Monday, December 21, 2009

CHUCK Season 3: An Analysis of Why it is the Best Season Yet

I have already written my spoiler free preview but wanted to dig into what makes this season work so well.  I will discuss some spoilers in this blog but will avoid any big ones (mostly just hint at things to come).


Chuck Bartowski: I was pleasantly surprised to see what they did with Chuck this season.  He is no longer looking to become "normal."  If anything, he wants to be the farthest thing from normal.  This new character trait does shift the overall atmosphere of the show from wide-eyed victim of circumstance to a gung-ho wannabe agent with a major ethical dilemma.  The great thing about this is that it doesn't stop the show, or the character, from remaining grounded in quirky sweetness.  However, it has taken what may have started to become predictable and made it unpredictable.  This is very quickly accentuated in Chuck's first scene back in the Buy More in episode 1.  Oh and just when you thought Zac was the best, most underrated actor on television, he reveals that he was holding back, showing even MORE range this season.

Agent Sarah Walker: Here is a woman who has had her view of the world rocked backward and forward and when we see her in season 3, she only has one thing that has made any sense to her: the spy world.  And yet she has changed and is having a difficult time pretending otherwise.  Yvonne is given more dialogue and beautiful moments of emotional expression in the first three episodes than in the two previous seasons combined.  Also, the writers have positioned Sarah as the victim right at the beginning of the season.  This makes her "cold agent mode" all the more believable.  It also means that she finds herself grieving lost opportunities... mostly alone.

Col. John Casey: While his character has the least dramatic change, there is a kindness to him that we only saw briefly in previous seasons.  He has taken on the role of big protective but jerky brother to Chuck and even takes on other responsibilities he could have easily avoided.  He seems to do this out of the goodness of his heart.  It shows a very subtle but important shift in his character.  Season 3 may just be Casey's big opportunity to shine.

Morgan Grimes: His story has always paralleled Chuck's in some way and this season he feels the most changed.  To say more would be to spoil it.  But having Chuck and Morgan back and living together opens up a lot of possibilities for fun interaction between them, something that was missed in season 2.

Captain Awesome: He takes over the wide eyed wannabe-but-not-really spy that Chuck was in season 1.  What I like most about this is that it forces Chuck into a weird role where he merges three personalities to become some Chuck/Sarah/Casey hybrid when around Devon.  I hope they play that dynamic more in season 3 because it is a great deal of fun seeing Chuck be the big brother to Devon, who had held that role in previous seasons.

Agent Daniel Shaw: Out of all the spies that have come and gone from this show, Shaw is my favorite.  He has all the qualities of all the male spies we have seen but there is something else that the character is hiding.  This secret is what defines his actions.  It is also what makes him cold and clinical while also making him more susceptible to understanding of the things Beckman rarely seemed to appreciate: the bond between Chuck and Sarah.  He also quickly recognizes how detrimental Team Bartowski has been to Chuck's development.  This will likely make some dislike him but it is what will make others love him.  He is a no-nonsense kind of guy who is pretty funny in a geeky way (when Sarah tells him that Chuck will not be able to flash because of performance anxiety, Shaw tells her it is a common problem for men).


Season 3 is easily the best in allowing our characters to actually explore their relationships through real discussions as opposed to always interrupting them or forcing unnatural conversation delays.  If I were to sum up each of the seasons in a couple of words based on their dramatic focus it would be: Season 1 - Sweet Interruption; Season 2 - Fauxmance Angst; Season 3 - Let's Talk About It.  Granted, there are still some of the predictable delaying elements that are evident in all of television.  But then that is more of a product of telling a story over many episodes.

One particularly interesting bit of character exploration occurs when Carina returns.  In Season 1, it was clear that Sarah and Carina had an adversarial relationship but that they were also friends.  In Season 3, we see that they are closer than we had previously been allowed to believe.  And without getting into major spoiler territory, Carina does something for Sarah that exhibits a love for her that goes beyond whatever personal ideology Carina may have.  It makes this seemingly selfish character seem more real and sisterly toward Sarah and is just one small example of how different this season is from those before it.


The focus on this show has always been family and it remains in this season.  However, the stakes are higher than ever as most of the characters grow into more matured or damaged versions of themselves.  The relationship growth developed in Season 2 is still evident, if in subtle ways, allowing for a new dynamic: of those not part of that world to observe and pine for it at a distance.


There is still the familiar slapstick comedy but a favorite part of this season is how they have handled the comedic moments.  They seem more structured.  In five episodes, the Buy More scenes don't seem to intrude on the spy/relationship story.  The show creators have taken some of the complaints to heart and paced those shifts perfectly.


This is almost an afterthought in the analysis since everything else is so good.  But the action in this season is... awesome!  Chuck gets so much more to do and you soon realize that all those worries about a more capable Chuck being less interesting to watch, were unfounded.  If anything, it may make many wish it had always been this way.  This show has --and I mean this with no disrespect intended for the previous seasons, since I adore them-- finally reached epic action status.  It is Chucktastic!


The worst part of seeing five episodes now is that I have to wait 2 months to see the next episode (I know, woe is me).  This season is a delicious, yummy yum yum treat!  I do think there will be some people who will need a couple of viewings of the episodes before they settle into their familiarity.  Make no mistake, this season FEELS DIFFERENT from previous seasons.  In some ways, it is jarring.  Each episode is so full of detailed material that I had to check the time on the episodes because it felt like each was 2-hours as opposed to 42-minutes.  Thankfully, it is all an improvement over previous seasons (as if the show needed it).  So, tell your co-workers, friends, and family to watch this show.  You CAN join it in Season 3 without ever having seen an episode.  Though, I do recommend at least watching the last couple of Season 2 and the Season 1 pilot episode.

CHUCK is back! Tell everyone you know!

JANUARY 10th at 9PM on NBC, Episode 1: Chuck Versus The Pink Slip
JANUARY 10th at 10PM on NBC, Episode 2: Chuck Versus The Three Words
JANUARY 11th at 8PM on NBC, Episode 3 Chuck Versus The Angel De La Muerte


  1. Great write-up. I am so anxious to see the new season start. I have always loved the show and I appreciate how is is evolving. Too many shows don't do that and become boring in the end. Bravo for "Chuck!"

  2. Right on. CHUCK has had a pretty clear evolution over three seasons. Some may complain, or have complained, that the reset button has been mashed a few times on this show, but I don't think many can argue that this season.

  3. Your analysis of season 3 (so far) sounds fantastic to me! God, I love this show! And I agree, Zac is a really good actor. The guy has range. He is definitely the main reason why I enjoy this show so much (and I throughly enjoy all the other actors' work. Such a strong cast all around). It also makes me so happy to know that the main character is evolving and maturing without losing his essense of the funny, sweet and down to earth type of guy that made us love him from the start. And as a Brandon fan, I can't wait to see how he does in the role of Shaw! Again, very interesting analysis. Thanks!

  4. Very nice write up. I'm extrememly anxious/excited to see how the different feel of the show is received from the general audience. But from all the advance reviews so far (You, Sepinwall, Mo Ryan, Televisionary, and Mel from ChuckTv) people shouldn't worry.

    What I'm looking forward to this season is the interaction among the characters: Chuck/Sarah relationship, bromance, Chuck and Ellie, Chuck and Devon, and of course Team Bartowski.

  5. The traumatic event that happens is it something we're gonna hate chuck for?

  6. Man, you hit on everything I wanted to know without spoilers, Magnus. Thank you!

    I can't believe how much I want to see this season. I'm like a kid at Christmas. Oh, wait... ;>


  7. VYuci, anyone hoping for deeper interaction between the characters will be ecstatic. In that respect, S3 is like a love letter to those fans.

    The traumatic event is something people may not understand at first. But I promise you that by the end of that premiere night, you will. So, will you hate Chuck? No. I doubt that very much. I think you will instead understand just how much it meant to both of them and why things are the way they are.

    Those first two episodes are deeply romantic... even if painful at times. They may even be too deep for some people to appreciate. I hope not.

  8. Joe, well I do have my finger on the pulse of the fan base. :) I think that anyone who is a fan of this show will love it. Even those crazy shippers.

  9. So, this is really an awesome review and gives us a first exciting insight of what to expect, thanks! :) And now, could you please magically change the time for us to January 10th, cause all of your recaps and this analysis made me being on the edge of sanity! Want new Chuck now and can't wait to see all the awesome characters again!

  10. I am as excited to see everyone's reaction as I bet most of you are in seeing the episodes. It is a pretty amazing season. Everyone should be pushing anyone and everyone they may possibly know to check it out on January 10th and 11th.

  11. So the traumatic event is not accidental, but something intentional done by Chuck or Sarah?

  12. Intentional? Ummm... well, it is a choice. So, I guess that would qualify as intentional.

  13. Based on the new NBC promo we can probably piece together the traumatic event. Let's see the job or love. Which one do you think Chuck choses?

    Since the show is Chuck we can probably figure that out. Also it seems like it would be more traumatic for Sarah than Chuck.


  15. This is my 3rd (well, maybe 5th) time back to this blog post and really do appreciate the nuggets you've shared. I do have one question - I've always appreciated Chuck's ability t o be a hero without benefit if the intersect - defusing a bomb, swinging from a roof on a banner etc, etc. Will we still see the real hero or will it become all about the new intersect?

  16. PeterOinNJ, season 3 is definitely about Chuck becoming the hero WITH the Intersect 2.0. There is no doubt he is being trained to succeed alongside it, not just as a conduit. That means that the Intersect will enhance his abilities but he will still need to figure a way into and out of situations without it.

  17. Does the increase in dialogue/discussions also extend to Sarah and Casey? I really like how they've grown into real partners since their antagonistic beginning in the pilot.

    Also, is there an explanation given about where Chuck's dad is now, since Scott Bakula is no longer on the show?

  18. As I talked about in the podcast, there is at least one real discussion between Casey & Sarah, in episode 1. Otherwise, their relationship is pretty solidified. They are partners.

    As for Chuck's dad, his name is brought up but I don't remember if it was ever explained where he is... it may have been but I didn't catch it.

  19. This seems to be a helpful preview/review, but I'm only halfway through it and the white text on a black background is killing my eyes.

    Why do so many TV/fan sites adopt this kind of look? Maybe some people think it looks more "masculine" or edgy or something than a light background, but as a graphic designer myself, I know it's proven that large amounts of text (like paragraphs in books) are more legible and comfortable for the eye to read using dark type with a light background rather than a dark background (which is better for a symbol, word or phrase you want someone to recognize quickly- like highway signage.)

  20. I adopted it because I like it. Now, not sure why it bothers some people but it is my preferred method of reading a website. It probably comes from my days as a tech when we only had a couple of colors with dark backgrounds and light text. Having said that, if you don't like it, you can always just click on the page and hit CTRL-A and highlight the entire thing. Now you get a cute little light background and darker text. ;)


No flaming, baiting, trolling, expletives, or racism allowed. And NO DISCUSSIONS of the actor's personal lives ever.