NBC’s Chuck is kind of a Cinderella story of television. It survived the turmoil of the writers’strike only to face cancellation after underwhelming ratings in season 2. In spite of maintaining its boisterous energy, with a fun-loving cast, cleverly written spy intrigue, and plenty of steamy sexual tension it just could not seem to get a foothold. Then fans made TV history last season when they rescued their favorite nerd spy from cancellation with the whole Subway campaign that bought the series 13 episodes to save itself. With a new lease on life, creators Josh Swartz and Chris Fedak were determined to really show NBC that Chuck was worthy of a 3rd chance.
And, boy, did they bring their A-game.
Part of what makes Chuck lovable as a character is his bumbling incompetence as a spy. He’s a nice guy. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and constantly bites off more than he can chew. Still, in spite of his shortcomings, he has the heart of a hero. He is constantly overcoming his own fear to save the day. He is an ordinary man overcoming his extraordinary circumstances. And in spite of all his adventures, all he really wants is to get back to his normal life. Last week’s premiere was some of the strongest writing we have seen yet. Season 2 ended with Chuck downloading the new Intersect 2.0 into his nerd cranium granting him new abilities that will take his character to unexpected places.
How is our lovable Chuck supposed to survive Intersect 2.0 when it makes him the super spy he doesn’t want to be? We learn in the premiere that Intersect 2.0 isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. Turns out it’s designed for a real spy who can keep his emotions in check, something Chuck simply can’t do. This detail was a brilliant move by the writers. While Chuck is improved, he is by no means new. He’s still the same nerd spy we’ve been rooting for all along. Still, his new abilities do make for a more confident Chuck. He doesn’t have to cower in the corner anymore. He can kick some ass, albeit not all the time. He walks taller and it looks good on him.
But Intersect 2.0 didn’t come without a price. His relationship with Sarah, which was on the cusp of blossoming at the end of season 2, has hit a serious road block. Some people may find their tension frustrating at this point, but it makes sense. I found Sarah’s cold indifference toward Chuck’s apologetic advances refreshing. She isn’t letting him down easy anymore. She’s pissed that he chose the CIA over her, and she isn’t going to forget it any time soon. It looks like they are going to have to start from square one, as they celebrate their rekindled friendship with a handshake instead of a hug at the end of the premiere.
But not everything is darker and edgier. We still get the same lovable cast of misfits and all of the Buy More shenanigans that only serve to complicate Chuck’s already complex life. The addition of Awesome into the circle of trust is a nice touch as well. His obsession with Chuck’s spy-life was fun to watch in the premiere, and he makes the viewer feel like Chuck finally has an ally to help him stay grounded in his regular life. All and all, it was a great start for Chuck season 3. I’m excited to see where we go from here, and what surprises are in store for us along the way.