DVDSleuth.com is your source for daily DVD news and reviews.
Chuck: The Complete First Season
Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 9/16/2008
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/12/2008
Thirty years ago, television was king. Sure, audiences, especially younger audiences, had the choice of going to the movies, or perhaps a concert, but TV was an incredibly popular source of entertainment. While we have a handful of "water cooler" shows today, every week had an event show back then. But, times have changed, and that all-important young adult demographic now has some many more choices for things to do to pass the time. While we still have movie and concerts, video games and home video, not to mention the internet, have created a slew of options. So, how can the networks lure these viewers back to TV? What if they make a show which is centered around one of their own? And thus, we have Chuck, a program which features a twenty-something guy who should appeal to twenty-something guys.
As Chuck opens, we see a man, CIA Agent Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer), break into an unusual computer room, download something, and then destroy the computer. In his attempt to escape from the building, his is shot by NSA Agent John Casey (Adam Baldwin). As he lay dying, Larkin e-mails the downloaded information to his old college roommate, Chuck Bartowksi (Zachary Levi). Chuck is a very mild-mannered young man who works at the electronics store Buy More (which looks curiously like Best Buy) for their computer repair team, "The Nerd Herd" (which sounds curiously like Best Buy's "Geek Squad"). Chuck lives with his sister, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), and her boyfriend, Devon AKA Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin), both of whom are doctors. Chuck spends most of his time discussing movies, video games, or sandwiches with his co-worker and best friend, Morgan (Joshua Gomez).
Chuck receives the e-mail from Larkin, and when he opens it, he's bombarded by images and information. Larkin has sent Chuck the entire contents of "The Intersect", a supercomputer which contained all of the U.S. governments intelligence information. Encoded in picture form, the information is now stored inside Chuck, and visual or auditory cues will trigger a recall of certain information. Not long after Chuck absorbs the information, he's approached by Agent Casey and CIA Agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski). At first, the two agents fight over who will control Chuck, and they propose to take him to Washington, D.C. to be studied. It is then decided that Chuck can be a useful tool, as he holds so much information. Therefore, Chuck is allowed to retain his "normal" life while Sarah and Casey work undercover around him. Chuck is dismayed by this and he soon realizes two things; he didn't think that his life would be in danger, and he didn't think that he'd have feelings for Sarah.
With Chuck, we get two shows rolled into one. Unfortunately, the two shows aren't on equal footing. On the one hand, Chuck wants to be an action-adventure show. On each episode, Chuck discovers information about an enemy agent or bad guy who is in the area, and reports this to Sarah and Casey. They then investigate the lead, and inevitably, Chuck bumbles his way into the middle of the mission. These storylines are unoriginal and uninspired. The villains are always vague stereotypes and the way in which Chuck gets involved is often far-fetched. (With my favorite being the episode where Chuck just happens to be fixing the computer on a yacht, where he finds counterfeit money.) To be fair, some of the action scenes are fun, but when the show were Chuck is able to do something incredibly complicated just because he saw it in a video game made me roll my eyes. In fact, the entire espionage plot doesn't make much sense from the beginning. The reasons for why Chuck simply isn't de-programmed are vague and the show falls back on the old "we can't even trust our own agency" ploy to explain this. In many ways, Chuck feels like a cheesy action show from the 80s.
If Chuck nothing but action, it would fail miserably, and the first few episodes may chase off some viewers. But, it's the other side of Chuck which eventually won me over (for the most part). Once we get to know the characters and see the dynamics between them, the show begins to blossom. Not unlike Season 2 ofHeroes (You know, that's the second time that I've referenced that in a negative way.), the show waits too long to offer us that emotional hook which we need to commit to the series. Things start to turn around when Chuck becomes more demonstrative about his feelings for Sarah. Throughout the first few episodes, we hear that Chuck had to leave college because of Larkin. Once this story is revealed, the show makes a huge turnaround, and it becomes far easier to make an emotional investment in Chuck. The show's writers are clearly well aware of this, as there are a few plot-twists which deal directly with the character's emotions. The action becomes much easier to digest once we actually care about Chuck, Sarah, and the others.
I wasn't sure what to expect from Chuck, but I had no idea that it was about a guy who had absorbed a supercomputer. And when it looked as if the show was all about tepid action, I was prepared to abort the mission. But, then Chuck came around and became far more interesting. In addition to the characters and the action, Chuck also features some laugh-out loud humor and biting commentary about consumerism in America. It can be assumed that the creators of Chuck wanted to turn the spy genre on its ear. While they didn't go that far, they did manage to squeak out a show which has excitement and heart.
Chuck: The Complete First Season stays in the car on DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The four-disc set contains all 13 episodes of the show's first season. The episodes have been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. While the image is sharp, I was surprised by how grainy Chuck is. I can't remember ever seeing a modern show which exhibits this much grain. It's always present, but it's hard to ignore in exterior daytime shots. The colors look good, especially those in Buy More, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The detail level on the image is acceptable. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track provides excellent surround sound, something which is sorely lacking in many TV-on-DVD presentations. The surround is complemented by good stereo effects and effective subwoofer in explosions. The surround really kicks in during the action scenes, and the fact that it's so overly placed in the mix makes this track a winner.
The Chuck: The Complete First Season DVD set contains a small amount of extras. Each of the four Discs contains "Declassified Scenes", which are of course DELETED SCENES. The scenes are taken from "Chuck Versus the Wookie" (x2) (Disc 1), "Chuck Versus the Sizzling Shrimp" (x2), "Chuck Versus the Sandworm" (x1), "Chuck Versus the Alma Mater" (x1) (all Disc 2), "Chuck Versus the Imported Hard Salami" (x2) (Disc 3), and "Chuck Versus the Crown Vic" (x2) (Disc 4). All of these scenes are quite brief, but there are some funny moments here and they do fill in some gaps in the story. Disc 3 also contains "Chuck's World", which is a series of six shorts which profile the actors who play Chuck, Morgan, Sarah, Casey, Ellie, and Captain Awesome. Series creators Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz tell us how each was cast. These pieces also include comments from the actors. The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 4. "Chuck on Chuck" (27 minutes) has Levi, Grimes, Fedak, & Schwartz have chosen 12 scenes from the show and they discuss not only what is happening in the scene (like an audio commentary), but they also talk about the importance of the scene. Their banter is funny and we learn about the making of the show. "Chuck vs. The Chuckles" is a 7 minute blooper reel...with lots of nose-picking. "Chuck's Online World" offers four shorts which focus on some of the minor characters like Jeff and Anna. We also get a profile of Joshua Gomez, which features his audition footage. (I'm assuming by the title that these were "webisodes" at some point.)
On November 11, 2008, Warner Home Video brought Chuck: The Complete First Season to Blu-ray Disc. The episodes have been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 16 Mbps. Do you remember the grain which I mentioned above? Well, it's even more prevalent here. Anytime there is a light (or, God forbid, white) background in a scene, the grain is difficult to ignore. Overall, the image is fairly sharp, but the grain definitely jumps out. What's odd is the inconsistency of the grain -- it's more prevalent in some episodes than in others. The bad news is that this grain becomes the focal point of the transfer, and this robs the image of some of its detail. These two facts combined gives the picture a somewhat flat look -- it certainly doesn't have the depth which we've seen on other Blu-ray transfers. On the positive side, the colors look very good here (the greens in Buy More really jump off of the screen). The image is well-balanced, in that it's never too dark or too bright. I would say that this is comparable to digital broadcast quality. The Blu-ray Discs contain Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 640 kbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. In short, this is essentially the same track which was found on the DVD. And, as with the video, it varies in quality. One episode which I watched ("Versus the Undercover Lover") had clear dialogue and the music sounded fine, but there was nothing in the way of stereo effects or surround sound, even during a big fight scene. In contrast, another one ("Versus the Crown Vic") showed good effects in having sounds move from the front to the rear and some nice subwoofer action. Overall, this makes the sound good, but not great. In short, only die-hard fans of the show should upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray on this release.
The Chuck: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Disc contains the same extra features as the DVD.
Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long