I’ll keep saying it till it isn’t true: “Burn Notice” is one of the best shows on television. It’s unbelievably smart, confident, cool, funny, and exciting. I’m not surprised that fourth-place NBC hasn’t had the smarts to try and grab the show from USA (which is owned by NBC-Universal) and test it out on network primetime where it could have a chance of doing some serious damage. But for now it’s one of the highest-rated shows on cable and with good reason.
As we’re informed at the start of every episode, Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) is a “burned” spy. He’s stuck in Miami (he can’t leave because his loved ones will be at risk), he can’t get legit spy work, he has no money, and his mission is to find out who burned him and why. He’s helped by his “trigger-happy ex-girlfriend” Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and his friend who used to inform on him to the FBI, Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell). While Michael’s big goal is to find out who burned him and it keeps the show cohesive and rewards faithful viewers, it’s usually the B-plot. The A-plot is Michael helping someone in need by using his spy skills. “Burn Notice” is a show where you’re welcome to jump in at any time but you should be forewarned that it’s highly addictive and you’ll probably end up watching all of the episodes anyway.
But don’t think that season two is just more of the same. Creator Matt Nix and his crew really upped their game not just with smarter plots and cooler spy tricks (my favorite being the installation of an x-ray in the trunk of his car) but going on a much darker route. If season one was about Michael trying to find out who burned him, season two is about those people using Michael as a pawn in their game. The only problem: Michael is smarter than everyone and if it weren’t for Tricia Helfer being such a delicious bitch as Michael’s new handler, they’d be painfully outmatched. In fact, if “Burn Notice” has one major flaw, it’s that Michael is too powerful. He has no weaknesses. Even his loved ones are fairly easy to protect and that’s why the best episodes tend to be when Michael is either so powerful it’s just pure comedy or when he actually has a formidable opponent like Jay Karnes as an also-burned spy.
So if Michael’s still the smartest guy in the room with the best team on his side, then how does season two up the stakes? With a body count. “Burn Notice” doesn’t necessarily become a darker show in its second season but while Michael was content to led the bad guys either flee the country or go to jail, this time some of the criminals start ending up dead, not by Michael’s hand but by involved with other being bad people and led into a situation Michael set up. It’s certainly a moral grey area and the show, breezy as it can be in the sunny Miami setting, does meditate for a moment that if you steal a single parent’s life savings, you better hope that Michael Westen never finds you (but he will, and then he’s going to have some fun).
“Burn Notice” is a show I recommend to everyone in a heartbeat. It’s got great performances (especially from Donovan who should be fielding offers to lead movies at this point), brilliant writing, and rewards both causal and faithful viewing. Pick up this DVD and start loaning it out to friends. They’ll thank you for it.
Special features include deleted scenes, audio commentary for “Bad Blood”, “Double Booked”, and “Lesser Evil”, NIXin’ It Up on “Burn Notice” featurette (Nix talks about directing his first episode, “Do No Harm”), and a gag reel.