FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE

Wednesday

Burn Notice

For my first blog posting since my hiatus, I thought it would be a good idea to write about a new television show that I have really become a fan of in the last few months. You have probably seen several advertisements for it which feature the song “Everybody Wants You” by Billy Squier. But, you may have not taken the time to actually watch the show. Trust me, you should make the time.

The show is called Burn Notice. It is on the USA Network, Thursdays at 10pm (Eastern). In the ads, you have probably seen the main character, Michael Westen (played by Jeffrey Donovan) being shot at and running for his life. Michael is a former spy who gets “burned” in the pilot episode. He is blacklisted and confined to Miami, Florida where he is left with no resources and constantly tailed by the FBI.

This premise is the underlying plot of the series. Michael is trying to find out who burned him and why. But, without any real resources at his disposal, or, more importantly, money, he is forced to use his talents and training to work as a private detective of sorts in Miami. He helps people who find themselves in situations where they are unable or unwilling to go to the police.

If this sounds a bit familiar, it should. The show The A-Team had a similar theme. The A-Team characters were “Soldiers of fortune” who helped people in need when they had no where else to turn.

With many of the plot lines and even the characterization of Michael Westen, Burn Notice runs the risk of being an updated hybrid of MacGyver and The A-Team. In Burn Notice, Michael regularly showcases his ability to improvise cool and effective weapons and to create fully-functional gadgets out of seemingly irrelevant household items.

If the show relied on these types of “gimmicks,” I would say that it falls in that updated hybrid category. But, fortunately, Burn Notice offers a lot more.

For starters, Michael’s improvised weapons and gadgets are far more believable than anything seen on MacGyver or The A-Team. I was a fan of both of those shows, but they both suffered from the same misfortune. They were scripted by cheesy ‘80s writers. As a result, the action scenes were way over the top and the gadgets they developed, with very few exceptions, defied reality. Fortunately, Burn Notice doesn’t fall in this category.

Secondly, Burn Notice does an excellent job of balancing laugh-out-loud comedy, quick wit, and coolness. The closest film example of this balance would be Ocean’s 11. Ocean’s perfectly balanced great comedy with an immeasurable “cool” factor. While I wouldn’t even consider equating Burn Notice with Ocean’s 11, I would say that Burn Notice maintains a similar equilibrium between humor and style.

Thirdly, Burn Notice actually provides a little thing called “character development.” So many television shows are nothing more than a collection of self-contained one-dimensional episodes. There is no underlying theme or plot that is developed throughout the series. No single episode has any effect on the other episodes. You can literally pick a single episode in any season of the show and learn everything there is to learn about those characters. They don’t build on one another, and they don’t maintain any sense of continuity. They simply are what they are. If you need a clear-cut example of this, consider the differences between a show like The A-Team and 24. Can you watch a single episode of 24 and know everything you need to know? Try it, and let me know how that works out for you. Personally, I love shows that you have to be a fan of to really understand. There simply isn’t enough time in a half-hour or hour-long television show to understand characters with any sense of depth.

But, I have saved the best element of the show for last. Burn Notice is told from a first person narrative. Michael Westen speaks to the audience as though he is training them on how to be a spy. His training and experience give him a distinct advantage in most of the situations he finds himself in, and it’s always interesting to hear him describe how he is going to handle that particular situation. He tells the viewer exactly what he is thinking when trying to develop a tactical strategy or quickly improvising an escape. It’s kind of like getting into the mind of 007, except a lot more realistic.

In conclusion, Burn Notice has a lot going for it. It’s a great show. The only problem is that it is on the USA Network, which means the advertising and marketing for the show is somewhat limited. It is a well-known fact that even great shows can be killed off by crappy marketing (i.e. Arrested Development). I can only hope that Burn Notice survives and continues on for several more seasons.

It is currently in its second season, although the first season is available on DVD. Rent it from Blockbuster Online or Netflix. You can also watch it online at Hulu.com. Do what you have to do. But, definitely check out Burn Notice.

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