Farewell, 'Chuck,' hail to new 'Spartacus'

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Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski star in NBC's "Chuck"

One hero says goodbye and another returns in a different guise tonight, as NBC’s “Chuck” (8 p.m., NBC10) wraps up its fifth and final season and Starz’ “Spartacus: Vengeance” introduces Liam McIntyre, the actor who replaced the late Andy Whitfield as the rebel slave leader.

I’ll admit to having been a little blubbery toward the end of “Chuck’s” sendoff, which consists of back-to-back episodes, “Chuck Versus Sarah” and “Chuck Versus the Goodbye,” but I was happy, too.

Because this is the way TV should work.

No show should go on forever — OK, maybe an exception will be made for “The Simpsons” — and shows with the kind of ratings “Chuck” has had definitely can’t.

But broadcasters also can’t continue to drive their most intense viewers to cable by luring them in with something charming and quirky — or dark and complicated — and then dropping it before the story’s even half-told.

NBC hasn’t had a lot to brag about in past five years, and maybe that’s one reason “Chuck” made it to the point where it feels OK to let it go.

But the network’s done the right thing, nevertheless, and I hope that anyone who’s ever enjoyed the show will check out these last two hours, if only to see if Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) can get the girl one last time.

And, of course, for the triumphant final performance of “Jeffster” (Scott Krinsky and Vik Sahay).

Only hard-core “Spartacus” fans will be able to say for sure if McIntyre can keep the audience that his predecessor attracted in the first season of the Starz hit (which, after Whitfield was first diagnosed with the cancer that killed him last fall, was followed up with a Spartacus-free prequel, starring the show’s other main attraction, Lucy Lawless).

A decade younger than his equally hard-bodied predecessor, McIntyre brings a slightly different energy to the role, but seems convincing enough, especially for a story that veers between melodrama and video game.

If I watch it at all, it’s for Lawless, whose left-for-dead character turns up tonight where she’s least expected and whose presence promises to liven things up for those of us for whom the endless slow-motion spurting of blood will never be quite enough.
Also this weekend, besides “Luck” — which I’ve written about here and here:

— PBS’ “Great Performances” (10 tonight, WHYY 12) takes us behind the scenes of the making of “Tony Bennett’s Duets II,” showing the 85-year-old singer mixing it up with a wide range of contemporary artists, from Queen Latifah to John Mayer. Two of the most surprising (and charming) sessions are with Lady Gaga — who, blue hair notwithstanding, could’ve stepped out of a 1940s musical — and the late Amy Winehouse, whom Bennett recalls here.

— “A Smile As Big as the Moon” (9 p.m. Sunday, 6ABC), the latest presentation of the Hallmark Hall of Fame, is a three-hanky movie starring John Corbett as a special-education teacher who fought to win his students a place at Space Camp. Set in the 1980s — a lot has changed in the education of people with disabilities since then — it’s also a tad too sentimental for my taste. But it ends up making a statement about the importance of goals for people of all abilities that’s essentially timeless.