Friday, July 15, 2011

Spies Like Us (And We Like Spies)

Burn Notice is a summer series currently in its fifth season. I've so far watched through a good chunk of the third season. The premise is basic (and outlined for you at the start of every episode). Michael Westen used to be a spy for the US Government. However, someone, somehow, made it look like he'd done some very bad things. Spies don't get fired or retired. They get burned. He is dumped in Miami with no money, no credit history, no connections, and no way to leave (this last bit they never really explain well; apparently, the nebulous "they" are willing to let him live, but will kill him if he leaves). He has to get by on little more than the skills and training he received as a spy.
And his sunglasses. Seriously, they deserve billing.

The show's main weakness is the fact that it is incredibly formulaic. Almost without exception, the show starts with Michael coming up with a step in his grand plan towards the goal of this particular season. This plan will be referenced a few times throughout the episode. At the end of the episode, he takes the step forward in his plan. Meantime, he will someone stumble across a "Client". This is typically a normal, law-abiding citizen who has somehow attracted the displeasure of some crime syndicate or other. It will usually seem to be very minor at the start, and rapidly develop into a much larger problem than it first appeared. At the end, Michael saves the day.

Personally, I really like the formula, which is why I keep watching. But I cannot in good conscience recommend this show to anyone, because if that one method of doing things isn't something you'll want to watch over and over again, you will rapidly get bored. There are many cosmetic changes. Each season's over-arching plot is usually somewhat riveting. Sometimes he connects with the Client himself, and sometimes it's a favor he does for one of his teammates, either the paper-manipulating former Navy Seal Sam, or the Picasso-with-explosives Irish terrorist girlfriend Fiona, or his chain-smoking passive-aggressive hypochondriac mother. Bad guys will recur, sometimes an asset on one job will come back later and be a client. It tends to the fairy-tale ending side of things, but it gets fairly dark.
This woman spawns spies. And emphysema.

The selling point, to me, is the tricky mechanical stuff they do. Anyone besides the few main characters will get a super when they are introduced each episode, and they're good at making these funny. They will split the screen to show Michael trying to pick the lock and escape unnoticed while the bad guy walks down the corridor towards him. They have some of the most effective use of voice-over I've ever seen.

In short, it's worth watching a few episodes. You might find yourself hooked, and watch it for a while. Just don't expect it to ever change.

1 comment:

Maggie Cats said...

Hmm...I love Bruce Campbell, but shows that overly forumlaic drive me craaaaaazy. So I think I might have to pass on this one...

I'll always have Bruce's chin though.