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"Burn Notice" Last Stand (2010)

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Season 4: Sticks to formula and hits its marks again for an easily enjoyable season of spy-related light-entertainment

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
13 March 2011

The challenge here is for me to try and get through my review of season 4 without writing "hey, it is what it is". This is going to be really difficult because the fourth season of Burn notice sticks really close to its formula, focuses on its core strengths and doesn't wander into areas where it hasn't already found audiences that are happy. So basically this is more of the same that we have already seen, but I don't mean that in a dismissive negative way – even if I could review this by copy/pasting from season 3.

Season 4 sees Michael approaches by Vaughan (an Agency man) who is looking for someone to help him uncover who was behind Simon's actions in the third season. Reluctantly Michael agrees but in the process of one mission accidentally burns another spy, condemning him to the same fate Michael himself is trying to escape. With this burnt spy (Jesse) on board with the team, the weekly missions helping others continue while the overall investigation into Simon's background reveals much more threatening forces and information out there – pitching former friends as enemies and former enemies as friends.

As before the "overall" thread is not as strong as it should be. It tends to fill a small part of each episode just to remind us that it is there and then is specifically focused on for the fall and season finales so that the viewer has a cliff-hanger of some sort to come back for. To me this is a shame because it means that the show never really grips me in the way that a story about spies, betrayal, covert missions and the like really should do. Instead it generally keeps things on the level of The A-Team, with weekly jobs making up the majority of the time. Of course the good thing is that these are mostly enjoyable with plenty of TV-level action, a touch of humour and plenty of fantasy nonsense that is like bubble-gum for the mind. Weston is nearly a parody of himself now with his "when doing X it is important to remember Y" voice-overs but it is all good fun and I enjoyed it for what it is.

And that is the way to come to it. It is the same show as it has been since the first season, albeit that the confidence of having a strong viewer base and several seasons green-lit for the future means that it is pretty comfortable and confident in what it does. Yes it isn't stretching itself but the formula does work well enough for it to be solid light entertainment. At times it wears the coat of being something darker or more complex but I have learnt not to be taken in too much by that as essentially the formula will be roughly the same most of the time. The lead three are good value as before – nothing brilliant but they know what they are doing and they play it well. The addition of Bell adds some freshness to the group while also adding to the plotting, while Gless is increasingly fun the more exaggerated she becomes. The various guest stars are OK but they do rather come and go. The Wire's Wisdom is a decent character but you have others who show up for an episode or maybe two right down to someone like Michael Ironside who is in it for literally a few minutes for no real reason. Locations are like a member of the cast and they are well used – very flashy, always sunny and with lots of nice bright primary colours to makes things look great.

Season 4 of Burn Notice is more of the same but this is again not a particularly bad thing because the formula is kept fresh by having decent weekly and season-long plots. Sometimes it gets a bit full of itself or has episodes that don't really hit the spot formula-wise but they still work and still entertain on the level that you want. It is a valid criticism that Burn Notice has been going for years and has at least another 2 seasons coming but yet hasn't gotten better and hasn't risen above the level of "light entertainment" but ultimately this is not always a dirty word and, while the show fades in my memory as soon as it finishes, I do find each episode to be pretty easy to enjoy when I meet it on its terms.

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