class=”alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-59301″ title=”Chuck” src=”×150.jpg” alt=”” width=”220″ height=”150″ />NBC’s consistently popular spy series Chuck may live under the network’s axe at all times, but its quirky mix of James Bond and The Big Bang Theory has endured through three seasons of double and triple crossing, secrets and seductions and now enters its fourth season still feeling fresh and, most importantly, funny.

Zachary Levi’s charming secret agent begins season four in typical form with a complete inability to escape the world he was, as we find out, born into. The Buy More is now rebuilt and staffed by all-too-efficient fellow operatives and the mysterious name of Volkoff leads our hero to encounter a nicely nasty operative, Marco. Chuck Versus the Anniversary has Dolph Lundgren in fine self effacing form and the family mysteries of the Bartowskis deepens and this is a fine start to the series with Lundgren and repo man Harry Dean Stanton in particular doing great work.

The second and third episodes (Versus the Suitcase, Versus the Cubic Z) don’t have the same spark of the season opener, with a standard weapons based mission taking us through some fairly uninspired cliches while the wider story plays out around it. I’m sidestepping some spoiler mines but it won’t hurt to hint that there’s more awkward and pregnant pauses in our future and the third episode has a nice role for Stone Cold Steve Austin and some great action in the Buy More.

While Chuck and Ellie come clean on family matters in the fourth episode (Versus the Coup d’Etat), there’s something about it that even a cameo from Armand Assante can’t save. I felt as if the series had bigger stories to tell and the very best episodic television can have a dud episode while still propelling, adding to and exploring the wider story arcs. I became impatient, not because the show was no longer fun, but I was really looking to see how Chuck’s maternal revelations would take the show. Though there is something very sweet at the end of the episode and I won’t spoil it if you’ve not seen it yet.

Overall this show is maintaining its place in my affections, but only just. I watched the first four episodes via iTunes, something that was new to me and though I’m late to that particular party the delivery system works very well and the quality on the iPad is something special. The central cast is doing great things with the storylines, and the surfeit of pop culture references works only because of the work of the cast. I’ll keep watching to see how things work out. If you’ve not caught Chuck yet then it’s four seasons in and still going strong.