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Burn Notice: Season Four

Fox // Unrated // June 7, 2011
List Price: $49.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted June 12, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
The fourth season of Burn Notice hits makes its way on to DVD just in time for the TV premier of the fifth season in a few short weeks.  An action/spy show with a good dollop of comedy and just a touch of romance and mystery, Burn Notice is still as fun and exciting as it ever was.

If you've never seen the show before, it revolves around an ex-spy, Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan), who... well, let me let Michael himself explain the show.  He does such a good job in the montage sequence that begins each episode:
My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy. Until... [voice on phone] "We got a burn notice on you. You're blacklisted."  When you're burned, you've got nothing: no cash, no credit, no job history. You're stuck in whatever city they decide to dump you in.  You do whatever work comes your way. You rely on anyone who's still talking to you:  A trigger-happy ex-girlfriend, an old friend who used to inform on you to the FBI, family too... if you're desperate.  Bottom line? Until you figure out who burned you... you're not going anywhere.
Now Michel lives in a one room loft above a night club, and hangs out with the aforementioned ex-girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and Sam (Bruce Campbell) and occasionally hassled by his mother Madeline (Sharon Gless).  Since he doesn't have a job and can't get one, he helps people who have need of his unique abilities.  This may involve finding a boy who has been kidnapped, making sure an abusive father doesn't get custody of his kids, or helping a fashion designer discover who has been stealing from her.  Anything that the cops can't, or won't handle, Michael can.

Like the previous seasons, this set of shows has a larger plot running through the whole year.  At the end of season three, Michael was barely able to stop a psychopathic ex-spy from blowing up parts of Miami's skyline.  In this season, the organization that arranged for Weston to get burned needs his help.  They want him to track down the man who sent the psycho.  He's very leery about working with the people who ruined his life, but when he sees the damage the mystery man can do, he agrees to look into it, as long as he's calling the shots.
The first thing Michael does is break into a Federal office building, with some intel from his new contact Vaughn, and steals some files he hopes will lead him to the man he's tracking.  Unfortunately, the main thing this act does is get the intelligence operative in charge of the files, Jesse Porter, burned.

Feeling guilty about this, Michael manages to meet Jesse, sets him up with a room in his mother's garage, and takes him on as part of his crew.  With the new member, the group continues to help people that the law can't while searching for the elusive uber-criminal who is neigh untouchable.
This season was good solid entertainment.  It's not quite as good as the previous year's worth of shows, but only by a small margin.  There were several exciting and funny episodes and zipping through the whole series in short order was very enjoyable.  Highlights include the episode where Michael helps protect the doctor running a neighborhood clinic from a group of drug dealers (the ending was especially entertaining) and the installment where Michael asks him mother to help him rob a bank. 
The key to this show's success is the right mix of action, humor, and characterization.  No one aspect dominates the program and that's not an easy mix to pull off.  I was a little worried about the addition of Jesse to the show, but it turned out to be the right move.  The new team member doesn't work as well with the others, which is natural.  Jesse likes to do things his way and doesn't always agree with Michael's calls, and the slight friction is realistic and entertaining.   The only real critique I have is that the show is starting to get a little repetitive.  Some of the plots seem a bit to similar to stories from past seasons.  This hasn't become a real problem yet, but they do need to mix things up a bit from time to time.

As for the cast, they do a good job bringing the show to life.  Jeffrey Donovan is cut from the James Bond mold, a dashing pretty boy who isn't afraid of getting his hands dirty, and Gabrielle Anwar is fine as his trigger happy female counterpart.  Anwar is a bit too petit and waif-like to really pull off fight scenes, but that's forgivable.  The real standout among the cast is Bruce Campbell.  Without him the program wouldn't be half as good.  He plays the womanizing ex-Navy Seal boozehound to perfection.  Whenever he's on the screen the show is much more interesting (and the writers get kudos for his name, Sam Axe, an homage to the role that started his career.)
The DVD:

The 16 episodes that make up season three arrive on 4 DVDs that are housed in a space saving single-width keepcase.
The show's DD 5.1 soundtrack fits it well, though with a little tweaking the show could have a more engulfing feel.  The whole soundstage is used to good effect in the action sequences with exploding buildings and crashes filling the room with noise.  Unfortunately when these are over, the audio collapses for the most part into a stereo mix.  When the main characters are sitting at a table in a bar, boosting the ambient sound effects going to the rears just a bit would have improved things a lot.  Aside from that the show sounds good with strong dialog and a full dynamic range.  
The visual impact of this show takes a bit of getting used to.  The 1.78:1 anamorphic image reproduces the show very well, but the look of the show may cause some viewers to think the disc was poorly mastered.  This isn't the case.  The show itself is soft and grainy, and some scenes are overblown with washed out colors and white that overpower fine details (these are usually exterior shots during the day, to simulate the bright Miami sun).  That was the look the creators were going for, and while it's not my favorite style, it does manage to create an atmosphere.  The overall image is pretty good, but it is a step down from the Blu-ray release that they had for season two.  The detail isn't quite as fine.  I finished up season two immediately before starting season three and the difference was obvious but not great.  On the digital side of things there is some aliasing, especially when they pan across the Miami skyline, but its never distracting.
They included a single commentary track on this set (to the final episode) which is nice.  The lack of any commentaries was something that was noticeably missing from the previous release.  In addition there are some fun video bonuses.  Sam Axe's Guide to Ladies and Libations is a funny bit where Bruce Campbell looks at his character that is well worth watching.  There is a pair of 'roasts' (Burn Notice Roasts White Collar and White Collar Roasts Burn Notice) that have a few funny moments but are not as entertaining as I was hoping.  Those interested in the behind-the-scenes running of a show will enjoy Best-Laid Plans:  The Stunts of Burn Notice where, as you'd guess from the title, some of the stunts are examined.  The set is rounded off with a slightly amusing gag reel and a series of deleted scenes.
Final Thoughts:
I'll be the first to admit that you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief while watching this series, but if you can do that you'll find a hip, cool, spy show that has just the right mix of action, humor, and sticky situations.  Season four is just as entertaining as the previous three, even if some of the plots seem to be familiar.  It's a show that's a lot of fun to watch.  Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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