Scott Bakula was such an awesome Mr Bartowski, who added so much excitement and pathos to Season 3, that I had high hopes for Chuck's mom. Unfortunately, while Bakula has the dishevelled good looks of a retired (and slightly eccentric) astronaut, Linda Barker hasn't aged well, and her role as Mrs Bartowski calls for a lot of close-ups. She's an odd-looking woman, very petite and with completely different colouring to Ellie and Chuck (in fact, I think it's biologically impossible that both ended up with dark hair and olive skin). Barker's face is weirdly masculine, her voice husky and low, and she spends most of her eps in unflattering black wide-leg pants and a leather jacket. This may have worked in the Terminator movies, but in 'Chuck' she's too tough to be persuasive as the mother Chuck and Ellie have been longing for. When she strokes Ellie's face, it looks awkward, and there's no resemblance. It gets weirder in later eps when Mrs Bartowski starts babysitting Clara - it just doesn't ring true. In this episode, the first in which she appears, it's impossible to tell whether she's good or evil (which is obviously the point.) The problem is, she's equally hard and unappealing in both roles. In this and subsequent eps, she barks at everyone, and talks in a husky monotone. She's impatient with Chuck and Sarah for not understanding her motives, and she seems exasperated with everyone all the time. It's not clear why she repeatedly lies to Chuck and puts him in danger, especially after protesting that the reason she's been out of touch all these years is to protect him. Now she has no trouble dragging him right into the middle of her dangerous web. Why entrust him to her MI6 handler "Tuttle," whom she knows (but doesn't tell them) is actually Volkoff, a man she described as a psychopath? While I wept serious tears over the death of Stephen J Bartowski, I couldn't muster a whole lot of emotion over his wife.
Fortunately, the Chuck and Sarah (and Morgan and Casey) storyline is great. I loved following Chuck and Morgan on their short-lived personal quest to find Mary Bartowski, and the moment they realise Casey and Sarah are in the same Russian Soviet-era munitions factory is classic. It says a lot for the sheer entertainment value of the storylines in 'Chuck' that I'm easily persuaded the characters are in Russia, Thailand or 'Costa Gravas' without an unlimited special effects budget.
I love the new CIA-run Buy More exclusively run by General Beckman (who is an absolute diamond of a character) and a horde of highly-trained agents posing as sales assistants, half of whom are inexplicably named Greta. It's not remotely plausible; it's 'Chuck'.
Speaking of whom, Chuck has a new haircut and a tan, and he looks leaner and more classically handsome than the original Nerd Herder. This is appropriate, give what he's been through in the last three seasons. He's now Mr. Bartowski senior, a skilled spy (with or without the intersect), a soon-to-be-uncle and committed boyfriend. The final ep of Season three, in which Shaw was finally defeated and Chuck survived a near neurological meltdown due to a malfunctioning intersect, made Chuck into a bolder, and more capable, serious, and interesting person. It's an absolute joy when Beckman rehires Morgan and Chuck to both the CIA and the Buy More, and the return of Jeff and Lester in episode 2 is the icing on the cake. While I don't find Casey's relationship with his daughter terribly convincing (deep and meaningful father/daughter conversations over cups of tea, when they've only just reunited after twenty-something years?), Casey and Morgan have a real chemistry going on as the American hero and his bumbling sidekick.
I heard a rumour at once stage that Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman) might play Chuck's mom, but I think that was just a suggestion from the fan base. I have to say, that would have been awesome. She's stunning, with a striking resemblance to Ellie, and Volkoff's powerful attraction to her would be so much easier to believe. She also would have played both the tough femme fatale and the sensitive mother with equal success, I think. Linda Hamilton just doesn't inspire much affection, and I think her character probably should. Despite Linda Hamilton's recurring role, the character functions well as a plot device, allowing for some new and compelling storylines.
'Chuck' may not be terribly authentic, but it's just so much fun.