Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Breaking Up With Burn Notice - Television Tuesday

There comes a time in any relationship when you have to admit that something is not working. I fear I have reached that point with Burn Notice and yea, it makes me sad.

From the moment it debuted, I have loved Burn Notice. A clever, witty show with guns and spies and beaucoup back story, a complex, conflicted hero (Michael Westen played by Jeffrey Donovan), betrayed by his government, manipulated by a shadow organization, who just happens to have a gun-running ex-girlfriend (Fiona played by Gabrielle Anwar with the worst fake Irish accent evah though it was quickly erased), an excess of yogurt, and Bruce-Freaking-Campbell (Sam Axe).

In a word - awesome.

But lately, as Michael has defeated said shadow organization, proved his innocence, and been reinstated to the CIA, the show has become - dare I say it? - formulaic. An A story-of-the-week where Michael et al help the helpless, a la A-Team and a myriad of other 80s adventure shows, while the B-story is the continuing saga of solving Michael's own professional angst. This summer season, that role is filled by the "Who killed (fellow spy) Max?" non-mystery as it seems painfully obvious to me that Max isn't really dead.

For me, Burn Notice began to wane when our fearless threesome became a foursome and Jesse (Coby Bell) was added to the roster. At first, I thought it an interesting angle for Michael to play as he inadvertently did to Jesse what the shadow organization had done to him: got him burned. I particularly liked it when, secret revealed, Jesse saved Michael's admirable tuckus from the bad guy by shooting Michael - with no small amount of pleasure on Jesse's part.

But I didn't want Jesse to stay and stay he did. Saying I don't like change is a gross understatement, so messing around with a cast I like is a wonky move. But, despite my considerable efforts at the contrary, the world doesn't revolve around me and television showrunners don't consult me before screwing around with the casting status quo. Their loss.

Setting aside my personal quirks, the show now has to find ways to include story lines and character development for five full time cast members (including Michael's mother Madeline played by Sharon Gless) and those of Michael, Fi, and Sam have suffered for it. It doesn't help that an in-the-CIA-fold with healthy relationships with mother and girlfriend Michael is far less interesting than burned, bitter, and ballistic Michael.

And then there's my waning suspension of disbelief. Just how many things does this guy have to blow up in Miami before local law enforcement wises up? The show tried to introduce a police-hunt wrinkle in season two (or was it three?) but it was an epic fail, no small fault due to the miscasting of Moon Bloodgood as the Miami cop on Michael's (enticing) scent.When you have an alpha woman like Fiona, you need a woman who can similarly challenge Michael from the antagonist side and Moon Bloodgood wasn't it. Tricia Helfer, however, worked very well as a previous big bad because a former cylon kicks everyone to the curb.

Also, why is there no traffic? How is it Michael, Fi and Sam can cross the city in minutes without a single traffic light or snarl, never mind the driving hijinks they get up to along the way? And then go and blow more sh*t up without getting arrested?

Horatio Caine would never stand for that crap in his city. His sunglasses alone would have to object.

The best Burn Notice episodes are when Michael and Fiona (and her lips) are balls to the wall in one way or another leaving Chuck Finley (alias for Campbell's Sam Axe) to front a rescue. Like last year's siege at the abandoned hotel or when Fiona was kidnapped to be auctioned off by an Irish terrorist, or even when Sam got nicked by the bad SEALs.

Good times.

[Let's pause here and touch on Gabrielle Anwar's lips. Look at her in Scent of a Woman. Granted it was 1992 and Gabrielle herself was only 22, but here and in The Three Musketeers a year later, she didn't look like Stephen Tyler had lent her collagen. Now I get an irrevocable impression of fish lips every time I look at her. Very distracting. I'm not saying she's had work done; at 5'3", she weighs about 80 lbs and it may be that, lacking any kind of collagen in her face, her lips merely stand out more. But it's weird.]

Back to Burn Notice. This past week, I actually stopped watching in the middle of the episode. Unheard of! Absurb! Yet true nonetheless. Why? Because I was bored, which, to me, is death knell.

Yet it makes me sad to say goodbye. I hold on for too long and wind up in this love/hate situation where I don't like what it's become but stay for what it once was. Shows like this that fire on all cylinders right out of the gate are few and far between. Television already serves the least common denominator of audience. Sustaining a show that raises the bar can't be an easy task. But Burn Notice would have been better served by ending once Michael had succeeded in his original mission to clear his name. Then we could have imagined him and Fi and Sam kicking around Miami, drinking mojitoes, hanging out in Madeline's garage, and looking out for the little guy in this big, bad world.

My dear Burn Notice. It's not me, it's you. I hope we can still be friends.


  1. Ah, I hate having to break up with a show!

    I liked Anwar in the little-seen and silly For Love or Money that came out about the same time as the Three Musketeers...and her lips were quite ordinary then. i am guessing they've been enhanced.

  2. @lora96
    Yeah, there's definitely been some adjustment there. I'm not judging; it's a symptom of her job to have to keep herself - er - upgraded. But I'd look to get a refund on that fishy set.

  3. OMG, OMG... I am in tears. I have never watched Burn Notice but you pretty much summed it all up for me in your blog.

    I often wonder why writers feel the need to mess with the chemistry of a show. For you it's Burn Notice, for me it was Heroes.

    When it first started I was so excited. The Sci-Fi geek in me could watch a great show on major prime time and not worry about missing it on the sci-fi channel (this was prior to me having a DVR mind you). And they always kept me guessing especially in that first season.

    In deconstructing the show, I know exactly what went wrong.

    1. The need to top itself in story lines always leads to epic fail. Most writers experience this when writing a series of books. Will my next book be as good as the first? *raising my hand because I constantly worry about this if I EVER get to publication*

    2. Too many characters all at once. You couldn't keep up with their back story much less remember what special power they had.

    3. Going off task. At some point they had a great story line going in which all the characters were connected in some way and you could see how one hero needed another. But in season two it all went to crap. Somehow the show became one or two primary characters and that made it boring. While a multitude of characters was overwhelming, focusing on just two characters made me yawn.

    4. Lastly, the final death nail in the coffin for me and for anyone who writes or reads is that the characters became one dimensional. The ability to identify with the characters on the show and to be able to see yourself in that character became unimportant. Who could forget the first time Hiro time traveled? The pure joy that he was not a loser after all and that he could be like the heroes in his comic books (I can completely identify being a former comic book reader myself) How about Peter, the nurse who really could assume any power he wanted? He was so lost. He was the uninteresting brother. The one who had no complexity to his life. Not like his rockstar senator brother who could charm the big girl panties off of a nun! Or Claire the cheerleader (SAVE THE CHEERLEADER D@MNIT!)who could break every bone and not die but was so busy trying to be the perfect daughter, she forgot to actually be a human being first.

    Sigh, I miss that kind of writing. But THANK GOD for Fringe! If they screw this show up, then I give up.

    Great post!

  4. @Lizzie - I *loved* Heroes. That first half of the first season was *amazing* I was riveted. They did so many things right at first. I remember being so pleased that they didn't drag out the Sylar reveal. That Homecoming episode when The Company captured Sylar was unbelievable. Do I even need to tout "Company Man" episodes. Plus - The Pasdar.

    But then there was the epic fail of the first season finale. So much lead up to what was at best a *meh* and that's being generous. I stuck with it through the first half of season two, but not for long. Heroes started doing *exactly* the things that they'd shunned in the beginning, dragging out storylines and then having weak payoffs. And I hated - HATED - the brother & sister with the black goo. Argh. Just such an epic fail, made all the worse for the brilliance with which it began.

    I watch the first 2 or 3 episodes of Fringe, but it was (then) too similar to X-Files (which I hated) and despite my mad love for Walter and Peter, I couldn't relate to Ana Torv's character, and that kept me from investing in the show. I understand the show has changed quite a bit from then (for the good) and the parallel worlds plotline admittedly fascinates me, but it's too late to hop in now. I'll have to have a DVD marathon some winter's break.

    Thanks so much for leaving a comment! I love chatting about this stuff. As you can see, I'm hardly shy about heralding my opinion to the world. ;-)