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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
he USA network has had great success over the last few years with original series like “Monk” and “Psych,” but when Matt Nix’s “Burn Notice” premiered in the summer of 2007, I don’t think anyone thought it would become such a runaway hit. As a result, the show was rewarded with an extended second season that was ultimately split into two parts. It took some time for the spy drama to figure out what worked from what didn’t, but thanks to sharp writing and a dynamic cast, “Burn Notice” once again cemented its status as one of the most enjoyable shows on television.
After getting closer to learning the identity of the person who burned him in the Season One finale, ex-CIA operative Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) is back with a vengeance. Though he’d much rather continue his investigation into the burn notice, Michael runs into interference when his new handler, Carla (Tricia Helfer), assigns him a mission that’s just as mysterious as the organization she represents. Of course, when he’s not out doing Carla’s dirty work, Michael’s earning a reputation as a spy-for-hire with the help of friends Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and Sam (Bruce Campbell). Whether it’s teaming up with a DEA agent to stop a Mexican drug lord, beating an overconfident conman at his own game, or shutting down a Russian trafficking outfit, Michael proves time and again why he’s the best at what he does.
One of the major reasons “Burn Notice” made such a big splash in its debut season is because it’s the only show on TV like it. The action, drama and comedy are deftly blended together, and though these elements alone make for an entertaining package, it’s the way in which it’s all executed that makes it so special. Not even MacGyver taught his audience how to build a makeshift X-ray machine, or schooled them on handy driving techniques, but Michael Weston does just that, and with a lively narration to boot. If there’s such a thing as being born for a role, there’s no doubt Jeffrey Donovan was destined to play the quick-witted superspy. His understanding of the character goes well beyond just playing a role, and in Season Two, he really gets to have some fun with a variety of silly cover IDs and accents – the best of which is his scared loser schtick.
As great as Donovan is, however, “Burn Notice” wouldn’t work without its supporting cast, and though Gabrielle Anwar takes a back seat in the second season, Bruce Campbell gets to play a much bigger role as a result. Fans of Anwar might not be too thrilled about this development, but those who initially watched the series because of Campbell’s involvement will be pleased to see that the writers are finally beginning to take advantage of having such a great character actor at their disposal. Anwar still gets to look sexy, play the role of enforcer, and even gets a romantic subplot with Donovan, but when it comes to the missions themselves, Campbell’s Sam Axe is simply a better fit as Michael’s go-to guy. Oddly enough, some of Anwar and Campbell’s best scenes come from being paired together, as they often clash due to contradicting personalities.
Though Season Two got off to a bit of a rough start when the series tried to focus more on the mythos behind Michael’s burn notice, it eventually turned things around in the second half with some of the best episodes to date. Michael’s undercover gig as the new safecracker for a team of jewel thieves is one of few highlights of the first half of the season, but there’s nary a bad episode in the final batch of seven. Better yet, the writers also figured out how to serve up episodes that were a departure from the typical format, like “Bad Breaks,” where Michael finds himself stuck in the middle of a bank robbery. He’s still technically helping a client in this episode, but the manner in which it’s achieved is a fresh take on the otherwise monotonous weekly formula. No matter how predictable it may seem, however, escapism entertainment doesn’t have to be just fun or action-packed – it can be smart too, and “Burn Notice” is that and so much more.
Special Features: Those still on the fence about picking up Season Two of "Burn Notice" on Blu-ray should probably stick to the DVD version, because the show is shot with so much intended grain that it doesn’t look too great in high definition. The special features are also exactly the same and include cast and crew audio commentaries on only three episodes, a handful of deleted scenes, a ten-minute gag reel, and a short production featurette on the making of Episode Ten (“Nixin’ it Up on Burn Notice”).