For me, Chuck's been an "if there's nothing else on, I'll watch it" kind of show. I watched the first few episodes of season one and thought that while it was okay - the idea of a nerd being accidentally turned into a spy not exactly being a new one (eg Jake 2.0) - it wasn't really for me and gave up on it. Then lovely wife started watching it on Virgin 1 and before you know it, we're watching it every week.
Season two has been okay. With Chuck, there's a hell of a lot of water being tread - it's always reasonably good, just never excellent. Chuck never leaves his job at the Buy More to get a new life, or if he does, he's back within an episode. He and Sarah, his secret agent handler, never get together, except if they do, they have to return to a platonic status quo within an episode. The 'top' spies, even the guest ones, are never that good and would get turned into mincemeat by the guys of The Unit, Michael Westen on Burn Notice or Daniel Craig as James Bond without too much of a problem. And even the few revelatory bad things in Chuck or Sarah's past (Stanford, Jill, his father, her father, Bryce) turn out to be not as bad as previously though, depriving the show of any true edge.
Okay, so there's a place for "not too much thinking after a hard day at work" escapist television and to a certain extent, this is more of a show about camaraderie, family and disappointment in life than about spies, but it's not without reason that even lovely wife is saying things like "something had better happen soon".
Whether Chuck will get that option, since it still hasn't been picked up for a third season, is a tricky question. But although it looks like there's a real risk of a return to something like the status quo if it does come back, the season finale - really a two-parter in disguise if you include the preceding episode - is something of a game-changer, at least in some ways.
The two-part finale takes place during Chuck's sister's wedding, the build-up to which has been the background to most of the second season. After rescuing Chuck's dad, who's turned out to be the man who built the Intersect that turned Chuck into a secret agent in the first place, and having said Intersect finally removed from Chuck's head in the penultimate episode, where might the final episode take things except back to the status quo, you might think.
You'd be right, because while that penultimate episode would have been a great finale in and of itself or even a great way to end the show, the finale itself feels a bit lightweight and silly. But by the end of it, at least, there are promises that season three could at least be a little bit different, even if the Sarah/Chuck relationship isn't going to change, with Sarah making continuous hurt looks at every opportunity rather than growing a pair and doing something about it; Chuck's inevitably going to return to the Buy More; and none of his friends are going to find out about his sideline.
But we do have a new breed of villains, now that Fulcrum's been given the heave-ho, even if they are poorly defined ("we're spies") at the moment; Captain Awesome, who really was awesome in these two episodes, now knows Chuck's secret; and Chuck, rather than be continually inept, looks like he's going to have the chance to be a 'proper' (at least in Chuck-world) spy, now that the Intersect upgrade appears to be able to give him whatever spy skills he needs with a single 'flash'.
I'm hoping they use that judiciously, because it runs the risk of opening a whole box full of dei ex machina if every time Chuck needs to get out of trouble, he just flashes and gets an appropriate special skill; the hint from Bryce that there's some things in the new Intersect that might be kind of scary might mean it's a double-edged sword though.
I'm also worried that they might do more fights scenes with Chuck. No matter how good the stunt artists throwing themselves all round the place, Zac Levi just doesn't know kung fu (nice Matrix ref there) or even movie kung fu, so unless he gets trained up by next season to the point where he has at least some flexibility, I'm going to have to close my eyes whenever he tries it - or learn to suspend my disbelief even further.
With ratings at an all time low (nothing new for most NBC shows), whether Chuck will get that third season is still something that's up in the air. I can't see Chuck ever really blowing the ratings through the roof as long as it lacks edge or a more driving narrative. But on the strength of the finale, there could be more to enjoy in that potential third season than before.
Here are some interviews with Yvonne Strahovski and Zac Levi about the finale, as well as that kung fu fight set to an obvious soundtrack - see if you agree with me about its plausability.
- January 14, 2010: Review: Chuck 3x1-3x3
A review of the first three episodes of the third season of Chuck