Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Lying in a crumpled heap at the airport, how's that pay?":Burn Notice

So I've started to watch 'Burn Notice', the latest new show on USA with the 'characters welcome' slogan attached. I think that is sort of a funny slogan, because it gives the impression (at least to me) that their shows are full of quirky, odd people, which to a certain extent is true, but I wouldn't necessarily consider that a good thing. I was a little suspicious of this show, because I've previously watched and hated both 'Monk' and 'Psych', and original basic cable doesn't have a very good track record with me so far. But I will give a lot of stuff a couple chances at least.

The show follows Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), a former covert CIA agent who has received a 'burn notice.' This means that he was fired and all communications and resources from the agency were cut off with no explanation, and he s left to fend for himself in Miami after being dumped there after an operation gone bad in Nigeeria. The over-arching plot is that Michael is on a mission to find out exactly by whom and why he was burned, and meanwhile, in order to finance his investigation, he becomes a sort of 'fixer' and takes a different case each week. I've tried to figure out where I have seen Donovan before, as he seems really familiar, but after looking up his history on IMDB I think it is just becuase his voice sounds a lot like Kevin Spacey.

Of course, if you're going to fix people's problems every week, you're going to need some help, right? Along for the ride are ex-IRA ex-girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar, who I like, but not with the Irish accent, which I hated in the pilot, and I'm guessing test audiences did too, because they got rid of it in subsequent episodes with an offhand comment), friend and ex-FBI agent Sam (Bruce Campbell, which I'm sure many people appreciate). naggy mother Madeline (Sharon Gless), and loser brother Nate (Seth Peterson). What isn't exactly clear is exactly why Fiona stays around to help him. Sam is being used by the FBI to spy on him, while he also informs Michael of what the FBI asks about. His mother and brother serve to create conflict.

In the latest episode, Michael gets a call from Nate, who got beaten up at a local private airport. Oh no, apparently troublemaker Nate has been going around claiming to be working with Michael, in order to get jobs on his own. Considering the fact that Michael is an ex secret agent, I am not sure why this provides any clout. He is not up to the task, however, and he needs his brother to bail him out, if the beating he took is any indication. Nate's client is a sort of dorky guy who works at the airport keeping track of plane logs. He unwittingly gets himself involved with some Lebanese arms dealers, who after first bribing him start theatening him when they want him to erase records of plane departures.

Michael's plan to solve the case is to pose as a kind of more James Bond-like version of a secret agent, who happens to be an arms dealer as well. He wants to set up a fake deal with the Lebanese in order to find the location of their warehouse, so he can get them all arrested. Luckily for him, one of the Lebanese (Ari) happens to be the stupidest arms dealer of all time, and he falls for the act, is impressed by a plastic exploseives display, and takes Michael to their warehouse because Michael needs to 'checkout his operation' in order to agree to sell him even more lucrative fifty caliber machine guns. That's one thing that I don't like about this show, some plot elements are just so ridiculously improbable, I mean nobody would ever be as stupid as this guy is. But I digress, eventually, after having someone follow him when he visits the warehouse, Michael has the client go to visit the Lebanese and claim that his fake identity was hitting up the client for favors as well, and tells the Lebanese father that his moronic son has given away the location of the warehouse, which spooks the Lebanese to go back there where they find that Michael has stolen all of their stock. Poor, stupid, stupid arms dealers. They end up leaving the country, and the client is safe, because they fear that bugs were planted and they could be busted if they ever mess with the client or Michael's fake identity again.

The show includes lots of snarky voice-over narration by Michael, expositing to the audience exactly how all this spy business works. Normally this kind of thing really irritates me (see: Criminal Minds, which isn't narration but still explains every single thing that is happening to the audience to the same degree), but since it is sometimes amusing it kind of actually works. Even though it is a pretty standard mystery procedural plot-wise, the dialogue and characters make it more interesting than the average, similar show. I like the performance from Donovan, and the supporting characters aren't too bad themselves, although I wonder how long they are going to run with the Bruce Campbell is a dirty old drunk gag. In any case in the past week I've watched (including today's) the show's first five episodes, and so far I suppose it is decent enough, but still light, fluffy time killing fair. Right now? Good enough for me.


Carrie said...

I'm having fun with this one as well. I've loved Jeffrey Donovan ever since USA's canceled-too-soon Touching Evil (also starring Vera Farmiga!) and it's great to see him back on TV. He's very likable and charming. The case of the week plots haven't blown me away so far but I like the overarching mystery. Also, it's breezy and fun and as a Floridian I like that it's set in Miami and feels like Miami. (Unlike Drive, which tried to convince me that the Atlantic Coast of Florida was a desert landscape with rolling hills. Ha!)

There are a surprising number of decent summer shows this year - Burn Notice, Greek, Army Wives and Side Order of Life have all been pretty fun, and I liked the 2-hour pilot of The Kill Point. Ah, I remember the days when summer was the time I could catch up on my reading. Now, not so much.

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