Judge Clark Douglas is a covert operative. He's keeping his eyes peeled for good TV shows. Oh look, he found one!
Our reviews of Burn Notice: Season Two (Blu-Ray) (published July 13th, 2009), Burn Notice: Season Three (published June 7th, 2010), Burn Notice: Season Four (published June 9th, 2011), Burn Notice: Season Five (published June 27th, 2012), and Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe (Blu-ray) (published August 18th, 2011) are also available.
Spies don't get fired, they get burned.
"Know what it's like being a spy? It's like being in a dentist's office twenty-four hours a day. Read magazines, have coffee, and every so often, someone tries to kill you."—Agent Michael Westen
Facts of the Case
Secret Agent Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan, Hitch) is very good at what he does. There's only one problem: somebody doesn't want him to do it anymore. He receives a "burn notice" from the government, meaning that they have decided to drop all contact with him and fire him immediately. Westen has no idea why this is being done to him and determines to find out why. He receives assistance from his IRA-trained ex-girlfriend (Gabrielle Anwar, The Tudors) and his somewhat unreliable best friend (Bruce Campbell, The Evil Dead). Meanwhile, he quietly accepts private detective work in order to pay the bills each month.All eleven season one episodes are spread across four discs, contained in two slim DVD cases.
At a first glance, Burn Notice looks like nothing more than insubstantial fun. It was introduced as a bit of summer filler on the USA television network. It promised a colorful Miami setting, a generous dose of action and adventure, and a generally pleasant vibe. One might suspect that this sort of thing would be a disposable (if quite watchable) dose of fluff. What's really surprising is that Burn Notice is fresh, funny, and immensely entertaining television.
The show is compulsively watchable. The eleven episodes presented here will zip by in no time at all, thanks to some strong writing and a sharp cast. This is a breakout role for Jeffrey Donovan, who makes Ex-Agent Michael Westen a very likable hero. Westen is desperate to discover why he was burned and earned his job back. This is partially because Westen feels that he has been treated unjustly, but mostly because he really, really loves being a spy. He is a responsible and resourceful person who is willing to take on unpleasant tasks when he is required to, but he's not going to pretend that doesn't absolutely love those big moments where he gets to play James Bond or nail a bad guy.
Donovan is backed by a very solid supporting cast. This is a considerably more rugged and gritty role for Gabrielle Anwar (Scent of a Woman), and she pulls it off very well. Okay, maybe the romantic chemistry between Anwar and Donovan is a little less inspiring than one might hope, but she's terrific as a tough-as-nails best friend. Sharon Gless has fun playing Westen's mother, who provides numerous headaches for her son. Seth Peterson (Providence) has a solid smaller role as Westen's leech of a brother, too. Best of all is the immortal Bruce Campbell, playing Westen's slobbish best friend Sam. If you're like me and think that Campbell is 500 different kinds of awesome, you're going to enjoy this show. Bruce is as funny and charming as he has always been, and he seems to be enjoying his role here immensely. I think he's underused here, but I'm only saying that because he isn't in every single scene.
Each episode is pretty densely plotted, presenting a fairly wild and energetic series of events over the course of 42 minutes. The show does a nice job of blending Westen's long-arc dilemma (attempting to find out why he was burned) with self-contained stories for each episode, making this show satisfying whether you watch the whole thing or just individual pieces. Dialogue is frequently witty and sharp, with many of the highlights coming from Westen's amusing monologues on the various inconveniences of being a spy.
The color palette is bright and diverse, which is precisely what you would expect from a show set in Miami. Burn Notice takes full advantage of it's location, but it never uses it as filler. The DVD transfer is pretty solid, though the show does use queasy-cam Bourne-style cinematography a little too often for it's own good. Sound is satisfactory. DVD extras are reasonably generous, too. Many television shows offer full-length commentaries on a handful of notable episodes. This one takes a different approach that I find pretty cool: it offers scene-specific commentaries on each episode. Show creator Matt Nix, Donovan, Anwar, Gless and Campbell provide comments on key scenes from each episode, which is a very satisfying and enjoyable approach. There are also some various montages of additional footage and a gag reel…none of this is terribly interesting, though.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm not a huge fan of one of the show's visual gimmicks, which involves freeze-framing various individuals and offering a title card explaining who they are. Examples: "Stanley—The Potential Client"…"Dick Jones—The Villain"…etc. It's amusing on a few well-timed occasions, but it starts to become rather tiresome after a few episodes. Additionally, the show's music is all over the place. It has plenty of energy to spare, but very little direction, bringing an unfortunately scattershot feeling to the sound design.
If you'd like an action show that is funny, engaging, and intelligent, here you go. Burn Notice is hot stuff.
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• Scene-specific audio commentaries
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