June 21, 2010

If you’ve read my DVD reviews for season one and season two of USA’s Burn Notice, then you know that I’m kind of in love with the show.  It has a formula and it (mostly) continues to work due to strong performances and sharp writing.  What I like most about the Burn Notice is that it’s redefined my notion of what a spy thriller can be.  It doesn’t negate a show like Chuck or the James Bond movies, but its matter-of-fact tone is a fresh take on the genre that you won’t find anywhere else.

Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) says in the show’s intro, “As long as you’re burned, you’re not going anywhere.”  Hit the jump for my take on where Burn Notice went in its third season.

[Warning: This review includes brief spoilers for seasons one and two]

When we last saw Michael, he was swimming back to shore after rejecting Management’s offer of protection.   Unfortunately, the show doesn’t really capitalize on unseen threats as the beginning of the the season isn’t about Michael dealing with old enemies as much as it’s about evading the investigation of Miami Detective Michell Paxson (Moon Bloodgood).  She’s yet another antagonist Michael must outsmart while trying to help clients in each episode.  At least she’s not another string-puller, but that also makes her more of a distraction rather than a player in the spy game.

Season three is at its best when it’s pushing Michael to discover how far he’s willing to go to remove his burn notice.  The arc involving “Agent to the Spies” Tom Strickler (Ben Shenkman) is a nice twist because it’s Michael electing to work for a slimy boss rather than being forced into service like in season two and the latter half of season three. Unfortunately, the overall formula begins wearing thin in the third season even though Michael’s objective is no longer trying to find out who burned him, but attempting to undo his burn notice.

However, show remains strong due to its smart plotlines and terrific performances.  While there are still some of Michael’s MacGyver tricks, this season focuses more on long-term planning and executing a trap for the baddie-of-the-week.  The season also features some of Michael’s best covers yet.  My personal favorite is in the episode “Friendly Fire” where he essentially convinces a gang that he’s the devil.

And I’ll keep saying it until it happens: Jeffrey Donovan needs to be a movie star.  Michael’s covers require Donovan to essentially play a new character in every episode and he pulls it off every single time.  Studios, producers, and directors are missing out if they’re not trying to cast him in their films.

As for the rest of the cast, Burn Notice underutilized Sharon Gless in the previous seasons and season three corrects that mistake.  Madeline gets more to do this year as she becomes involved in the spy game beyond housing clients and telling Michael how worried she is about him.  Her interrogation of a suspect in “The Hunter” is one of the best moments in the entire series.  Gless also does fantastic work in “A Dark Road” where she’s forced to burn an asset (played by Gless’ Cagney & Lacey co-star Tyne Daly).  The series also brings back vengeful arms dealer Tyler Brennan (Jay Karnes) and Michael’s psychopathic mentor-turned-assassin Larry Sizemore (Tim Matheson) for an episode a piece. I’m hoping both will return in season four, particularly Brennan.

As for the DVD itself, I’m sad to say that it’s weak release.  The transfer looks like grainy garbage and it makes no sense not to offer the show on Blu-ray when they gave season two the Blu-ray treatment.  Grain is fine when you want to convey grittiness, but Burn Notice is all about being slick.  It’s also one of the highest-rated shows on cable.  I think Fox would get a good return on their investment.  They’ve also found a way to include even fewer special features.  Gone are the audio commentaries and all you’ll get this year are the featurettes “Smash, Crash, Boom: Inside the Burn Notice Stunt Unit” and “2009 San Diego Comic-Con International”.

But when it comes to the show, Burn Notice is one of the best on TV.  Season three is a little weaker than the previous two but there’s nothing so major as to damage its reputation.  Fans will find plenty of replay value and people who haven’t seen season three will be tearing through all four discs in a matter of days.  Despite its growing over-reliance on its formula, I’m glad that Michael Westen isn’t going anywhere.  He’s so much fun to have around.

Rating: B

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