Saturday, June 22, 2013

TV on DVD Review: Chuck - Season 4

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: More great adventures with characters I love
Cons: Lost some of the fun of earlier seasons
The Bottom Line
While more serious
These adventures are still good
Chuck still entertains

Chuck Versus the Bartowski Family Legacy

Season three of dramedy Chuck found the show getting more serious as it found the main character fully embracing his new life as a spy.  Season four continued that streak.  It's still good entertainment, but the show lost some of its spark as a result.

When we last left our characters, we were watching the Buy More (think Best Buy clone) going up in flames.  Meanwhile, Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) was promising his sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) that he would give up the dangerous world of spying.

The season four premier picks up several months later.  Chuck and his best friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez) are conducting a secret mission of their own.  They are attempting to use clues left behind by Chuck's dad to find Chuck's mom, a woman who disappeared 20 years ago.  When it turns out that Chuck's former government handers Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and John Casey (Adam Baldwin) are on the same hunt, Chuck goes back to work for the CIA.

Meanwhile, the CIA rebuilds the Buy More as a continued cover for their Southern California base and giving the old Buy More gang their old jobs back in the process.  Morgan begins dating Casey's daughter.  Ellie starts investigating her family history, and she and husband Devon (Ryan McPartlin) announce they are expecting.  Plus Chuck and Sarah's relationship continues to build as they work through various issues.

But that's nothing compared to what happens when Chuck actually tracks down his mother Mary (recurring guest star Linda Hamilton) who is working for the Russian Alexei Volkoff (recurring guest star Timothy Dalton).  Can she be trusted?  Or is Chuck about to be hurt worse for having tracked her down?

As the season unfolded, I tuned in every week and enjoyed what I saw, but something felt like it was missing.  It was an episode late in the season coupled with a conversation with my brother and sister-in-law that made me realize what it was.  The first two seasons had a sense of fun and wonder about them.  There were lots of laughs and fun.  This season was just a bit too serious.  Yes, there were the random fun episodes, but most of the storyline involving Volkoff was very serious.  Granted, each episode still has some good laughs, but the show lost the sense of fun it had at the beginning.

That's not to say this wasn't worth watching.  The twists to the story were interesting, and I spent much of the season wondering exactly which side Mary was really on.  While the ending of the Volkoff saga seemed a little forced and unbelievable, I did find it ultimately satisfying.

And there are some fun sub-plots to the season.  Probably my favorite involves Morgan and Casey.  The no-nonsense NSA agent has little patience for Chuck's bumbling best friend, and the fact that they have to work together on missions is nothing compared to when he realizes that Morgan is dating his daughter.  Those moments are priceless.

Not quite as fun as they used to be are Jeff (Scott Krinsky), Lester (Vik Sahay), and Big Mike (Mark Christopher Lawrence), the Buy More workers who actually have names.  They haven't really developed much in a couple of seasons now, and as a result, their sub-plots don't provide the comedy they once did.

Speaking of developing, I felt the writers and producers did a good job of developing Chuck and Sarah's relationship.  They have managed to avoid the curse of killing a show when you get the main couple together by developing their relationship and giving them realistic things they need to work on.  It's interesting watching it develop, and I like that.

As always with this show, the acting is top notch.  From everything I've heard, the cast loves working together, and it shows in the chemistry they have on screen.  They also know their characters, and their portrayals are flawless.  In addition to the guest stars I already mentions (who are both great), Robert Englund stops by for the Halloween episode as a man who has developed a toxin to give people nightmares.  Obvious casting?  Yes, but it's also lots of fun.

As with last season, the show was originally renewed for 13 episodes and then picked up for a back 11.  That means that the first 13 episodes tell their own story with a second story springing off that one in the second half.  Even the second half of the season reveals some secrets about the Bartowski family legacy.

It also means that this season set includes 24 episodes of the show in original wide screen and full surround.  In addition to the gag reel and deleted scenes, there's a featurette about Zachary Levi stepping behind the camera to direct the Thanksgiving episode as well as a collection of Webisodes featuring Jeff and Lester's quest for a video game.  Finally, the Blu-ray set (it comes on DVD or Blu-ray) contains an interacting Chuckapedia.

While I missed the lighter tone of earlier seasons, I still enjoyed season four of Chuck.  The characters are still endearing and the storylines worth watching.  If you haven't caught all of season four, fix that today.

Season 4 Episodes:
1. Chuck Versus the Anniversary
2. Chuck Versus the Suitcase
3. Chuck Versus the Cubic Z
4. Chuck Versus the Coup d'Etat
5. Chuck Versus the Couch Lock
6. Chuck Versus the Aisle of Terror
7. Chuck Versus the First Fight
8. Chuck Versus the Fear of Death
9. Chuck Versus Phase Three
10. Chuck Versus the Leftovers
11. Chuck Versus the Balcony
12. Chuck Versus the Gobbler
13. Chuck Versus the Push Mix
14. Chuck Versus the Seduction Impossible
15. Chuck Versus the Cat Squad
16. Chuck Versus the Masquerade
17. Chuck Versus the First Bank of Evil
18. Chuck Versus the A-Team
19. Chuck Versus the Muuurder
20. Chuck Versus the Family Volkoff
21. Chuck Versus the Wedding Planner
22. Chuck Versus Agent X
23. Chuck Versus the Last Details
24. Chuck Versus the Cliffhanger

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