This is a new segment I’m starting where I highlight shows that a lot people may not be familiar with. It is an understandable predicament because there are far too many quality shows on television now and honestly, who’s got time to find out which ones are worth the time?
So let me save you some time and tell you what I know about Burn Notice.
Burn Notice (USA Network) follows Michael Westen, a U.S. spy who got burned by an unknown entity, which means that the government had cut their ties with him and had frozen his assets. He’s basically been fired, but more importantly, his identity is no longer protected and that means that the enemies’ he’s made over the years on duty can hunt him down with ease. So now he’s stranded in Miami, looking for the people responsible for ruining his life. In the meantime though, he catches up with his chain smoking mother, an ex-U.S. Navy Seal buddy named Sam Axe, and Fiona, who happens to be an international gun smuggler and an ex-lover of Michael. When Michael is not looking for the people who burned him, him and his crew go around solving variety of problems for the little guys, using his connections and utilizing what he’s learned over the years as a top-notch spy.
The espionage genre can get a little boring and predictable because nine times out of ten, you expect to see high tech gadgetry and cool, suave characters gunning down several thousand mercenaries per episode. Fortunately, that is not the case here. Instead of using a lot of futuristic space props to solve their problems, Michael and his crew like to trap the bad guys by setting them up in compromising situations. Most of the time, Michael will involve himself with his targets by pretending to be someone else using cover I.D.s and forged documents to earn their trust. It’s a lot of acting and improvising in the moment, and less shooting everything around him, that usually gets him out of trouble. In fact, fire arms and explosives are used mostly as means to disarm or distract the bad guys, and Michael does his best to keep everyone alive when possible, including those he’s targeting.
It doesn’t necessarily redefine the spy genre, but it definitely makes me believe that spies are more than capable of taking care of themselves even without guns or support. Michael often finds himself in compromising situations where he is able to make his escape by creating diversions using house hold appliances or relying on his acting to convince the opposition. You actually get the feeling that a spy’s greatest asset is his or her mind, more so than their physical abilities, which is not to say that they don’t use their physical prowess when it calls for it. But it is also their patience and their ability to read the situation that helps them survive in dire situations and this series really does a good job of driving that point home.
This show also has Bruce Campbell, which never hurts.
Burn Notice is a cool show that tells you a lot about certain aspects of the spy game that you may not have considered, but having everything told to you in narration form by Jeffrey Donovan seems like a cheap cop-out story telling technique to me. I’d rather they just show us how certain things are done through visual cues, rather than being told about it, which constantly makes me wonder who the hell the guy is talking to. It is a stylistic choice that makes it easier on the writers to craft an intricate spy story, but I feel that it is lazy, and breaking the fourth wall seems out of touch with the rest of the show.
Then there’s the series formula. Usually, Michael will be chasing after the big fish, that can stretch across an entire season, while frying up the smaller ones that make up the episode. It’s not the first show to use this type of formula, but I just wish that this show could get away from it since I like the big over-arching stories so much. It’s cool that Michael goes around helping the weak as much as he can, but I feel the show really hits its stride when going after the shadowy figures, pulling the strings from behind the scenes. I can’t help but see the smaller cases as just a distraction while the bigger cases are going on, which can get a little annoying every now and then when certain smaller cases don’t interest you at all.
Despite my problems with the show, I still recommend that people give it a chance. It recently wrapped up its sixth season, but you can find the first five on Netflix. I remember at one point, someone joked that this is the most popular show that nobody knew. I wish I came up with that line, but since I didn’t, I’d like it if more people watched this show so that line no longer rings true. I’m spiteful that way.
Written by Daniel Lee