"Chuck" Season 3 premieres Sunday on NBC with a two-hour episode starting at 9 p.m., before moving to its regular time slot Monday at 8 p.m.
Let's say you're the kind who hates Mondays. (So, let's say you're Garfield.) Let's also say you're the kind who enjoys quality television but is somehow not watching any of the other billions upon billions of quality shows airing on Mondays. Let's say you've heard quite a bit about this "Chuck" thing, and you might like to start watching it, but you're not sure how to start. "When I picked up 'Mad Men' at the start of Season 3, I had to pass a test ordering major events of the '60s in their proper chronology," you might say. "It's all I can do to keep up with 'Lost' without breaking my brain. I'm so very, very tired. I just don't know if I can pick up another show, good as it might be."
Well, hypothetical TV fan, you're in luck! Because "Chuck" is that rare thing: a terrific TV show that requires basically no major work to pick up. The show might have its flaws here and there -- the spy missions occasionally feel like afterthoughts compared to the rest of the show's charms -- but it's a good, solid reminder of a time when the most popular TV shows were just plain fun. That's what's so baffling to we "Chuck" fans about why the show's not a huge, huge hit. It's so easy! And fun! It's the sort of show that gets back down to just what it is we love about TV -- great characters, fun stories and a well-developed world.
"But I'm still so, so worried," you say. "What if I don't understand what's going on?" While that probably won't be an issue, look after the jump for the five things you need to know about "Chuck" going in. (Or just watch Sunday's premiere, which does a good job of getting new viewers all caught up.)
1.) Chuck is an accidental spy. Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) is a normal guy, kind of sliding by in life, working a job well beneath his talents. When his former college roommate (who's been killed off, so don't worry about him) sends him a strange e-mail attachment and he opens it, the entirety of the United States' security data downloads itself into his head. Improbable though this may be, Chuck is now the nation's single most important intelligence asset, and he must be guarded by Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and John Casey (Adam Baldwin). The three form what's essentially an old-time comedy troupe. Then, at the end of Season 2 ...
2.) Chuck has gained superpowers! I know. It sounded stupid to me too. In the Season 2 finale, Chuck has his brain filled with an update that allows him to access all kinds of important information when he needs it most. He proves this by kung fu fighting a bunch of baddies. The nice thing about this is that the show now has to set up exactly how and why Chuck's new powers work and in which situations they work well or work poorly. This means that Sunday's season opener is essentially a brand-new first episode. "Chuck" fans are going to be in the same boat as everyone else, making it a good time for newbies to jump in. (Also, the first episodes of Season 3 remove any qualms viewers might have about the previously powerless Chuck suddenly having superpowers rather deftly.)
3.) Chuck's in love with Sarah. Of course he is. Who wouldn't be? She's a good-looking woman who can more than handle herself in a tight situation, and she also takes good care of him. Attractiveness? Check. Slight intimidation and fear? Check. Weird mother issues? Almost certainly. But an interesting thing has happened over the course of the show: Sarah's started to fall for Chuck. This is a problem because if the two of them are ever together, it would compromise the mission and put Chuck (and the nation's security interests) in danger, but it's becoming increasingly clear that all either of them wants is to be together. Will-they/won't-they relationships can be awfully bland when every show has one and the reasons the couples stay apart are so strained, but the one on "Chuck" works because the two halves of the relationship have a legitimate reason to stay far, far away from each other.
4.) The other people in Chuck's life -- save one -- don't know he's a spy. So far as Chuck's sister, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), and best friend, Morgan (Joshua Gomez), are concerned, he's just the guy who's wasting away his life working at a Buy More (a thinly veiled Best Buy stand-in). The same goes for co-workers Jeff (Scott Krinsky) and Lester (Vik Sahay), two obnoxious man-children who make up rock sensation Jeffster, and boss Big Mike (Mark Christopher Lawrence). One of the ways "Chuck" is different from other action-adventure shows is that it can do affecting domestic plots featuring Ellie and Chuck or more blatantly comedic subplots at the Buy More and still return to the spy shenanigans no worse for the wear. Yet the show is giving some indication that it will integrate these worlds more closely, as Chuck's new brother-in-law, Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin), discovered his big secret late in Season 2. Now, Awesome, a paragon of virtue not used to lying, is forced to keep Chuck's secret, to amusing effect. (And we'll have more from McPartlin next week.)
5.) Everybody wants what Chuck's got. If Chuck were dead, America's enemies would be very happy. So it's important that his secret be kept under lock and key and just as important that he stay safe. Chuck being kind of a bumbling idiot most of the time means that this is easier said than done.
So. Those are the five things that you, hypothetical-quality-TV-fan-who's-not-wa
--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)