Thursday, December 19, 2013

TV Show Review: Burn Notice - The Complete Series

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Action, great characters, bits of humor
Cons: Burn story line not always clear, darker final season and a half
The Bottom Line:
TV spy thriller
Filled with action you’d expect
Make for a fun ride

When You’re a TV Viewer Looking for a Spy Show….

As a self-described USA Network addict, I automatically start watching any new show they put on the air.  The last time I didn’t do that was with Burn Notice.  Once I started hearing such raves for it, I tuned in to the season one reruns just before season two started and I’ve been hooked ever since.

The series revolved around Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan).  He used to be a spy until he got a phone call in the middle of an operation.  Suddenly, he had to get out on his own, something he just barely managed to do.  Next thing he knows, he’s been dumped in Miami.  For better or worse, it’s his home town, which means having to deal with his chain smoking mother Madeline (Sharon Gless), a woman he doesn’t necessarily get along with all that well with.  The only people who are still talking to him are his ex-girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), a gun runner for the NRA, and Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), an ex-Navy Seal who also happens to be reporting on Michael to the feds.

With no job history that he can report, Michael has to start earning money however he can, so he reluctantly takes jobs to help those in need.  He takes on your average problems if your average problems happen to be drug runners or gun smugglers or kidnappers or gang members or extortionists or any other number of things.  Along the way, he meets Jesse Porter (Coby Bell), a man in a situation much like his own.  Meanwhile, he also is trying to figure out who burned him and why so he can go back to work for the CIA.  However, that conspiracy may be much more complicated than he ever expected.

For the most part, the episodes followed a pattern.  Two-thirds would be devoted to the case of the week while one-third would be devoted to the latest development in Michael trying to clear his name from the burn notice.  Of course, that formula wasn’t always true (mid-season and season finales, for example, were almost always burn notice exclusive).  The two plot lines would overlap each other as the episode progressed.  This meant that there was something for the casual or new viewer in every episode, although you obviously wouldn’t follow everything that was happening.  They got away from this in the last season, but it held true for most of the show’s run.

This show was something you didn’t find much on TV, or at least I didn’t – pure action and adventure.  Every episode had stunts and chases and explosions.  Okay, so they might be on a smaller scale than you’d find in the movies, but I often felt like I was watching an action movie as I watched an episode.  Occasionally, the low budget would come into play, but most of the time I’d believe what I was seeing, too.  While you knew the good guys would win in the end, the odds were often so overwhelming I was left wondering exactly how that would happen.

Of course, when I think about action, I tend to think the characters will be shallow.  That’s not the case here at all.  Granted, there is more time with a TV show to develop characters, but I felt all of the main characters were great.  Even a few of the recurring characters got some development, which made me love them, too.  The main actors were great at bringing their characters to live every week.  I never found a poor performance in the bunch.

And I can’t leave out the humor.  Despite the high stakes and the action, this show mixed in a liberal dose of dry wit, either in Michael’s voiceover narration or in the banter between the regulars.  No, it wasn’t a comedy, but it did help lighten the mood, and I often laughed at a line or exchange.

While they did occasionally leave Miami in the later seasons, most of the episodes were set and filmed in Miami.  The gorgeous weather and tropical feel certainly helped give this an escapist feel that I enjoyed.

Unfortunately, the show did have its flaws.  The first was the on-going story of Michael’s burn notice.  Somewhere around season 3 or 4, it got pretty convoluted and hard to follow.  It even seemed like what happened one week contradicted what happened in a previous episode, but maybe that was just me.  Either way, I just gave up trying to follow that storyline too closely and just enjoyed the case of the week.  Eventually, they did get the burn notice back under control and it started making sense again.

The other flaw was probably more personal, but I found it got darker in tone in the second half of season six through the end of the series.  For a show that dealt with some pretty hardened criminals each week, the show had managed to stay light up until then.  However, as the odds went from overwhelming to staggering, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much.  I did like how the series ended, on the other hand, and I definitely plan to watch and enjoy it again.

The show lasted for seven seasons on the USA Network, and each season had roughly sixteen episodes (some had more and a couple had less).  This set combines all the previous released, so you get 111 episodes of the show.  Extras include a very few commentaries, deleted scenes, bloopers, and a few featurettes on the stunts and other behind the scenes fun of the show.  There is nothing new if you've been collecting the series all the way along.  The only thing you are missing is the Sam Axe prequel movie which was filmed, aired, and released separately.

Despite the flaws, I really did enjoy Burn Notice.  If you are looking for some fun action with great characters, you will find you enjoy the series as well.  Fans new and old will enjoy being able to watch these episodes whenever they feel like it thanks to this complete series set.

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