Burn Notice: Season One DVD: Review By Brian Gallagher

Burn Notice is just another reason why cable is the place to be for solid television these days, and why the USA Network is one of cable’s frontrunners.
  • OVERALL
    4.0
    GREAT
  • Feature
  • Picture
  • Sound
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
THE GOOD
A very intriguing spy premise with wonderfully colorful characters, very slick writing and great acting.
THE BAD
Some of the worst special features I've ever seen here.
THE FEATURE
(Reviewers Note: This DVD set is the first of what I'm calling my "TV Catch-Up on DVD" series. Over the next few weeks, if you see a DVD review for a TV set that came out last year sometime, well, that will likely be a part of this series. Some of these I was sent to review but a few are some I was able to pick up on the cheap recently and wanted to take a crack at. There's, apparently, so much good stuff on TV right now, I just might turn this into an ongoing series. Who knows...)

Burn Notice is one of those fairly-new shows that I have always wanted to take a look at, but just never got around to. Thankfully, awhile back, I received this first-season DVD and I figured it was about time I delved into this sucker, and I'm glad I did because this wonderful first season sets us up for what I hope is many more wonderful seasons to come.

The series revolves around the trials and tribulations of Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), a spy who finds himself in a little bit of hot water when, undercover, trying to negotiate a deal between some powerful people, he finds out there has been a "burn notice" put out on him. Esssentially, he's f%&$ed. After barely making it to the airport and on the plane, he wakes up in Miami with his lovely ex-girlfriend/IRA gunrunner Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) at his bedside, wondering why she was contacted in the first place. It doesn't take long for Michael to find another Miami ally in Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), a former spook himself who still has several contacts that can help Michael as he tries to piece together why he was burned. They make it pretty clear in the pilot that when you're burned, you really have to start from scratch: no assets, no official contacts and, pretty much no identity, so Michael takes on a string of Robin Hood-like jobs as a "private detective" to get back on his feet while trying to solve his burn notice mystery. Oh, and to make matters worse, Michael's neurotic, hypochondriac mother Madeline Westen (Sharon Gless) is also in Miami, which doesn't make matters much easier for Michael as well.

This 11-episode season (well, 12, technically, if you count the two-hour finale) sets up the tales of this main foursome quite nicely. Of course, Jeffrey Donovan's Michael Westen is... eh, was a spy, so we aren't necessarily spoon-fed a thorough backstory for this character, but series creator Matt Nix and his writing staff do a fine job of giving us plenty of little tidbits as to why Michael chose this life and why he is who he is, mainly through the other three main players. We get hints at his former relationship with the stunning Gabrielle Anwar's Fiona Glenanne and hints at his spy exploits through Bruce Campbell's Sam Axe, a former spy colleague, although we're not quite sure how they previously worked together, since we don't even really know who Westen worked for either. Sharon Gless plays possibly the most interesting role here of Michael's circle of trust, although she probably has the smallest role in terms of screen time. Through Gless' Madeline Westen, we find out about Michael's troubles with his father and semi-deadbeat brother Nate (Seth Peterson, in a recurring role) along with Madeline's many issues with her just trying to keep the family together. We get a season full of fine performances from these main four, Donovan as the chameleonic spy who can get into any new cover character quickly, Anwar's Fiona, who keeps sticking around to try and make something work with Michael (and gives us plenty of eye candy as well), Campbell's Sam, who provides a lot of the comic relief here as the booze-happy ex-spy who has a seemingly never-ending string of "lady friends" (or sugar momma's) to keep him afloat and Gless' Madeline as the chain-smoking mother that practically anyone can relate to.

Like most successful series out there, Burn Notice gives us a half-and-half balance between these serialized stories that are wrapped up in each episode and the main through-line of the season, in which Michael keeps inching closer and closer to finding out who burned him and, most importantly, why. They keep it pretty even throughout the series, with an equal amount devoted to the compartmentalized problem in each episode and carrying the main storyline through, and these serialized bits give way to a very solid guest-star lineup that includes Dexter's David Zayas as Michael's first "client" and Ray Wise in the pilot along with China Chow in a semi-recurring role as Lucy, who helps Michael out from time to time, Essai Morales (who you might not know now, but you'll know when Caprica hits the SyFy airwaves) as another client, Steven Bauer as a baddie and even Lucy Lawless as another client... kind of. There's also another semi-recurring role here from Paul Tei who plays Barry, a sympathetic money launderer and, while we see him plenty in this season, he's so good in this character that I wish we saw him more.

What we also get here, though, that is a bit unlike most shows, is a very heavy dose of narration from Michael that sometimes gives us insights into his unique skill set, but, most often, serves as practically instruction on how to pull off some of these neat little spy tricks, things that show off the brilliant writing of Nix and his crew with things that can easily be done but are so obscure they wouldn't really come to any normal mind. One such trick, for example, comes in the pilot, where Michael is trying to get rid of a tough-guy drug dealer that lives downstairs from him and Michael explains through narration how most average tough-guys will have a bulletproof door, but that the wall next to it is just plaster. We then see Michael take him down through the plaster with a shot to his leg and then he just walks around the back to persuade him never to come back again. The whole season is chocked full of cool little moments like that, moments that anyone who ever dreamed of being 007 or some sort of covert operative will surely get a kick out of.

Burn Notice is just one hell of a good time, folks. USA has become quite masterful at creating these intriguing characters and infusing just enough fun, humor and drama to keep viewers tuning in every week, and I'm starting to take notice myself.
THE EXTRAS
We get a solid serving of special features on this four-disc set, most of which are on the fourth disc, however there is scene-specific commentary on all four discs, and this fourth disc has some of the weirdest special features I've ever seen. The features kick off with a Character Montage, which is kind of weird. It's just this minute-and-a-half thing that just has all these characters names spliced together. I'm not sure what purpose this serves, but we're not off to the best start here.

Girls Gone Burn Notice is next and it's another little montage here... but I guess I can appreciate this one a little more. This two-minute montage just shows us a number of the beautiful women who either played bit parts or just served as between-scene eye candy throughout the season. There's no real purpose to this one either.... but it's much nicer to look at if you're a guy.

Action Montage is the third of these weird montages but these are of all the spiffy action scenes throughout the season. Again, I'm not sure what the point of this thing is, and these seem like more for promotional use than use on the special feature side... especially since we just, you know, watched the season, but whatever. It's about two and a half minutes long, and if you want to see all the chase/fight/explosion scenes again, knock yourself out here.

Gag Reel is next and a lot of this from Bruce Campbell and the many different comedic angles he takes, but we get a few from Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar as well. At just over three minutes it's the longest feature here, so indulge in those extra seconds, folks.

Audition Footage is next and we get about five minutes from Jeffrey Donovan and another five minutes or so from Gabrielle Anwar doing most of the same scenes. It's nice to see their early takes on these characters, but the audio isn't the greatest on these, as you could imagine, but it's worth checking out... mainly since it isn't a montage of some sorts...

The last thing we get here keeps in the tradition of weirdness here. It's a music video by Everlast for the theme song... of Saving Grace. While you may think it's weird since Burn Notice is on USA and Saving Grace is on TNT, both shows are produced by 20th Century Fox Television Studios and the DVDs are put out by Fox Home Entertainment, so yeah. I've never seen a weirder collection of special features on a TV set, so I guess this is a fitting end.
THE VIDEO
The show is presented in the widescreen format in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
THE AUDIO
The sound is handled through the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound format.
THE PACKAGE
Nothing terribly fancy, but effective. This four-disc set is housed in two mini-cases in a sheath and the front of the sheath just has a shot of Donovan and Anwar looking lovely as ever (Anwar, not Donovan), both holding guns, with a title card and small tagline as well. The back of the sheath has a critics quote, solid synopsis, a shot of Donovan in action along with five smaller images and a very small special feature listing along with the billing block and tech specs. Each mini-case has a different shot of Donovan and Anwar on the front, with a nice episode listing and special features listing on the back, along with more smaller, random images. Nice work here.
THE FINAL WORD
Burn Notice is just another reason why cable is the place to be for solid television these days, and why the USA Network is one of cable's frontrunners. It's full of action, humor, sex appeal and, most of all, just a lot of good old fun and this is definitely a show I'll be following from now on.

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Comments (3)

  1. Brian Gallagher

    This one keeps kicking arse in the ratings, so I'm sure we'll see this one for at least a few more years to come. Thanks guys!

    Peace in. Gallagher out!

    5 years agoby @gallagherFlag

  2. Shelley

    Great show and great review Gallagher, one of my favorites.

    5 years agoby @shelleyFlag

  3. 313td

    Nice review for a really good show,one of my favorite shows on TV.Lets hope this one keeps going.

    5 years agoby @313tdFlag