The USA Network has built up a respectable amount of summer-scheduled programming for those who tire of whatever comes on the major networks. Most of their shows are good, but Burn Notice I haven't given much attention to. But as it turns out it's one of the most popular shows on cable as a recent ad suggested, so I figured I'd give it a try and see what the hype is all about.
Created by Matt Nix, the show's premise is an intriguing one; Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan, Changeling) is a spy for the US government. Or at least he was, until he received a "Burn Notice," or disavowal from them. All of his assets, numerous identities, money, everything, was frozen by the government and it leaves him stuck in Miami. He takes on individual jobs for money, but has to do them with the help of Sam (Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead 2), who informed on his activities to the FBI, and Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar, Scent of a Woman), his ex-girlfriend. Together they try to stay afloat while Michael hopes for the call of reinstatement. Miami happens to be his hometown, so he juggles this excommunicated life and current one while trying to keep his Mom (Sharon Gless, Cagney and Lacey) happy, or at the very least content.
While many of the shows are standalone episodes, all of them include voiceover by Donovan. This is done for several reasons; partially to serve as exposition, but also includes explanations of character behavior. If Michael, Sam and Fiona are doing something, he takes the time to explain the what's and why's from a spy's perspective. This is not only helpful but damned informative in a MacGyver sort of way. Next thing I expect him to do is make plastique out of bubble gum and gun powder or something. Michael is also a chameleon when it comes to dealing with various clients - adopting personas, accents and allowing Sam and Fiona to do the same to give a target as convincing a picture as possible of credibility.
With the trio purring along, it's the flirtations with Michael's reinstatement (or with other individuals/groups) that make for interesting viewing. Whether is an "agent" with questionable motives who attempts to fracture Fiona from Michael or a violent and mysterious man named "Gilroy," the multiple episode arcs make for entertaining viewing over the course of the 16-episode run. When they set their minds to it, the creative forces behind the show can make is suspenseful and thrilling, but don't hesitate to poke fun at themselves or others, such as Campbell's tribute to David Caruso's CSI: Miami character in an episode late in the season.
This is credited to the cast who, for an action show, turn in one of the more underrated performances in recent memory. Campbell is the lure for the pop culture geek in all of us and he has fun as the beer-guzzling Sam, but Donovan and Anwar have excellent on-screen chemistry past what they have to do for each job. Additionally Gless adds a certain mix of humor and emotion to go, and stills shows some of the strength from her Christine Cagney role when it's required to put Michael in line. It was particularly enjoyable to watch "A Dark Road," when Cagney reunites with Tyne Daly (her partner on the show that made them famous), who plays an "asset" that Michael's mom befriends and ultimately has to discard for the sake of the mission Michael undertakes.
Not knowing what I was expecting from Burn Notice, by the end of the season, my wife and I have become fans of the show, and this is without fully knowing some of the parties behind Michael's exile and chances to return to glory. But after watching the show without that context and wanting to know more about it serves as a credit to the show's creative team and is another jewel in the USA crown.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Burn Notice comes to DVD in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen which at first glance would appear to perhaps be a step down from any presumed high definition shooting (or presentation) from broadcast or previous seasons. It's not that exteriors get overblown by design presumably to remind you that Michael is burned, but the show looks excessively grainy to the point of being a distraction. Never having seen the show before there's a fair amount of artistic intent I'm allowing for, but I believe Burn Notice can look better than it does here.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is impressive. Gunshots ring out with clarity throughout the soundstage and the show's many explosions and whooshing sound effects pack a low-end punch of subwoofer activity to go with them. There are some moments when the dialogue tends to fade away in quieter scenes, but with what the soundtrack has to do, I was surprised and impressed by the power it uses.
I was expecting a little more from a television season than two small featurettes, but oh well. "Smash, Crash, Boom" (9:45) takes a look at the stunt crew's work for the show, including preparation and execution, and the difficulties of accomplishing this on a television show budget. Nice, but quick. Also a little on the quick side is the show's panel at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con, which is lacking Donovan and Anwar but has Campbell which in retrospect, more than makes up for it. Bruce is among the people and makes his peers and fans roll with laughter during this segment (10:04), which covers any mysterious questions about the show fans may have.
It's woeful that Burn Notice is treated so shabbily on DVD, but fans of the show are likely to snap it up because they have the first two seasons, or wait until the show completes its broadcast run (in its fourth season now, it has been extended for two more seasons past that). But if you're looking for something new and entertaining in the doldrums of summer, Burn Notice is tailor made to fit the bill.