Created by Josh Schwartz ('The O.C.') and Chris Fedak, 'Chuck' is an amusing action-comedy television series that's part of the current wave of shows appealing to the geek crowd, in part because that's what the lead character and his friends are. Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) is a tech-support worker for the electronics store Buy More, a place Best Buy shoppers should recognize. Chuck's life becomes extremely complicated after his former college roommate Bryce Larkin (Matthew Bomer) empties all the information from a government supercomputer known as Intersect into Chuck's brain.
That action makes Chuck a very important resource for U.S. spy agencies and of great value to the bad guys. He is watched over by CIA agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and NSA agent John Casey (Adam Baldwin) and gets involved in dangerous missions because of the information only he has access to, although it has to be triggered externally as he has no control over it. To stay close, Sarah's cover finds her posing as Chuck's girlfriend while Casey gets a job at Buy More.
Chuck continues with his daily life and struggles to keep the spy business secret. He lives with his sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) and her fiancé Devon "Captain Awesome" Woodcomb (Ryan McPartlin), whose wedding plans are a minor story arc throughout the season and commence during the very funny finale. At Buy More, Chuck works with his best friend Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez), Morgan's girlfriend Anna Wu (Julia Ling), supervisor Michael "Big Mike" Tucker (Mark Christopher Lawrence), and two very funny characters, Lester Patel (Vik Sahay) and Jeff Barnes (Scott Krinsky).
While the scenes of action and stunts are well done, the strength of 'Chuck' is its writing. The humor tends toward silliness, making for a fun, lightweight diversion. But that's not to imply the humor isn’t smart, because many of the in-jokes about movies and television are subtle and will likely pass by many viewers. I was concerned about a common television trope, one that has ruined many, many series, when the lead characters develop romantic feelings for one other, but there's a good ebb and flow between Chuck and Sarah as circumstances are ever changing and different people come into each other's lives.
Many episodes this season begin with brief flashbacks revealing back-stories as the minor characters play a larger part in the stories. For example, Jeff is featured in 'Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer' because his skills at the video game Missile Command have real-world implications. His cover band with Lester, known as Jester!, hilariously help save the day in the season finale with their performance of Styx's "Mr. Roboto." Although he futilely tries to keep his two lives separate, other characters also become integral to Chuck's spy activities, including his best friend Morgan.
This season also sees Chuck's father Steve (Scott Bakula) and his college ex Jill Roberts (Jordana Brewster) come back into his life for surprising reasons. The rogue group of agents known as Fulcrum plays a larger role in the stories as they pursue the Intersect computer, which Chuck and the spy agencies would like to get out of his system. There are also changes in Chuck's day job with efficiency expert Emmett Milbarge (Tony Hale of 'Arrested Development') joining the Buy More team.
'Chuck's not a must-see show, even with events like the 3D episode, but the writers do a very good job creating laughs and rewarding viewers who come back each week by creating an on-going, expanding narrative that remains believable and understandable. ('Lost' writers, take note.) The set-up for the third season offers great potential for what Chuck can do and where the series can go.
'Chuck - The Complete Second Season' is presented with a 1080p/VC-1 transfer that will disappoint fans although not surprise them, as 'The Complete First Season' was flawed as well. Possibly in part due to it being one of the few television series shot on 16mm, there is a terrible amount of grain seen that gets worse the brighter the image is. When a great deal of white appears on screen, it almost looks as if tiny insects are scurrying around.
Black levels vary with crush occurring frequently and details tend to get swallowed in the shadows. The colors are clean and vibrant although they fail in delivering consistent skintones. The edges aren't very sharp, frequently causing the images to be soft and lack depth (not counting the 3D episode). Occasional artifacts can be seen, most notably on the left side of the skies during the establishing shots of Buy More.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The dialogue is clear and understandable as it comes out of the front center, which is important since much of the humor is verbal. The surrounds offer slight location ambiance along with music and the action-sequence effects. However listening to 'Chuck' is not an immersive experience, and some sounds, like a person shouting off camera in a crowd scene, don't feel authentic. Nor did I notice sounds passing through channels. The audio elements deliver a good dynamic range and are well balanced. The LFE perks up during the action, although oddly, it overmodulates during the intros of the "Real-Life Captain Awesome Tips for Being Awesome" Special Feature.
'Chuck' is packed with pop culture references and silly situations that the actors make work with their likable characters and comedic skills. While the mythology grows, it's never too thick that viewers would be completely lost if they didn't start at the beginning. Other than some sexy outfits, this seems fit for the entire family and has something for everyone. Because a 22-episode season can be a pricey investment, I'm recommending a rental for both those new to the series, since the humor skews nerdy, and those who have high standards for video and audio quality, since both are a bit iffy here. It's disappointing Warner didn't seem to learn anything from Season One.