Season 3 spoilers.

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The Time:
Mondays, 8:00 PM, NBC

The Show:

Bartowski was just an average guy who got kicked out of Stanford and ended up underachieving by working at the Buy More, a local electronics superstore.  That all changed one day when former friend and CIA spy, Bryce Larkin, downloaded a top secret computer called the Intersect into Chuck’s brain.  The Intersect 1.0 allowed Chuck to mnemonically “flash” on critical intelligence when his senses detected something, be it an image or a sound.  As the government’s only version of this highly advanced computer, Chuck found himself drawn into a world of spies and danger, protected by Agent Sarah Walker, a hot
and lethal CIA operative and NSA Agent John Casey.  After many successful missions, including a forced upgrade to the Intersect 2.0, which also now gives him incredible physical abilities such as martial arts mastery, Chuck progressed from a bumbling CIA analyst to full-fledged spy, and he and Sarah fell in love.  Now, he’s on a mission to discover the truth of what happened to his mother, who abandoned Chuck and his sister, Ellie, when they were children.  But he may not like what he discovers.  

The Stars:

•  Zachary Levi – Chuck Bartowski
•  Yvonne Strahovski – CIA Agent Sarah Walker
•  Adam Baldwin – NSA Agent John Casey
•  Joshua Gomez – Morgan Grimes
•  Sarah Lancaster – Ellie Bartowski
•  Ryan McPartlin – Captain Awesome
•  Bonita Friedericy – General Beckman
•  Vik Sahay – Lester Patel
•  Mark Christopher Lawrence – Big Mike
•  Scott Krinsky – Jeff
•  Linda Hamilton – Mrs. Bartowski

The Episode: “Chuck vs. the Anniversary”

At the end of Season 3, Chuck left the spy business after making a promise to Ellie due to the death of their father (Scott Bakula) at the hands of the evil Intersect, former CIA super spy, Daniel Shaw.  Chuck discovered his father’s secret lair, with posthumous instructions from him that he should attempt to find his mother, who Chuck learns, was a spy.  Chuck and Morgan have since been on their own secret mission all over the world to track her down, with no luck and even less money left.  So when Chuck and Morgan realize they need jobs, and all of Chuck’s interviews have mysteriously bombed, he finds himself unerringly back at the Buy More, which the government has completely rebuilt into a CIA/NSA headquarters, and with General Beckman now the store manager.  Beckman wants Chuck back in the game and she’s not prepared to take no for an answer. 

Meanwhile, Sarah and Casey have been on their own mission, trying to track down an operative named Marco, who’s associated with someone named Volkoff, for months, also with no luck.  When Chuck’s / Morgan’s mission and Sarah’s / Casey’s mission cross paths in Russia, Chuck has to make a fateful decision about his future.

The Lowdown:

Great season premiere with all of the Chuck hallmarks and some interesting new possibilities.  The show is really in cruise control now, with almost none of the storyline hindrances (Chuck and Sarah dancing around the relationship, Chuck’s cover at the Buy More, having to lie to Morgan, Awesome, Ellie about his secret, etc).  The Buy More cover scenario always provided for some good laughs but as the show progressed, it was obvious that it could only go so far in its initial incarnation.  Now that the rebuilt superstore is a full-fledged CIA / NSA installation, populated strictly by agents, there are plenty of opportunities to use that to the show’s advantage and keep a familiar surrounding without it seeming forced or the show stagnating.  Having Beckman as the new onsite honcho, and Bonita Friedericy bumped up to series regular will also be a welcome addition.

The premiere kicked off the Season 4 arc from the opening bell, with Chuck and Morgan jetting the globe in search of Mary Bartowski.  It was also a welcome change that they didn’t milk having Linda Hamilton in the shadows or unrevealed until the middle of the season or so.  We see her early on, and near the end of the episode, as we learn she was a spy, and was captured years ago.  Whatever the circumstances under which that situation unfolded, it seems to have changed, as we learn that not only is Mrs. Bartowski a bad ass, but she’s utterly ruthless.  What side she’s on remains a mystery.

Cast was on point as always.  Levi and Gomez picked up their Batman and Robin shtick right off, and Morgan was, well, Morgan.  The show’s a lot better since Chuck and Sarah have gotten together, and an minor subplot involving sexting provided some playful character moments between the two, and even a  little skin (too much from Levi, not enough from Sarah).  There were hints that Morgan might get his act together as an agent last season.  I hope that is explored further this season as I think Gomez gets to add a lot more to the show when he’s in the thick of the action.  A bad turn of events with Chuck and Morgan’s transportation (was that a Pacer?) provided an opportunity for an unfortunately bad cameo from Harry Dean Stanton.  Olivia Munn also appeared in a seemingly useless role…but she looked a hell of a lot better doing it.  Dolph Lundgren dusted off his Russian accent (and some obvious and bad Drago soundbites) as Russian henchman Marco, who was transporting a portable EMP.  He was badly underutilized, though.  There needed to be some Chuck / Dolph action and there wasn’t.

Episode had some pretty good action, including Casey and Sarah getting their basediving on from a skyscraper.  There was also an offscreen fight that would have been great to see, but sounded pretty good over a walkie talkie.  Finally, Ellie has some news that will provide a twist this season.  Entertaining start to Season 4 as the arc with Chuck’s mom and the changes to the show look promising.  Levi has really evolved the character nicely and I hope to be catching the show for a couple more seasons to come.  Directing and writing were within Chuck norms (i.e. solid).  There are a couple new spy shows on this season, but Chuck still remains the standard.

8.3 out of 10