“My name is Michael Weston. I used to be a spy until, ‘you’ve got a burn notice’. 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 used to inform 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 has all the earmarks of a really great television series. It has Bruce Campbell, and that alone should make it worth watching. The concept is a clever one and not the usual kind of spy show we’ve already seen too much of. The problem is that it’s not a great show. It’s not even a very good show. Campbell is way too underutilized and would have improved this series if he’d been in the lead role. I can see him as Weston big time. The series is also way too over-stylized. Ever since 24 and those distracting frames, there has been this race to see who can be the most distracting and annoying. Burn Notice wins hands down. There is this incessant need to freeze-frame the image at the most ludicrous moments. Somehow this is intended to up the drama ante. If that’s the ante, I fold. There’s too much annoying narration from Weston. Back in writing school you’re taught over and over again that you need to show, not tell. Here the Weston narration treats us like we’re kindergarten kids who need every little action he takes explained in incredibly boring detail. He then throws in some not very funny moments of wit that just fall flat.
The USA network has had a pretty good track record of exceptional shows with very embraceable characters. From The Dead Zone to Monk, there have been some wonderfully character-driven series. I think maybe this quirky idea that started with Monk might have run its course, and it’s time to look in a new direction. Here that off-center attitude is already getting to appear forced. It’s as if they were going to push these characters into that established mold no matter how much they had to pound that square peg into that round hole. What made these other characters good wasn’t just their quirky natures. It was the ease with which the actors fell into that nature. Again, this might have worked with Bruce Campbell in the Weston role. Instead, Jeffrey Donovan doesn’t have enough presence to really pull it off. I can understand why he got burned. He’s too damn annoying. It irks me just to hear him speak, and that’s a huge problem, because he talks almost nonstop.
In this third season, the veil has been lifted, and now Weston is known and traceable. It leads to a better set of complicated situations. It’s one of those be-careful-what-you-wish- for scenarios, to be sure. You won’t get any more answers than you do new questions, so don’t expect any enlightenment here at all. You will find two new very good characters. Both are bad guys. Ben Shenkmen plays Tom Strickler, and the best of these new characters is the mysterious Brennen played by The Shield‘s Jay Karnes.
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. There really isn’t anything wrong with this image, but it never cries out either. It’s shot in Miami, and when you look at shows like Dexter with the same locations and climate, it’s like night and day. The cinematography is rather dull and lacking in any distinctive color. Now seeing this in standard definition, it’s even worse. The whole image remains rather mundane. Even the fire explosions and colorful garb never really manage to excite the senses here.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track continues to be pretty solid. I was impressed with sub levels and sound placement overall. There’s a ton of dialog here, and it works well.
The release does not have near the extras of the second season. You get all the episodes on 4 discs. The two lone bonus features appear on disc 4:
Smash, Crash, Boom: (9:45) This is a look at the stunts which make up a huge part of the show. They tell us that they do not want us to feel like we’re watching a great car chase. They want us to feel like we’re in a great car chase.
Comic-Con 2009: (10:04) Excerpts from a Burn Notice panel at last year’s convention, hosted by Michael Shanks from Stargate. Just as in the series itself, Bruce Campbell is the life and soul of the party. He’s in top form here.
When I said the above things after the second season I expected the fans to let me have it. I didn’t hear a peep. The truth is, this series has great characters and very cool stories. If only they weren’t so over-the-top stylish. I think I could actually love this show. “That’s all I have to say.”