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Burn Notice: Season One (2007)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 6/17/2008
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/22/2008
For decades, television shows stuck to basic formulas -- doctor shows, cop shows, lawyer shows, westerns, etc. The only time that TV seemed to do anything different was when it was mimicking a successful feature film. (Remember all of the space shows which came in the wake of Star Wars and the adventure shows which followed Raiders of the Lost Ark?) However, modern television has changed quite a bit and many shows don't follow any set formula. Take Burn Notice for example. The show combines action, drama, sex, and comedy in a way that seems chaotic, but gels quite nicely. Season One of the show has just come to DVD.
Jeffery Donovan stars in Burn Notice Michael Westen, an American spy. As the series opens, Michael is on a mission in Nigeria, when he suddenly learns that he's been "burned". In spy lingo, that means that he's lost not only his job, but his identity and finances as well. Michael barely escapes the country with his life, and when he awakens, he's in Miami. He's surprised to find that he's with Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), a former IRA assassin with whom Michael once had a romantic fling. Michael also tracks down Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), a former military man with lots of connections. Michael decides that he will lie low in Miami while he attempts to learn who "burned" him and why. Through Sam, word gets out that Michael has "special skills" and he soon finds himself being hired to help individuals whose problems reach beyond the law. All the while, Michael tries to avoid his nosey mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless), and his shifty brother, Nate (Seth Peterson).
This may sound odd, but despite the fact that I don't like the premise or the raison d'etre of Burn Notice, I really enjoy the show. Let me explain. The idea of a spy who has lost his job without warning and wants to set things right is an interesting one. However, the show keeps this idea very vague. Michael provides narration throughout the series, and while he constantly refers to his "burn notice", we learn very little about it. We know that Michael is determined to find out who "burned" him and why, but there is little information about how he's going to do this and what he'll do if he does learn who's responsible. Thus, this idea is constantly mentioned, but rarely has a great deal of bearing on the action.
While the "burn notice" is being downplayed, the "job of the week" idea moves to the forefront. We've seen this kind of motivating factor in many series where the main character(s) is given a task to solve each week and the story is nicely wrapped-up in an hour. In shows such as The X-Files, this idea works, but it feels very artificial in Burn Notice. Michael begrudgingly takes assignments so that he can make money, when he'd actually like to be exploring his "burn notice". But, of course, if Michael didn't take these jobs, then the show would just be a guy making phone calls and having clandestine meetings. And while this gimmick keeps the show moving, it still feels like a gimmick.
But, once Burn Notice gets rolling, all of these issues fall by the wayside. The show's combination of action and humor is very entertaining, and its charm is hard to deny. I was honestly surprised by just how funny this show is. The characters are all quick-witted and the banter between Michael and Sam is often hilarious. Much of the humor comes from the fact that Michael, a spy who is trained to kill, must now survive the somewhat normal world of Miami. The show's action sequences are often preceded by a montage in which Michael explains how certain weapons and devices work. This admittedly has a MacGyver feel to it, as Michael and Fiona can make weapons and spy-gear out of household items, but it also adds a much welcomed level of intelligence to the show.
The show does a great job of making the characters endearing. In theory, we probably shouldn't like Michael, but as he's been "burned", he's very forthcoming in his voiceovers, and we learn a lot about him and his profession. Also, Michael is a smart-ass, and his quite confidence combined with biting sarcasm make him easy to like. Fiona is a bit off-putting at first, but as she proves her devotion to Michael, her character begins to shine. (Although, her wardrobe still screams "daytime hooker"). Of course, you've got to love Bruce Campbell playing a former Navy S.E.A.L. who is now a borderline alcoholic who sponges off of rich women. As he ends nearly every sentence with "baby", it's easy to imagine that this is Ash from the Evil Dead films living the good life in Miami.
Burn Notice is an interesting hybrid which actually works. Michael Westen wants to know who took his life away and he'll stop at nothing to find it. And, he's a man who knows how to take care of every obstacle in his path. In other hands, this show could have been very dark and violent. However, series creator Matt Nix has turned this idea on its head, bringing us a show with lots of humor and characters we actually care about. I was impressed with Burn Notice: Season One, and I'm looking forward to Season Two.
Burn Notice: Season One searches for answers on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. This four disc boxed set contains all 11 episodes from the show's first season. The shows are all presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp, but it's often quite grainy. I'm not sure if this was intentional, or if it's due to the bright Miami sunshine, but the grain in some scenes is distracting. At other times, it's hardly noticeable. This bright image is never overly bright though. The colors look good, as the show is filled with the bright colors of Miami. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which sounds fantastic. The dialogue is always clear and intelligible. The musical cues fill with front and surround speakers. The action scenes provide nice stereo and surround effects, and the occasional explosion awakens the subwoofer.
The Burn Notice: Season One DVD set contains a few extras. Every episode offers a "Get Burned" option, which is an AUDIO COMMENTARY from creator Matt Nix, and actors Jeffrey Donovan, Bruce Campbell, Gabrielle Anwar, and Sharon Gless. However, it's only for select scenes in each episode. This is very odd, as it often sounds as if the speakers are watching more than just these scenes. Oddity aside, these commentaries are a lot of fun and often quite humorous. The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 4. "Character Montage" (90 seconds) is simply a reel of snippets where the characters say each other's name and list their personality traits. "Girls Gone Burn Notice" (2 minutes) is another montage showing all of the women who were on the show. "Action Montage" (3 minutes) cuts together some of the best action scenes from the show. Why would we watch any of these when we just finished watching the show? The DVD offers a 3-minute GAG REEL which offers a lot of Bruce Campbell ad-libs. "Audition Footage" (10 minutes) shows Donovan and Anwar doing several scenes in preparation for the show.
Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long