Friday, July 13

USA Network's "Burn Notice" Burning Up My TiVo

Get out the SPF 30 as my TiVo helped me discover a stylish, new character-driven guilty pleasure for my summer viewing pleasure. It's USA's "Burn Notice." Well-written dialogue, good acting and some stylish directing make this Miami-set twist on the "spy" comedy/drama fun to watch. It promises to tell the story of what happens when spies get fired. That's exactly what the main character does with a McGyveresque approach as he improvises to make spy gadgets on a dollar store budget. The show's hero is glib, out of work tough guy/secret agent Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan). He often reveals details of his life as a spy during voice-overs vignettes while he's working episode-length freelance gigs he picks up to make an extra buck.

His mother (Sharon Gless) and a sexy ex-girlfriend, former IRA operative Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), trade one-liners as they're forced to come together in this light-hearted look at unemployed spies. The second episode even pokes fun at cop shows while paying homage to Gless with a reference to "Cagney and Lacy" (if memory serves me, Gless played Christine Cagney...geez I would have been in high school back then). Westen's trying to figure out who burned him-- each episode he gets a little closer-- he really wants his job back. In the meantime, he'll champion the underdog for a price and ends up turning the tables on Miami baddies like drug smugglers and corrupt real estate tycoons.

He can do what the cops can't do and he does it with style while also being tailed by the FBI as the people who burned him are still keeping tabs. While he wants to be a loner, he'll need to learn to be the ex-spy who loves his mother and old girlfriend to get ahead. The show's topical sarcasm and likeable cast of misfit characters have a cool rhythm.

"Burn Notice" is fresh and much more entertaining than the worn "4400" which has morphed away from its original concepts and lost my interest. I never got into "Monk" as it came off too much like any other spin on the old "NBC Sunday Night Mystery Movie" formulas. While I once enjoyed "The Dead Zone" it seemed to go on forever...but now USA has put some heat back into summer television with "Burn Notice." The show sizzles against the few new things to watch including those tired, predictable summer reality shows.

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