Friday, June 4, 2010

Burn Notice wimpers through season premiere

     USA's Burn Notice is a great show... sometimes.  Last night was the season four premiere, "Friends and Enemies".  When last we saw Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan), he had been hauled into a tastefully decorated room, where he had been brought against his will.  Turns out, that room belongs to Vaughn (Robert Wisdom, The Wire, Prison Break), who wants Michael's help to take down some bad guys.  Michael is torn between helping people he hates and fighting the good fight, or staying out of it.  Michael and Vaughn are soon in a jungle being shot at by a predator drone.  All of that was awesome!

     And then Burn Notice went back to it's case of the week format.  I know that there are still plenty of people out there who like formula shows, where they can tune in any episode at random and find a complete story to enjoy.  I dare say most television viewers fall into that category.  Unfortunately, that's today's version of pulp fiction, and it holds back a great show, limiting it to just a good show.

     Sure, the case of the week was interesting enough.  Michael and friends had to call off a biker gang's hit order on a lawyer.  Plenty of fist fights, shoot outs, and explosions made it exciting.  But aside from Michael's brief reunion with Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), the story failed to highlight the wonderful storytelling that sometimes goes into the show.
     That's not to say that episode was without great moments.  Michael's teary conversation with his mother (Sharon Gless, who has finally become an indispensable part of the cast) at the end has proved that Donovan has grown as an actor, and Michael has grown as a character.  Three years ago, when he was just a burned spy dumped in Miami, he had few personal connections, and cared about no one all that deeply.  Now he balances deep affection for his mother, romance towards Fiona, and a best friend, Sam (Bruce Campbell).

     This season will feature a new character who was only briefly glimpsed last night, but whose name has joined the opening credits as one of the stars.  Jesse (Coby Bell, Third Watch, The Game) is a spy that Michael accidentally burned by stealing information.  Next week, he will attempt to clear Jesse's name.  Something tells me that won't work, since Jesse is slated to join their little crew and shake things up.  It has potential for an exciting, new arc.  However, it will likely only get a few minutes an episode, in between whatever victim Michael helps that week.

     Please Burn Notice stop catering to the mindless viewers just watching for entertainment at the end of a long day and give us some intricate, fascinating story telling.  Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that technique, but there are plenty of other shows that do it, and so few that really stretch their boundaries and show great story telling.  I know you're capable of being one of the latter.  Burn Notice airs Thursday nights at 9pm on USA.

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