focuses on the most important aspect; the characters.

Chuck may  not be for everyone, but those who fall in love with it, will probably be faithful right to the very end.

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Chuck: The Complete Season 1 Review

Anyone who watched The O.C.  and liked it, will probably admit that what made the show appealing was it’s sly use of pop-culture references, geek comedy as well as beautiful locales and bikini clad cast members.  Indeed, The O.C. was at it’s best when it mixed sweetness, wit, and an unwillingness to take itself too seriously.  All of those ingredients mixed together to charm audiences.  Thankfully, The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz has taken all of those aforementioned ingredients and mixed it with an action-packed spy show to create Chuck.  

The premise to chuck is simple.  Bryce Larkin, a former college friend and roommate who happens to be a CIA agent, steals The Intersect; a combination of both the CIA and NSA’s intelligence files on virtually everything.  In danger, he sends these files to the only person he can trust, Chuck Bartowski(Zachary Levi). Chuck opens what he thinks is a birthday email to find a hypnotizing video encoded with millions of government secrets which all essentially upload directly into Chucks brain.  Thus begins the end of Chuck, just an employee at the Buy More (a Best Buy ripoff) and the start of  his journey into the dangerous and shadowy world of espionage, secrets and lies.

The problem is that Chuck’s head is now the most valuable and dangerous thing in the world.  Enter drop dead gorgeous CIA agent Sarah Walker(Yvonne Strahovski) and NSA killing machine John Casey(Firefly’s Adam Baldwin) who become tasked with keeping Chuck alive, and using his newfound knowledge to take down rogue agents, assassination attempts, bomb threats, etc.

So now the general pattern is that each week Chuck “flashes” on something.  It might be a person he sees or a symbol or name that jolts his memory.  These “flashes” usually set off a chain of events that lead inevitably to Chuck being held at gunpoint, or his mistakes putting Casey and Sarah in danger.  Of course they manage to get out of these tight situations, but part of the fun is watching how they do it, and still get their mission accomplished.

Despite all of the spy missions, gunplay and hilarious comedy that make up most of each episode, Chuck is really the story of an ordinary but kinda geeky guy who falls in love with the perfect woman, and what a woman.   Sarah is simply a stunner there is no denying it.  She’s like an archangel, both beautiful and deadly.  But beyond that beauty and ass-kicking ability,  is a wonderfully intelligent woman who wants more than the spy life.  It’s possible that before she met Chuck, she had no idea that what she wanted, was some thread of normalcy in her life; a boyfriend or husband who she could be honest with.  No lies, no secrets.

It just so happens that Chuck is the person she falls for and the chemistry between Zachary Levi and Yvonne Stahovski is unbelievable.  They make the “will they or won’t they?” aspect of the show believable and exciting to watch.  Watching these two dance around one another probing for what the other is feeling is sweet to watch.

Besides Chuck, Sarah and Casey’s, there is a whole host of other wonderful supporting characters as well.  There is Morgan(Joshua Gomez) Chuck’s weird, but lovable best friend, Chuck’s sister Ellie(Sarah Lancaster) and her boyfriend Devon ‘Captain Awesome'(Ryan McPartlin), and of course Jeff(Scott Krinksky) and Lester(Vik Sahay) who are two of the creepiest and brainless people I’ve ever seen.  Those two should get medals for their brilliant work.

As I said above in my review, Chuck is a show that does not take itself too seriously.  I’ts primarily a comedy first and an action/spy show second.  The joy is in the great characters, hilarious shenanigans and of course, the love story blooming between Sarah and Chuck.

As Chuck, Levi is perfectly funny as a man who is in way over his head, and yet his geeky nervousness and wit manages to charm Sarah.

Casey and Morgan who provide some of the shows comic relief are nevertheless given their own story lines and moments that let them shine.  “Captain Awesome” is just as great as any character on the show and McPartlin appears to be having a ball playing the character.

One of the few complaints I have about the first season is the “freak of the week” episodes.  Due to the writer’s strike, there are few episodes that deal directly with the ever evolving mythology in the show.  Without those kind of episodes, the repetition of the episodes pattern can wear a little thin, although with only thirteen episodes, it’s not stretched to far.

Overall, the first season of Chuck is a real winner.  Those looking for a show that can make you laugh and find thrills in fighting and chase sequences will love this show.  Like an appetizer at a restaurant, this season will on whet your appetite for season two.

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My Love For Calvin and Hobbes #2

This is my second post about Calvin and Hobbes.  As you can see, Calvin’s imagination is a little . . . twisted.  But we can relate to playing with your food.  What kid didn’t play with their food and by the looks of it, it’s more fun to make a sculpture than to eat the green slop.

Watterson was never shy about making a point.  He never intended for his strip to be just for laughs.  It was supposed to teach us something, like how the educational system can be pointless.

 

 

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Friday Night Lights: The Complete Series Review

Friday Night Lights(NBC)

Friday Night Lights stands as one of the greatest dramatic shows ever on television.  

H.G. Bissinger wrote a book in 1990 called Friday Night Lights:  A Town, A Team, and a Dream about the 1988 Permian Panthers and the town whose love, hopes and prayers were linked to the team.  It’s considered one of the best books ever written and in 2004 a critically acclaimed film was made.  But the story had so many possibilities that producers decided to take a shot at adapting it for the small screen.

The television version of Friday Night Lights is set in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas.  High School football in most places is followed but not obsessed over, but in Dillon it’s a way of life.  Nearly all residents of the town live and breathe football 365 days a year and live vicariously through the success of the team.  Women watch the games while getting their hair done in the salon, and the local Panthers radio show is on everyone’s station.

Friday Night Lights  uses football as a backdrop, but ultimately the show isn’t about football, it’s about life.  At least that’s what I say to people who have either never watched Friday Night Lights, or never even heard of  it.  Much like My-So-Called-Life, Battlestar Galactica, firefly and other all-time great gems that went unnoticed, Friday Night lights is a show that never managed to attract the major audience that many thought it would going into it’s first season.  That it managed to stay on for five seasons despite a small audience, remains one of the few examples of shows whose quality is so astounding, that not even network executives have the heart to destroy it.  After it’s third season, NBC struck a deal with Direct TV that allowed the final two seasons to air on their network.  It was a saving grace.

The core and heart of the show belongs to the Taylor household. Coach Eric Taylor(Kyle Chandler), his wife Tami(Connie Britton) and their daughter Julie(Aimee Teegarden).  During the shows five season run you find out that the Taylor family has done quite a bit of moving over the years as Eric has gone up the ranks of coaching positions.  A year here and a year there, the family is akin to a military family who moves from base to base many times.  It’s no wonder that neither Tami, nor Julie feel any real sense of joy at being in Dillon.  To them it’s just another stop on the train.

Throughout the shows five seasons, Eric and Tami provide what I believe to be the best portrait of a real marriage I have ever seen.  They had their squabbles and fights, their intimate moments, their own small crisis’s and of course the difficulty of raising a teenage daughter to top it all off.  Through it all however, both the writers and actors managed to make their love and marriage real, but also kept everything grounded in reality.

Grounded in reality.  I guess that’s a good way of describing half of what made the series so great.  With the exception of one season two storyline, the entire series felt like it could be happening in your own small town.  Plot lines and dialogue were exceptional, often honing in on the more intimate problems and crisis that plague both young and adult lives rather than the bombastic and over-dramatic stuff we are often forced to digest in other shows.

The other half of what made Friday Night Lights so exceptional was that everyone wore their heart on their sleeves.  Of course there were at times deceptions and lying, but most of the time it wasn’t malicious.  Instead people were simply trying to do the best that they could in whatever situations or circumstances they found themselves in.  Like in real life, most of the time we lie or deceive the ones we love out of shame for something we did rather than because we want to hurt them.  Friday Night Lights never lost sight of that.

The show however wasn’t just about the Taylors.  The cast is quite extensive, but other notable characters include star quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter) who became paralyzed in the pilot of the first season; young and timid Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) who is the backup quarterback and now must face the pressures that come with the starting job, and dating Julie, coach Taylor’s daughter;  Tyra Collete (Adrianne Palicki) a beautiful but damaged girl who’s arc over her years on the show is one of the best.  She falls into a somewhat unlikely on again, off again relationship with Matt Saracen’s best friend Landry Clark (Jesse Plemons) who helps her to achieve goals she never thought she could.  Then there is Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland) the head booster who’s daughter Lyla starts dating Jason Street before moving onto his best friend Tim Riggins.

It’s possible that Tim Riggins is the best character throughout the run of Friday Night Lights.  He and his older brother Billy(Derek Phillips) are on their own.  Their parents gone and Billy trying to take care of the both of them.  Tim’s a wreck, and his path to adulthood is filled with ups and downs, but there is not a single character on the show who can light a candle to Tim emotional journey from carefree adolescent, to actually attempting to be an adult.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Friday Night Lights is not really a show about football.  Football revolves around these people, not the other way around.  The show is really about dreams.  Everyone in the show has them.  Some want to stay in Dillon, but many want to get out and see what’s on the other side of the next hill.  It really becomes apparent in the last couple of seasons, but it’s really been there all along.

Friday Night Lights has alot of  highly emotional and powerful moments.  These moments are often dramatic, but not over-dramatic.  There was Jason Street’s career ending injury and it’s aftermath, Matt Saracen’s grandma with early onset Alzheimer’s, his father’s death and so many more.  Some others were as big, but most were small crisis.  Each one however seems like it’s been constructed just in the right way so that it oozes an authentic, intense and often painful or joyous quality depending on the situation.  Most shows often err on the side of too much and it shows.  There is a fine line between dramatic and melodramatic and Friday Night Lights has shown the ability to see that line clearly most of the time during it’s run.

What makes the show wonderful was the simplicity of it’s messages.  There were no after school special episodes to plague the show.  Sure, there were pregnancies, drug use etc., but it was shown as a part of the fabric of the lives of these peoples.  No Bob Saget to sit down one of these people on his knee  and tell they why it was bad, bad, bad that they did whatever they did.  That was Full House, this is a much better reflection of real life.

I urge anyone who reads this review to watch this show.  I can’t express enough just how amazing it really is through words, so at the end of this article, I’m going to post a clip that might be able to give you some insight as to how excellent it is.  And like I said, even if you don’t like football, even if you hate it, you might just still fall in love with Friday Night Lights.

During the show, the there are two terms uttered often during the shows run.  “Texas Forever” was often said by Tim Riggins who wanted nothing more than to stay in Dillon, have his own farm and live the good life.  The other was Coach Taylor’s favorite quote.  He said it at the end of practice, during half time and when it was needed most:

“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”

I think we could all do just fine by living by that motto.

This first video shows the opening scenes of the pilot.  You get to see some of the major characters.

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“Lights Out” Actor Billy Brown Joins Showtime’s “Dexter” In Key Role

Showtime’s “Dexter” appears to be picking up steam in it’s casting department with shooting for season 6 starting tomorrow.   Veteran actor Billy Brown who just came off of FX’s critically acclaimed “Lights Out” will star as Detective Mike Cutler who has transfered for reasons unknown to Miami Metro.  It seems as though Mike Cutler might be evoking Sgt. Doakes; Dexters former nemesis on the squad.  Casting description is Cutler is that he is a no nonsense kind of guy, and we have also heard talk that someone new on the force may not like Dexter from the start.  Let’s hope that it’s no just a rehash of Doakes.  Doakes 2.0 isn’t new territory.

Regardless, the new cast which started  just Colin Hanks and Mos Def appears to be filling out now and just in time too.  I have to admit that with just Hanks and Def, I thought the new cast seemed kind of small time.  Since season 3 Dexter has managed to get at least one higher profile actor for the show(S3-Jimmy Smits, S4-John Lithgow, S5-Julia Stiles) but now with the addition of Edward James Olmos in a previously post, I think we could be seeing a great season’s cast really come together.

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Edward James Olmos Joins Showtime’s “Dexter”

If there are any Battlestar Galactica fans who miss seeing Edward James Olmos, you might want to start watching Dexter on Showtime.  Olmos will play a brilliant and charismatic professor of religous studies.  Other than that, little is known about his character.  On twitter Mr. Olmos said “It’s true . . . I’m coming for you Dexter . . .”, and though it sounds like that means his character might have it in for Dexter, I think it was just a fun tweet to get the fans going.

Anyone who has seen Mr. Olmos on screen before will understand just how much of an amazing actor he is.  As a young actor in the 70’s and 80’s, Mr. Olmos made his mark by appearing in some highly popular and acclaimed shows and movies at the time including Starsky and Hutch, Kojak, Hawaii Five-O, Blade Runner, Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice.

In the 90’s however, his star had faded enough that he spent the majority of his screen time in small films before hitting it big in the early 2000’s as Commander William Adama in Battlestar Galactica; one of the best shows of all-time.

His role on Dexter should be wonderful to watch.  An actor of his caliber is always a treat for fans who want actors of real gravitas on their show.  Dexter starts filming tomorrow on 5/26!

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