What do MacGyver, The A-Team, The Evil Dead, and Battlestar Galactica all have in common? Burn Notice, that’s what! It’s back for a second summer season, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. This funny, clever, and engaging action show on the USA Network was an unexpected favorite of mine last year, for a variety of reasons, which I will list for you here …
1) Bruce Campbell – To be honest, this was the only reason I originally watched the pilot episode. Because dude … it’s Bruce Effing Campbell. I’m one of the only people I know who used to watch both The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and Jack of All Trades back in the day, solely because I think this guy is one of the funniest, campiest guys out there. And as Sam Axe, an ex-Navy Seal, he holds up well in this series.
2) The B-Team – “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire …” Well, the A-Team isn’t around any more. But if you live in Miami, and you happen to know somebody who knows somebody who knows Michael Westen, then maybe you can hire the Burn Notice Team — Michael, Sam, and ex-girlfriend/ex-IRA operative Fiona — to rescue your daughter from a prostitution ring or get your grandmother’s money back from scammers or protect you from drug dealers. Odds are, they won’t even bother to charge you for their time. This kind of Robin Hood formula has been around forever — remember The Equalizer? — but for me, it never gets old.
3) “How To Be a Spy” – I’m not always a fan of voice-over narration. Executed badly or too heavily, it acts as a crutch for a writer who is trying to compensate for the fact that his/her story simply doesn’t make any sense. But done well, it can add a whole extra layer to the narrative. In the case of Burn Notice, it’s done well, especially at those moments when the main character, ex-spy Michael Westen, gives the viewer espionage tips as if he were Martha Stewart.
Here are some actual examples from the show:
“Need to go someplace you’re not wanted? Any uniform store will sell you a messenger outfit. And any messenger can get past a security desk.”
“Ingredients from the local pharmacy mixed with aluminum foil powdered in a coffee grinder will make a serviceable flash grenade that will stun anyone for a good twenty feet.”
“Figuring out if a car is tailing you is mostly about driving like you’re an idiot. You speed up, slow down, signal one way, turn the other.”
“A thirty-five-dollar outdoor floodlight has a decent motion detector on it. Wire that to a cellphone, and you’ve got a remote alarm system that will call you if there’s trouble.”
“If it looks like you’re about to get into a fight that could get you killed, try starting another one.”
“C-4 has a plastic sheen and a putty like consistency. If you need to counterfeit it, the best thing I’ve found is cake icing, or fondant, as it is known in the baking trade.”
“Sprinkle a mixture of flour and dayglo powder on your floor before you go out, and you’ll know whether you’ve had any visitors and what they were after.”
4) MacGyver Revisited – See #3 above. Not an episode goes by that Michael doesn’t rig up something cool and/or lethal using inexpensive items found at Radio Shack or Home Depot. Like the time he smashed a lock with a hammer after first freezing it with some canned air. As he says, “Guns make you stupid. Better to fight your wars with duct tape. Duct tape makes you smart.” And that of course is very appealing to a Mr. Fix-It like myself.
5) Tricia Helfer – I have no idea whether or not “Six” will be as adept at playing a nefarious spy in Miami as she has been at playing a trampy-yet-complex cyborg on a spaceship. But her performance on Battlestar Galactica has to date been far better than I would have expected — you know, based on the whole inverse ratio of hot looks to acting ability — so I’m hoping she brings good things to the table. And if she happens to wear a bikini at some point, I’m sure that wouldn’t hurt the show’s ratings either.
I was going to suggest that you go to Hulu.com or the USA Network website to watch the first season of the show, but it looks like they’ve pulled all the free episodes this week. No doubt because the DVD box set for Season 1 is now available. But the show isn’t so complicated that you should have any trouble following what’s going on, and I’m sure they’ll provide some flashback in the opening minutes.