Michael Weston, a spy for an undisclosed government agency, is in Nigeria on a routine (for him) mission, when he suddenly learns that a burn notice has been put out on him. Apparently, “burn notice” is the espionage term for “being fired, being cut off from all of your money, and being tailed by government agents at all times.” The pilot episode follows Michael back to his hometown of Miami, where he feels very much not at home, thanks to his manipulative, hypochondriac mother. The only people he can rely on for help as he tries to sort things out are his ex-girlfriend Fiona and a retired, seemingly alcoholic agent, Sam. As he tries to uncover the mystery of why he was “burned,” he takes on private investigator type jobs to earn enough cash to rent a $200/month room above a nightclub and to buy supplies at various hardware and electronics stores to make MacGyver-style spy gadgets.
Sound like fun? It is. With the colorful backdrop of Miami, Burn Notice is a show full of exotic locales and beautiful people, including the main characters.
- Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) – Michael is an experienced spy (he’s been working in the business for at least 15 years), so it’s no surprise that he knows how to handle himself in a variety of sticky situations. What sets him apart from the typical spy is that we see both his espionage and his personal life – sometimes even simultaneously. (One memorable scene in the pilot episode has him evading some agents that are following him while he drives his mother to a doctor’s appointment. Viewers can appreciate the irony that his stress over dealing with his mom’s diatribe about their dysfunctional family is compounded by the car chase that she doesn’t even realize is happening.) Despite his stand-offishness when it comes to family and romantic relationships, we also see that Michael has a soft spot for people in need. In the first episode these people include a little boy dealing with bullies and the boy’s wrongly-accused-of-a-crime father. This sensitivity, combined with his sense of humor and super spy skills, make Michael a character worth rooting for, especially given his newfound situation of being “burned,” out of work, and seemingly out of options.
- Madeline Weston (Sharon Gless) – Based on the pilot episode, the main information we know about Michael’s mother is that she is a hypochondriac, a widow, and a nuisance – at least to Michael. She calls him 30 times a day and finagles him into doing her favors by catching him off guard, making him feel guilty, or when all else fails, crying on his shoulder. She also believes that Michael is the key to holding her family together.
- Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) – Fiona is Michael’s ex-girlfriend, but because he forgot to change his emergency contact, it is she that the hospital calls when he arrives in Miami with a couple of broken ribs and other remnants of a nasty beating he suffered when things fell apart in Nigeria. She has her own espionage experience, as an IRA operative, which should be useful as Michael searches for answers about his burn notice.
- Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) – Sam has lived in Miami for about a year and seems to spend most of his time tanning and drinking by the pool. Somehow, he has found time to stay close with a number of underworld and government contacts, some of whom provide leads for Michael in the pilot episode. Sam is not a very likable character thus far. Perhaps we will learn more about him that will humanize him in later episodes.
- Jeffrey Donovan, the lead actor, was previously the star of the short-lived Touching Evil, also on USA Network. He has a dark and brooding look that makes him perfect for this type of character – a troubled detective or government operative – but he also has a sarcastic sense of humor to balance it out.
- Sharon Gless, playing Michael’s mother, is best known for her role in the 80s detective show Cagney and Lacy. She was well cast in the role of Madeline Weston as she is a woman who is defying age. She also plays both Madeline’s manipulative and maternal sides very well.
- Gabrielle Anwar – I remember her best as the main character in the 1991 movie Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, but she gained widespread fame by dancing the tango with Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman a year later, in 1991. She has had less noticeable roles over the past several years, but perhaps 2007 will mark a career resurgence, since she is starring in Burn Notice and also appeared on the popular Showtime series The Tudors this year. Fiona has the potential to be a fun character with some Sydney Bristow covert operative moments. Let’s hope Anwar delivers.
- Bruce Campbell – I remember him from the short-lived tv series The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., but he is probably best known for his starring role as Ash in The Evil Dead trilogy. That was a campy horror movie, and he continues to exude campiness in the role of Sam Axe.
How Does Burn Notice Compare to the Other USA Network Original Series?
Burn Notice joins a lineup of detective/government agent-centric shows on USA: Monk, The Dead Zone, The 4400, and Psych. It is not as quirky as Monk, and Michael Weston seems to be much more mentally stable than Adrian Monk. It lacks the sci-fi elements of The Dead Zone and The 4400, but shares the government agent aspect of The 4400. So then, it is probably closest in theme to Psych, in that it centers around a likable, intelligent character who has unusual methods to make ends meet. Whereas Shawn on Psych pretends to be psychic while using his keen powers of observation to earn a living, Michael must depend on his martial arts and other training-acquired special agent abilities to get through each day without a credit card or a full time job. Both shows are also set beachside – one in L.A., the other in Miami.
I enjoyed watching Psych last summer, although its lack of a continuing storyline resulted in me losing interest after about five episodes. Burn Notice seems to have a better formula. It combines humor and action with a case-of-the-week and the ongoing mystery of the burn notice. I plan to stick around to watch it unfold, so check back next week for a review of the second episode.
I didn’t go into too much detail about the first episode in case someone reading this hasn’t seen it but is interested. USA is re-airing the pilot at least two more times this week:
- Saturday 6/30 4:30 pm (Central)
- Monday 7/02 10:05 pm (Central)
Check it out and let me know what you think!
- Related Post – Burn Notice Episode Two: “Identity”