“My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy. Until… “
With those words Jeffrey Donovan went from being a character actor who appeared sporadically on shows before landing in a leading role that seemed tailor made for him. Burn Notice, about a burned spy seeking vengeance on those who blackballed him, has put him in the spotlight he deserves. And he’s not the first, either. He just happens to be on one of the best television shows still on the air.
A good television role can singlehandedly take someone from obscurity to stardom in a relatively short amount of time. David Caruso went from being a supporting, character actor to a leading man after a season and a half of NYPD Blue, failing as a film actor and reemerging again on a CSI spin-off. John Travolta famously went from being Vinnie Barbarino on Welcome Back, Kotter to one of the hottest actors of the 1970s virtually overnight.
Donovan took the role of Michael Westen, burned spy, and has since found himself starring in one of the best shows on television. Westen is a combination of Macguyver and James Bond but out in the cold, without the government for assistance or protection. With the first two seasons having had him dealing with “Management,” the people who had him burned in the first place, Westen opens up the third season of USA’s hit show with something he hasn’t had in the first two seasons: freedom. Without Management dictating its terms to him, and knowing who and what had him burned in the first place, Michael has a semblance of a life off the grid.
With it comes spy recruiter Tom Strickler (Ben Shenkman), who wants to help Michael get his old job back, and Detective Paxson (Moon Bloodgood), who wants him in jail. Working at his newfound job as vigilante for those who need someone with his girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and his best friend Sam Ax (Bruce Campbell) alongside the antics of his mother (Sharon Gless, more famous as Cagney in Cagney & Lacey).
This season Michael begins his quest to get back into the good graces of the CIA and the American intelligence community. As he delves deeper into trying to get his file reopened, he ends up opening up a hornet’s nest of brushback onto himself that leads to him going back to the one place he never thought he would. Initially given a run over the summer, Burn Notice has found a niche as USA’s summer mainstay because it is a combination of several things: action, drama and character development.
The show’s action, which is its main selling point, is used in just enough doses to keep it interesting. This is a show that crams as much action as possible into 40 minutes but doesn’t do it without a reason. It also has just enough realism to keep the suspension of disbelief from turning off. It is a television show and thus does take liberties with plenty of things but there’s enough of an attempt at keeping it as realistic as possible that the show doesn’t suffer from it.
It also doesn’t hurt that the show’s three central characters have actors that have tremendous chemistry with one another. The one thing that stood immediately from the first episode of the series is that between Donovan, Anwar and Campbell that there’s an easy rapport between them. They work well together, and have been doing so for a while now, but there’s more nuance in them as they evolve. The main point this season has been between Michael and his mother. As they develop their relationship after decades apart they develop a much stronger bond than they have in the past. It’s a nice touch because it wasn’t focused on nearly as much and allows the rest of the cast to develop apart from Michael as well.
Campbell seems to be having the time of his life as a retired Navy SEAL; functioning as both the heavy and as the comic relief, this is perhaps the perfect use of Campbell. Forever the actor everybody loves, but no one pays to see him in a leading role, Campbell continually steals the show from Donovan with quick one-liners. The episode “Partners in crime” gets an inordinate amount of use of Campbell doing his best David Caruso impression.
Jeffrey Donovan may be branching out and doing an occasional film, but there’s a sense he knows exactly where his stardom lies and that’s in one of television’s best shows: Burn Notice.
Presented in a Dolby digital surround with a widescreen presentation (in a 1.77:1 aspect ratio), the transfer is terrific. This is a colorful show set in a colorful place and it all comes through cleanly and clearly.
Commentary Tracks on various episodes are scattered throughout.
Smash, Crash, Boom: Inside the Burn Notice Stunt Unit follows the show’s stunt unit as they create the show’s memorable sequences. Going into the show with the attitude of not presenting a great car chase, but making the audience feel like they’re in a great car chase, it’s an interesting look at the nature of stunt work and how it can be used to add to a show.
2009 San Diego Comic-Con International is an edited summary of the show’s panel at Comic-Con. Featuring the Matt Nix (the show’s creator), a writer, and a number of recurring characters as well as Campbell (who gets the rock star treatment from the crowd), there are some moments of levity mixed in with interesting moments about the show (including how Matt Nix refuses to use digital special effects because he likes to “blow [stuff] up”).
Ending on a ridiculously good cliffhanger, Burn Notice has remained one of the best things on television for a reason: because it never lets its foot off the gas pedal.
20th Century Fox presents Burn Notice (Season Three). Created by Matt Nix. Starring Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar. Running time 738 minutes. Not rated. Released on DVD June 1, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.