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Blu-ray Review: Burn Notice – Season Two

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The Show

Burn Notice, typically described as a comedy-thriller, is less jocular, but more entertaining than you might expect. The second season of the USA Network series is solid summer fare, delving into the tired fictional world of spies and espionage with a fairly fresh approach that keeps the series extremely watchable as it moves at a fast pace.

Jeffrey Donovan (Changeling) stars as former government operative Michael Westen. Westen’s been issued a burn notice, and dumped in Miami, leaving him without money or an identity. He’s forced to rely on any friendly figures he can find — ex-girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar, The Tudors), FBI informant Sam (Bruce Campbell, My Name is Bruce) and his chain-smoking, clingy mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless, Queer as Folk).

Burn Notice follows the tried and true television structure of having the main character deal with smaller conflicts that are generally wrapped up within one episode, while a larger story arc runs throughout the entire season and beyond. It’s a standard formula, but it works well as Michael uses his crack covert skills to help people solve problems each episode while continually trying to track down the person that burned him throughout the season.

Even though the show is filled with comedy and quirk, it still follows standard procedural drama rules.  It actually seems to embrace that format wholeheartedly — small details of how you can make an incendiary device out of gunpowder and non-dairy creamer or how to trick a security camera are explained in a near-constant stream of voiceover narration from Michael. Whether these methods would work in real life or not is debatable, but the inside perspective this element gives on the spy world is undeniably interesting.

The show also benefits from strong performances from its principal cast, specifically Donovan and Campbell, who have great rapport and lend the show a snarky edge that ensures things never get too serious, even though they nearly get killed every episode.

All 16 episodes of the second season of Burn Notice provide just the kind of escapist, yet smart, entertainment that a summer series requires.

The Blu-ray Disc

Burn Notice is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. As solid as the show is, it’s a shame how poor the picture quality on this release is. This is by far the worst Blu-ray picture presentation I have ever seen.
Almost every shot is bathed in extremely heavy grain, which totally undermines the slick feel the show is going for. Digital noise in the picture is common — it cracks and pops so much in some episodes that I was convinced the first disc might be defective, but the problem persists across all three discs. Colors are wildly inconsistent, definition within shadows is awful, and the image almost always looks soft.

At best, the visual presentation is jarringly inconsistent; at worst, it’s downright atrocious. This kind of quality from a Blu-ray presentation is unacceptable.

The audio, which is presented in Dolby 5.1 DTS-HD, fortunately doesn’t suffer nearly as much. Front channel dialogue and music is crisp and clear, while the frequent explosions add plenty of rumble. Ambient sound is also present fairly often.

Special Features

There’s not much worth spending a whole lot of time on as far as extras go. Several episodes on each disc come with a commentary track, and most have one or more deleted scenes, which tend not to be very interesting in a show like this. Also included is a featurette with series creator Matt Nix, a fairly entertaining gag reel and a spoof on the show entitled “Boom Notice,” that features the boom mic operator, and is just downright awful.

The Bottom Line

Burn Notice is well worth checking out, especially for fans of the spy genre, but I can’t see any reason to purchase this massively disappointing Blu-ray. I can’t imagine the DVD quality being any worse; in fact, it’s probably better.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.