Burn Notice: Season Two Review
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The first season of Burn Notice introduced viewers to Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), a talented U.S. intelligence operative (i.e. spy) who suddenly finds himself “burned”—disavowed by the government and exiled to his hometown of Miami. While trying to find out who’s behind it, Michael finds himself forced to reconnect with old friend and fellow ex-operative Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), ex-girlfriend and gun-runner Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), and his mom, Madeline (Sharon Gless). He also begins using his operative training as a kind of modern-day Robin Hood, whether to help out friends of friends in a tight spot or to make the money that he needs to continue his own investigation.

This set-up makes for highly enjoyable summer TV fare, with Michael narrating each episode and explaining all sorts of nifty info about being a spy and improvising on the job. He frequently comes across as a kind of amoral MacGyver, such as when he expounds on how to make homemade C-4 explosive or the how to bullet-proof a car with phone books.

While each episode in the show’s second season features Westen and Co. helping out some poor soul in need, the arc of the season involves his new handler, Carla (Tricia Helfer), who works for the shadowy organization that burned him. Throughout the season, Michael is forced to walk a thin line between following her orders and trying to turn the situation to his advantage. Unfortunately, the character is somewhat underwritten and under-acted, robbing her of the sense of menace that a series villain should have.

On the plus side, this season introduces at least three solid opponents, who each give Michael a run for his money: one of Michael’s old mentors, Larry (Tim Matheson), another rogue agent, Brennan (Jay Karnes), and Carla’s chief enforcer, Victor (Michael Shanks). Sadly, one of them doesn’t survive the season, though I’m hoping for repeat visits from the other two in season three.

As much fun as the spy-procedural side of the show is, the relationships among the main cast are equally engaging. Michael and Fiona’s relationship remains turbulent throughout the season. It’s clear that even they know how well-matched they are, though they can’t seem to get over themselves enough to make it work. The back-and-forth of their kinda-sorta-relationship gets frustrating at times, but Donovan and Anwar have solid chemistry, and they keep us hoping for a positive outcome. This season contains some of their best moments so far, especially in a later episode, in which Michael believes that Fiona has been killed in an explosion, only to come home and find her eating yogurt in his loft.

Bruce Campbell continues to turn in excellent work, making Sam believable as a valuable resource for Michael while keeping the comic relief inherent in the character intact. Sharon Gless is less successful, as episodes heavy on Madeline and her strained relationship with her son tend to drag a bit more. She does well with the material she’s given, but the character simply isn’t all that likeable, and, on this show, that’s a definite disadvantage.

The DVD set offers the typical line-up of features around the 16 episodes of the second season, including deleted scenes, a gag real, and commentary tracks. Summer TV series work best when they’re done with a light touch, and it helps when those making the show enjoy it as much as those it’s intended for—and everyone certainly seems to be having a good time.

The third season of Burn Notice is just underway on USA, but it’s well worth spending some extra time in Miami with season two.

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