Judge Patrick Bromley is feeling a bit singed.
Our reviews of Burn Notice: Season One (published June 25th, 2008), 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), and Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe (Blu-ray) (published August 18th, 2011) are also available.
A new day breaks.
Five seasons in, I'm not totally sure how to feel about the hit USA series Burn Notice. It was and is an entertaining diversion during the summer months when most of the other "better" shows are either in reruns or replaced by D-level reality programming. Burn Notice is cool. Burn Notice is fun. Burn Notice never changes.
That is the show's blessing and its curse. There's something comfortable about the Burn Notice's sameness—it's the kind of series you can drift in and out of during countless summer reruns on cable. On DVD, it's a cinch to breeze through an entire season in a matter of a couple of days. It's easy to watch, and even easier to say "Okay, just one more episode." Before you know it, you've run through 18 shows.
But it hasn't really shown any growth in five seasons, and that could be frustrating for a lot viewers. Burn Notice has always been two shows in one. There's the cool villain-of-the-week spy stuff, in which Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan, Blair Witch: Book of Shadows) and his team—girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar, Body Snatchers) and best friend Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell, The Evil Dead)—help out people in trouble, by taking down bad guys in clever and intricate ways. There's Michael Westen's endless voiceover in which he gives neat spy tips that, even if they're not at all accurate or true, sure sound like they are. Then there's a deeper mythology about Michael being burned and ditched by the CIA, and his need to figure out what happened and who's responsible. That stuff has never really worked; it feels like it's just there so the show isn't an entirely disposable episode-of-the-week ripoff of something like Magnum P.I. or MacGyver.
By Season Five, Michael has already solved the burn notice case what feels like four times over and has been reinstated into the CIA—and, yet, he still can't let it go. It makes the show feel doubly repetitive. While it's easy to overlook the sameness of the "Michael helps out the downtrodden" storylines, at least each week offers a new case that keeps it feeling fresh. That can't be said for the greater mythology.
The 18 episodes that make up Burn Notice: Season Five include…
• "Company Man"
The season is essentially broken into two halves, primarily because that's the way USA aired it (there was a "summer season" and then, a few months later, the second half of the season aired). In the first half, Michael is framed for the murder of a fellow agent and has to work to clear his name, while still appearing to cooperate with the investigation being led by Agent Pearce (Lauren Stamile, Community). In the second half, Michael and his team are blackmailed into doing the bidding of the mysterious Anson Fullerton (Jere Burns, Justified), a psychiatrist with ties to the organization that burned Michael, in order to keep Fiona from going to prison for life.
The first half, in which Michael attempts to outsmart the CIA before they catch up with him, is much stronger, if only because it makes more sense. The extent to which Michael is willing to follow and obey Fullerton just to keep an innocent friend from going to prison doesn't make much sense; not because he would want to keep Fiona out of prison. The will they/won't they tension of the first few seasons is now a thing of the past, but it's not like the show has replaced it with a relationship that's all that compelling or even worth saving. Because he's thought his way out of so many other impossible situations that the fact that he barely even tries to figure a way out of Fullerton's trap stretches credibility past its breaking point. Michael complies because the series needs him to.
Burn Notice: Season Five arrives on DVD courtesy of Fox in a package not unlike every other season. It's disappointing that the show has only received one HD release (Season Two), because the sunny Miami atmosphere and cool spy pyrotechnics are never served quite as well as they ought to be by the standard def DVDs the studio puts out. Still, if this is the best we're going to get, we could do worse. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is softer and hazier than it ought to be, though some of that is a result of the grainy photography the series has always used. Skin tones lean towards orange, which (again) is probably because of the show's sun-soaked Florida palette. The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix offers a good deal of kick for a TV show, with clear dialogue and a lot of immersive effects in the side and rear channels. There's at least one explosion in every episode (usually a car blown up as a distraction), and the audio track affords the action effects some powerful low-end rumble.
Though hardly packed with bonus features, Burn Notice: Season Five contains enough supplemental content to please devoted fans. There's a collection of deleted scenes, a decent blooper reel (both Donovan and Campbell are funny guys), a featurette on Season Five's villains, and a commentary track on the season finale, "Fail Safe." The mid-season episode "Army of One," in which Michael infiltrates a group of thieves holding hostages at an airport, appears in an "extended" format.
Don't think that the gaps in emotional logic make Season Five a bad installment of Burn Notice. It isn't. It's about as good as any of the others, provided you're willing to tolerate the show pretty much spinning its wheels. The villain-of-the-week stuff remains fun, while the overall mythology is messy and mostly unsatisfying. I'm not complaining, though. Burn Notice is fun. It's summer. What more can we ask for?
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