January 28th, 2010
Noel Kirkpatrick put together a post on “formula TV” over at Monsters of TV yesterday, and in highlighting Burn Notice he points out the following:
…each episode will also find Michael trying to get back into the CIA (originally to find out who burned him and why), often near the end of the episode or throughout the episode while trying to help the Client of the Week.
And while this is ostensibly true, it’s important to note that not all such efforts are built to the same standards: Carla was a distraction which forced Michael to multi-task, while the police detective at the start of the season was a nuisance that forced Michael to be more cautious. And while I thought Carla felt as if she created character-driven drama, in that Michael was distracted and perhaps too focused on returning to his position within the CIA (the same goes for Strickler, to some extent), Moon Bloodgood’s detective was just a barrier who made the show less interesting, a muzzle that kept Michael Westen from being Michael Westen.
It’s too early to judge Gilroy yet, but “Friendly Fire” is the ideal demonstration of how fun Burn Notice’s formula can be: a compelling story is made more explosive and more enjoyable by the presence of an external figure who is looking for a good show. And while it might not be as psychologically complex, it presents no barrier to the show being its fun, high-energy self, which makes it a story with quite a bit of potential.
“Long Way Back”
August 6th, 2009
One of the downsides of USA Network’s season structure is that show operate in the form of shortened half-seasons, and that their quintissential summer series Burn Notice only airs half of its season during the summer. As a result, last night’s summer finale of Burn Notice feels slightly bittersweet, like saying goodbye just as the season was really picking up steam (which isn’t to say it really struggled early, but just the nature of momentum).
“Long Way Back” is an episode that is very blatant in its thematic content, picking up where we left off last week as Fiona prepares to head back to Ireland and in the process unlocks a firestorm of pent-up aggression in a certain collection of bloodthirsty hooligans, a new emotion or two for Michael, and a nice collection of events for us as viewers. In the end, the episode goes about where you’d expect it to, but in the vein of previous finales there are more than enough complications present for us to question the stability of the entire series by episode’s end.
June 25th, 2009
While a strong second season and great episodes like “End Run” last week have created raised expectations for Burn Notice, the show remains a formulaic procedural at some level. The show is not formulaic in a negative way, necessarily, but it has its patterns and uses them to varying degrees of effectiveness. As it happens, the past season or so has been particularly strong, but the show is by no means blowing our collective mind week in and week out. So, when I say that “Fearless Leader” was a pretty typical episode of Burn Notice, this is to say both that it was enjoyable but also that it did nothing to really make me stand up and take notice.
The problem, however, is that to some degree it should have been one of those episodes, at least the way it was situated within the season-opening storyline with Moon Bloodgood’s Detective Paxson. Presented as a new obstacle for Michael now that law enforcement is no longer being kept off his back by the people who burned him, the police interest in him has seemed a legitimate threat even if there have been times where Bloodgood popping up at the beginning and end of each episode has felt shallow. It left me waiting for the episode where Michael’s mission would intersect directly with our newly arrived detective, thinking that would justify her presence as more than just a symbolic sign of Michael’s newly precarious position.
It’s ultimately this expectation, not some notion of every episode being like “End Run,” that makes me disappointed in this one, as Paxson remained a pretty uninteresting character and, more importantly, the story that ends up closing this chapter in the show’s run was not particularly connected to her or elevated in any way by her presence. The result is that it makes the show seem lazier and simpler than it really is, and it makes an otherwise solid episode into a bit of a letdown: as Michael says, you always need to have a plan, and it seems like the show’s plan was a little shortsighted.
“Question and Answer”
June 11th, 2009
Moving into its second episode of the season, Burn Notice is no longer a show that needs to prove itself – the second season did more than enough to convince me that the show understand that works and what doesn’t, so the introduction of a new antagonist for Michael Westen isn’t something that raises any sort of alarm bells.
This isn’t the case with all shows, of course. House, in particular, is a show that insists on introducing short term rivals for its lead character, only to have them absolutely take over the show to the point of both distraction and devolution. I don’t think I can quite explain why Burn Notice does this so much better, but it’s an impressive feat: while House slows to a crawl during those sections, Burn Notice manages to pull off both tension and humour with the arrival of Moon Bloodgood’s Detective Paxson, someone who has drawn a line from Michael’s arrival in Miami with a sharp increase in explosions and the like.
(And based on the twitter responses, including one from Alan Sepinwall who discusses Bloodgood’s arrival in his own review, the humour might be a major part of how these characters work, as they fit into Michael’s world of calculated yet quippy and therefore don’t seem as contrived).
As a result, “Question and Answer” doesn’t let this new arrival slow things down, as the thing that works so well about Burn Notice is that not every episode needs to be about explosions, and that there are more than enough tricks up their sleeve to keep the show one of the most entertaining on television.
“Friends and Family”
June 4th, 2009
“Danger isn’t always Obvious”
This is not a new edict for Michael Weston, or Burn Notice in general: since the beginning of the show, Michael’s greatest tip for the audience as told through his narration is to be able to spot danger before it happens, reading a situation in a way that few others can. He made his living being able to spot and avoid dangerous situations, and he has used those skills in his post-blacklist existence to find success in new areas of his life.
But moving into the show’s third season, danger is more unpredictable than ever before on the broad, serialized level the show has gradually built into its procedural frame. In the first season, Michael knew that he had been burned by someone in particular but was largely acclimating to his new existence and only occasionally interacting with the danger they represented. In the second season, Michael began to better understand that danger, even infiltrating it by using their interactions through Carla and others against them, and while they never became less dangerous he at least understood how they, as operatives similar to himself, might operate.
But now, as we open the season with Michael swimming five miles in suit pants, we discover an environment where even the observational technique of Michael Weston can’t really comprehend the dangers that could befall him on an individual mission. The show’s structure remains mostly unchanged, but more than ever before they are capable of (as we see in the premiere) spiraling into a far more dangerous situation than Michael first realized. Adhering to the old adage, the devil you know is often better than the devil which could take a multitude of forms ranging in danger and, more importantly, ranging in their approaches.
The result is “Friends and Family,” a setup for another great season, one presents another explosive and rewarding variable to the show’s already winning formula, and one which highlights some of the show’s best elements.