Burn Notice: Season Two

(2008) *** Unrated
684 min. USA. Director: Tim Matheson. Cast: Jeffrey Donovan, Bruce Campbell.

/content/films/3455/2.jpg"My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy...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's informing 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."

Burn Notice's weekly recap is as good a way as any to get up to speed those who aren't already addicted to USA's adventure thriller. Long underrated character actor Jeffrey Donovan (Changeling) plays Michael Westen, an ex-spy stuck in Miami and trying to figure out who "burned" him and why. The show's central gag is that Westen, though ruthlessly efficient on the job, is a softie at heart, beholden by his conscience to the unjustly victimized, and his family. Count among the latter his real family--not-to-be-ignored mother Madeline (Sharon Gless of Cagney & Lacey) and brother Nate (Seth Peterson)--and his surrogate family: on-again, off-again girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar of Scent of a Woman) and hard-drinking former Navy Seal Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell of the Evil Dead films).

Each week, someone acquainted with Michael's unique skills (often someone in his family circle) comes to Michael with a problem that needs solving: freeing an innocent's name, recovering someone taken hostage, recovering money from con men--that sort of thing. Meanwhile, Michael obsessively pursues leads in a never-ending quest to restore the life abruptly taken from him. It's a formula for fun, especially with a cast of characters that never lets Michael get away with tamping down his emotions. Campbell is at the top of wise-cracking game as Sam. Anwar makes a sultry, heartfelt but kick-ass foil for Michael.

Fiona: If this was about revenge, I'd be fine with it.
Michael: Revenge is a waste of time.
Fiona: Well, so is watching TV and eating candy. You do it 'cause it feels good.

And Gless is a hoot as she attempts--with mostly selfish indomitability--to restore a severed bond with her son (she's so savvy, one half expects she's the one who orchestrated Michael's burn--just to get him back).

Season two's part in the ongoing mythology focuses on Carla (Tricia Helfer), a deadly handler who knows more than she's letting on as she blackmails Michael into tasks to a secretive end. It's a game of cat and mouse that adds higher stakes to the weekly proceedings. These sixteen episodes also feature the emotional complication of Fi's new boyfriend Campbell (Gary Weeks). Fans will drop their jaws when Sam gets into a fistfight with Michael (don't worry--they make up), and sometime director Tim Matheson steps in front of the camera as an a-hole former spy colleague of Michael's, another force to be reckoned with.

Another part of the show's appeal is its spy-manual narration, delivered to dry perfection by Donovan. When Michael preps for an operation with readily available household tech, it's a little touch of MacGyver: "Using sound to determine an enemy's position is one of the oldest techniques in war, whether it's putting an ear to the ground or bouncing sonar off a submarine. If you can get your enemy on the phone, that opens up new possibilities. Hook up your cell phone to an amplifier and a computer that can analyze sound, and you have a powerful weapon if you know how to use it." These passages are often set-ups for a visual punchline.

Creator Matt Nix manages convincing action sequences and a sense of danger while keeping the show essentially optimistic and light-footed. With its comic tone, troubled romance, and fomula of problems to be puzzled out and solved in action by a tight-knit team, Burn Notice is not unlike the Brit heist show Hustle. Except with more yogurt, Michael's omnipresent nosh of choice.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 3

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 6/16/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In mirrored Blu-ray and DVD sets, Burn Notice: Season Two hits the shelves. Image quality isn't too stellar, but the Blu-ray certainly offers a more stable and detailed picture than its DVD equivalent. The show is meant to look rough and grainy, but the picture quality is still disrupted by a large number of distracting digital artifacts (wavering contrast, edge enhancement, macroblocking, bleeding color, banding) that may owe to compression issues: each of three discs in the set holds five to six episodes, not to mention the smattering of bonus features. Still, I'd take the Blu-ray over the DVD any day, and audiophiles will appreciate hearing the show in sturdy DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes.

Across the three discs you'll find "Bad Blood" audio commentary with Bronwen Hughes, Ben Watkins, Rashad Raisani, Matt Nix, Rob Benedict and Method Man; "Double Booked" audio commentary with Tim Matheson, Jason Tracey, Craig O’Neill and Matt Nix; and "Lesser Evil" audio commentary with Matt Nix, Bruce Campbell and Michael Shanks; as well as Deleted Scenes on select episodes.

"NIXin' It Up on Burn Notice" (13:57, SD) is an interview with creator/writer/director Matt Nix about the making of the episode "Do No Harm" from pre-production to wrap.

Fans will love the plus-size "Gag Reel" (10:22, SD) and the sort-of Easter Egg "Boom Notice" (8:38, SD), an entertaining crew in-joke starring boom operator Fred (with a cameo by Donovan).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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