JWR Articles: Television - Burn Notice (Director: Jace Alexander) - June 10, 2007
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Burn Notice

3.5 3.5
90 min.

Covert self-employment primer scores a hit

With the James Bond franchise still as firmly ensconced as it began with Dr. No in 1962, the première of another spy series will catch the attention of legions of spy lovers everywhere. It’s a daunting task for writer and co-executive producer Matt Nix and director Jace Alexander to risk comparison with the storied franchise. Wisely, they’ve crafted an inciting incident that has the potential to carry the series well past its initial season of twelve episodes.

In the pilot, agent Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan is quite at home with the sassy lines and action-filled scenes) takes a meeting with some Nigerian thugs (the henchmen are as black as their Mercedes but their leader is Russian—who could believe that?). In mid-financial transaction (in this era of electronic banking, no one bothers with suitcases full of cash anymore), Weston’s credit and support team vanish. In spy language that’s “burn notice.”

But before you can say “ouch,” Weston survives his deal-broken beating then barfs his way to freedom, hops a plane, and when the bruised freedom-enforcer wakes up, he’s in Miami. Once there, he comes under the tender loving care of Irish ex-girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar eats up her role with appropriate sauciness and fun—don’t miss her suggestive chopsticks routine).

With nothing much left but his cell phone (seems the CIA weren’t able to shut that down …) the ever-resourceful former employee (Tip No. 1: wearing a courier outfit can gain entry into even the most secure establishments) connects with a colleague, Lucy (China Chow), who sends him to bottle-a-day Sam (Bruce Campbell) who just might have a free-lance gig for the cash-strapped spook.

For a paltry $4,600 and simple work-plan (“We do it my way—no questions") Weston agrees to take the case of a set-up Cuban, Javier (David Zayas), who’s the prime suspect in a massive art theft from his boss, Mr. Pyne (Ray Wise). Seems that Pyne’s such a successful businessman that he has his own bodyguard, the chunky, almost-all-of-the-cards-in-his-deck Vince. Inevitably, the two security trained workers must come to blows (Weston easily breaks into Pyne’s house and vault —fingerprint protected safes a mere bagatelle for the master of deceit). But the wily break-and-enter whiz uses his rapier wit as well as a 357 Magnum to destroy his foe (“Does that shirt come in men’s?” jibes the smart-ass spy.)

To maintain a broad interest, not just overweight chests jiggle under fabric. With the beach never far away, the camera manages to find lots of exposed skin and straining bikinis to add colour. For the women, Weston’s not averse to baring his buff torso and display his battle scars.

Of course, pilots by their nature are loaded up with an army of characters that may or may not figure into the coming shows. Most certain to remain is Sharon Gless. From fag hag extraordinaire on Queer as Folk she’s ideal to play Mother-of-the-Spy, although her incessant smoking seems strangely out of place in this world of good clean lies and corruption.

Where’s the show to go? The Red Green-like dispensing of “how to” tricks-of-the-trade (complete with duct tape, no less) is fun in the early going, but might wear out faster than Martha Stewart’s stock market tips. The Russian connection lurks in the weeds, including Weston’s club-owning landlord, Oleg (George Tasudis) who “knows his reputation.” Finally, with the FBI tracking his every move (and helpfully lending binoculars when asked), but not arresting or terminating their puzzled prey, the real reason for Weston’s apparent fall from grace must be further developed or what’s a series for?

In time, let’s hope the writing finds its rhythm. Necessarily the opening salvo is all over the map (“No decent cover” when in frame with scantily clad babes gets a chuckle but brings the tone closer to titillation than smartly teased). Still, the final shot poses a question that only a further visit can answer. But whether Fleming’s evil and sex for Queen and country, Le Carré’s multilayers of deception or a completely new take on lying on purpose for a living, notice is served, it’s a show to watch.JWR

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