Sunday, June 19, 2011

Burn Notice

Last Tuesday saw Fox Home Entertainment drop Burn Notice: Season Four, a four-disc, eighteen-episode set just in time for the show's fifth season premiere next week (June 23). Here's my review.
The Show
Season four stands as my favorite year of Burn Notice to date. I say that while eating a certain amount of crow, as I was convinced that it had the potential to be the worst, but it ended up being a very pleasant surprise. I've already discussed at length how the series successfully upended its own formula, so I won't repeat myself too much here.
This season will always be special to me personally, because it was the first for my friend Coby Bell (The Game, Third Watch) as Jesse Porter. I like the character of Jesse, but as a writer, I'm almost more appreciative of how his introduction allowed the writers to explore new themes and approaches with the show's existing framework. Not to mention they hired the right type of actor - Coby has been a series regular on both a drama and a comedy, and so he fits very well in Burn Notice's pitch-perfect mix of both. And I say this without bias, because I didn't meet him until after he'd impressed me on screen.
There are some pretty awesome guest stars in this season, too. One of my all-time favorite actors, Robert Patrick (The Unit), turns up as (what else?) a villain. You'll also see Danny Pino (Cold Case), Robert Wisdom (The Wire), Navi Rawat (Numbers), Matt Winston (Nikita), and return appearances from Tim Matheson (The West Wing), Jay Karnes (The Shield), and the always-awesome Garret Dillahunt (Raising Hope). Burn Notice has a wonderful ensemble, and the writers have mastered the trick of providing them with worthy guest stars, without taking too much away from the regulars. For example, this season also sees an expanded role for Sharon Gless, with predictably great results.
The DVDs
Different studios, different packaging: unlike the two USA shows released by Universal (Royal Pains andCovert Affairs), Burn Notice comes in a hard plastic case with the discs set up flipbook-style inside. I have to say I like this approach better as there's less packaging to handle. There's no booklet, but most of the information you'll want is on the inside front cover (episode titles, which special features are on which disc). There are two noticeable omissions: unlike the USHE sets, you don't get episode summaries - due to the obvious lack of space - and you're not told who's on the commentary track. (Scroll down; the next section has that information for you.)  These aren't grievous omissions, though the former might be frustrating for Burners who don't know the episodes by name.
There's two minor things that bug me about this box, though. One is that the art doesn't include Jesse; I know this is the same promo art that was used by USA, so it's not FOX's fault, but were it up to me I'd want all the series regulars on the box. The other thing is the wording on the back of the box, which is unnecessarily confusing. I'm going to quote here:
Michael Westen is back, and this time, he's joined by Jesse Porter, a no-nonsense counter-intelligence expert who has been burned himself. Along with go-to guy Sam and the dangerously sexy Fiona, the team takes on a barrage of outlaw biker gangs, drug dealers and a worldwide terrorist threat.
I know I'm nitpicking here, but that second sentence makes me raise an eyebrow. The way it's phrased, it reads like Sam and Fiona are "along with" the team, not part of the team itself, which regular viewers of the show know couldn't be more wrong. Also, it's a wee bit odd that the paragraph uses full names for Michael and Jesse but not for Sam or Fiona. I'll forgive not mentioning Maddie, if only because she's not always part of the spy shenanigans, but I definitely think the box text could have been written better.
Menus are simple, a little busier than the other USA shows, but easily navigable. You'll get a forced trailer for White Collar; not surprising when the pilot for that show is included with this set. There's a "play all" but no scene selection. This set is the first of the USA series I've reviewed this month that's actually had support for a language other than English. Burn Notice comes with English-only audio, but it has subtitles for English SDH, Spanish, French and Portuguese.
Specs-wise, you're in widescreen (1:78:1) with an English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track. The sound and video looked great on my TV and my computer (though some shots were a little dark on the computer); I'd call it an above-average transfer - not stunning, but very, very good and fans should enjoy it.
I really wish that Burn Notice would come out on Blu-Ray again, but my guess is that the BR release of season two didn't sell enough to make the studio want to proceed with further seasons. It's a shame, because having enjoyed the show on USA HD, I can say that it would look fantastic in Blu.
The Special Features
Commentary: Located on Disc 4. On the season finale ("Last Stand"). It is, however, a spectacular track. It includes series creator Matt Nix, executive producer/writer Alfredo Barrios, Jr., and actors Jeffrey Donovan, Coby Bell and Robert Wisdom (Vaughn). The five of them are hilarious, unafraid to pick on each other, their own show, and other shows. (There's a dig at Royal Pains in there.) When they're not laughing, though, they also impart plenty of information about the production of the season ender. The only downside to the track being so good is that it makes me disappointed that there's only one.
Gag Reel: Located on Disc 1. Any gag reel involving Bruce Campbell is hilarious by default, but this one gives us flubs and screwups from almost all the main cast members (Sharon Gless is sadly absent), and a few guest stars. Oh, Jay Karnes, I will never, ever tire of seeing you.
Deleted Scenes: Scattered across all four discs. The usual assortment of scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor.
Best Laid Plans: The Stunts of Burn Notice: Not as thorough as I was hoping for - this consists of about five minutes of a talk that series creator Matt Nix gave at a television writers' conference about the show's stunts. The best part of it is that you get to see Jeffrey Donovan's stunt double in action. It feels like a missed opportunity; as Nix is talking about how they do things on the show, I wanted to hear from the people who actually did those things, or see how they did them. No such luck.
Sam Axe's Guide to Ladies and Libations: Six minutes of Bruce Campbell giving us his thoughts on Sam's ways with women and alcohol. It's always fun to hear Bruce's take on anything, but it doesn't break new ground and half of it consists of clips anyway, so I'd call this one mostly filler.
Burn Notice Roasts White Collar/White Collar Roasts Burn Notice: Both located on Disc 4. There's a friendly rivalry going on between the Burn Notice and White Collar writers' rooms, and both have their day in separate featurettes. I found this stuff hilarious, but then again, I'm a writer myself, so some of you might not be as amused.
White Collar Pilot: Located on Disc 4. If you've seen the above and now wonder what the big deal is, the White Collar pilot is helpfully included here.
The Bottom Line
Absolutely recommended. This is a fantastic season for Burn Notice, and it's got some very entertaining extras. This is one you want to add to your collection.

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