Who else caught the premiere of USA Network's newest summer series last night at 10? Well done all around. I liked the depth Jeffrey Donovan displayed as Michael Westen, a suddenly-disavowed spy who puts his talents to use as private investigator in Miami. The voice-over worked (speaking as someone who's come to hate voice-overs) as did British Gabrielle Anwar's Irish brogue. More, please.

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Charming show. Donovan has the goods--and as those girls gone wild commented, "he's cute."
I loved it--MacGyver meets James Bond. I've liked every show I've seen Donovan in. Actually, I thought the entire cast was good, but especially enjoyed the moments between Donovan and his mother, Sharon Gless--just goes to show you that a guilt trip is still the most lethal weapon out there!
I've only seen a few previews, so I can't give a really good opinion on it, but judging from the previews, Burn Notice seems like another standard (read: crap) American TV show. It's set in Miami (yawn. How about setting a story in someplace besides Florida, California or New York for once.) and it comes off as trying too hard to be cool. I hate that phoned in sarcastic-cool attitude so many crime story characters have nowadays. It tries too hard to be cool and instead comes off as corny. One good thing is Bruce Campbell, though I don't know why he keeps getting small roles. He's a better actor than the roles he plays. Jeffrey Donovan's character, again judging only from the previews I've seen, looks and sounds like he was cut out of the back of a Wheaties box. Apparently gadgetry is essential to this story, but maybe the writers didn't notice that gadgets haven't worked for James Bond since Golden Eye and James Bond is a much better character.

But like I said, I only saw previews so take my opinion with a grain of salt I guess. I just can't fathom how people can think this kind of stuff is good writing or good storytelling. The review of the first episode from UGO, which can be found here: seems to agree with me. I'll quote the excerpt that backs me up below:

"Mixing spy action and comedy is a very delicate balance. Too much action and the comedy seems out of place. Too much comedy and viewers won't take the action seriously. Burn Notice never gets the mix right, falling too hard on quips from Michael that are supposed to be clever, but are, almost without exception, just eye-rollers. Every few minutes, we have to hear Michael's latest thoughts on the difficult life of a spy with such gems as how you should always try to get a fight into a bathroom for more hard surfaces and how it's best to pass out in business class because of the roomier seats. By the time the talented Gless shows up as a two-dimensional mother character whom Michael has to steal a car for to take to the doctor, you'll long for the realism of Monk or even the sometimes-clever humor of Psych.

The problems with Burn Notice are fix-able and, having only seen the premiere, it's possible the show will find some sort of balance between the sitcom humor and the unique premise. The creators of Burn Notice need to play up the 'cool' and play down the standard TV plot lines like the nagging mother and the reckless ex - audiences tuning into a spy show are looking for something to escape from those clichés, not bring them into a genre they're not usually found in. It would also be very wise to lose the narration altogether - no one thinks it's clever that Michael notes the difficulty of hiding a gun in a bathing suit or compares blackmail to a pit bull (it might bite you!) - and pump up the action.

Michael Westen is the kind of spy who puts on sunglasses before hitting the road for a high speed chase, but his cool factor is dulled by the poor writing in the constant narration, to the point that the action becomes secondary. A show like Burn Notice needs to be consistently 'cool' - even in narration and even while it's trying to deal with its poorly written female characters - for it to work. At least as cool as Bruce Campbell."
From your comment, it doesn't sound like the show would be for you in any case, John. Feel free to follow up if you do actually watch it.
Well, I tracked down the episode and watched it. My opinion hasn't changed much. The biggest thing is I don't really believe Michael as a spy. I'll go through the episode (there will be spoilers):

The episode opens with Michael standing on a curb in Nigeria talking about how being a spy involves a lot of waiting. Yet he's the only white guy in the scene, also the only one wearing a suit, and he's even got the obligatory sunglasses. He sticks out worse than anything and he wouldn't last a second if he were in any real danger.

The guards that accompany Michael to the Mercedes after he gets beaten up are pretty stupid. They know who Michael is, yet fall for an obvious trick just so they won't get their car messed up? Not buying it.

Then Michael makes his getaway on a motorcycle--and he puts sunglasses on right before starting up. Cheesy if anything ever was.

The joke about passing out in business class on the plane is an example of trying too hard to be cool and witty. It's a corny joke.

Michael's ex-girlfriend Fiona is there when he wakes up after passing out on the plane. She used to be involved with the IRA (no explanation why she isn't anymore, which would have been nice) and now she knows where Michael is before he does, yet Michael is not suspicious at all. He tells her about the burn notice, which seems odd since he's a spy. You'd think he would be suspicious of everything after finding out that his whole life has been put on hold.

Michael is surprised to learn that he is in Miami. Yet everyone he knows is also in Miami. How convenient. No explanation is giving regarding where Michael had thought he would end up. Actually, there is no backstory for Michael at all except that he used to go out with Fiona and everyone in his family except his mother hates him.

The how to spot an FBI agent at a party joke is lame, and ironic, considering how much Michael stuck out at the beginning of the show.

The FBI guys following him are in Fords and wear sunglasses. Cliche. This one is so overdone it's expected. Did the agents actually thing they would be able to follow Michael unnoticed, dressed like that?

Michael meets Lucy, and ex-spy, and she gives him money and hooks him up with a nice PI job. Seems Michael has a past with her, yet none of it is explained, and that is the only scene Lucy has in the first episode. Michael is not suspicious of her. I find it odd that Lucy and Sam, both ex-spies, still seem to have all their connections. Seems like a security risk to me. Yet Sam has no problem getting information on people, even though he says no one tells him anything. Convenient contacts--Michael always has someone to do things for him. His reliance on others makes it hard to believe him as a spy.

Michael's ethics about stealing a car are kind of lame for a spy. Michael seems to have no coldness in him, no hard edge, none of the indifference that you would think a spy would need, given the loneliness of the job.

The joke Michael says about seeing his dad in Hell is a good joke, and the first one that I laughed at. His mother is annoying, though, but she's supposed to be.

I was disappointed with Bruce Campbell's character. He seems such a tired character (by that I mean the man is tired and wasted, not that he's a cliche), but Bruce plays him well. Sam admits he's a washout like it's nothing and that made me lose respect for him. He knows he's a loser now and doesn't care. Again, some character development would have helped. At least explain how he became Michael's friend.

The joke about Sugar's hair is dumb because his hair is obviously dyed well.

The worst part of the show was the voice-over about acting casual when caught breaking in to someone's house. That's the dumbest logic I've ever heard.

Michael asks Fiona to help him with his job. Way to be self-reliant Michael. A hint of caution might be nice from a spy, instead of completely trusting your ex-girlfriend who used to rob banks.

Because of little backstory, Michael's relationship with Fiona seems tacked on. And the whole "I'm a spy so relationships are hard" is old too. I guess it's possible the writers never saw Tomorrow Never Dies.

Fiona yelling "You spoil me!" is the worst piece of acting in the whole show and made me laugh it was so bad.

Taking care of Sugar with duct tape was a good scene. It was pretty neat the plan Michael devised. It did seem a lot of work just to get rid of one guy, but I still liked that scene.

Michael says that a spy doesn't trust anyone, even though he seems to trust everyone. He catches Sam informing on him. The point was that Michael expected that kind of thing, that he didn't completely trust them, but it felt tacked on, like the writers realized their mistake and tried to fix it. But then they don't, because Michael still concedes that he trusts Sam to tell only enough to throw them off. This scene feels like a setup for the audience to think Sam will betray Michael, one of those obvious decoy setups. The cliche betrayal, of course, would be Fiona. The pictures at the end could have been taken by her.

The bully psychology part was kind of touching. Having to watch the kid beat the hell out of the bully at the end ruined it though. And that fight would not happen that way. If it was a group of bullies, the others would have mauled that kid instead of letting him punch the leader in the face repeatedly.

I think this story would have worked better if the first episode had been mainly about Michael's life as a spy, more backstory, and let him decide to take on PI work at the end of the episode. Then some of these characters might make sense. As it is, with virtually no backstory, the writers can introduce almost any flashback sequence to explain away anything they need, which feels kind of cheap to me. But it may not go that way, who knows. It is only one episode, and the acting wasn't bad. I like Michael, but I don't buy him as a spy. The PI job he did had no suspense, though it didn't need to for this story. There just wasn't anything in this story. The conflict was resolved easily, while the biggest issue was virtually ignored.

Michael got a burn notice but doesn't seem to upset about it. He goes about his day as usual, taking on a PI job to get some money so he could investigate. But his world has been stopped in its tracks, and I think Michael should have been a little more concerned about it, and I think the focus should have been on that issue more. As it was, there was no focus on anything. The PI job was too easy, so what's left?

Well, anyway, that's my thoughts on the first episode. Maybe it'll get better. I might watch the next episode just to see.
So Gerald, any thoughts on these points? Agree or disagree with any of them?
The things that bugged you didn't bug me. In fact, having watched one of the encores this weekend, the only thing that mildly bugged me was the captioning when each character appeared for the first time.
Wow, great discussion.
Do I detect sarcasm? I'm glad you raised the points as part of this discussion, but I didn't find them problems. This is similar to my not loving RATATOUILLE because I don't find rats sympathetic or cute, and I couldn't buy into Remy the personified rat controlling hopeless non-chef Linguini by pulling on his hair from under his hat. People who don't have my quibbles are sure to enjoy the movie more than I did. Not much room for debate.
Sorry, I'm just frustrated about how no one seems to want to a have a real discussion about anything. You invited me to follow up on my first post, and I took a lot of care doing so, even taking notes while I watched so I would remember specific things to point out so it didn't turn into a vague criticism. But then you just ignored it, so I asked you here about it and then you skirt the issue. Why did you start this thread if you didn't want to discuss it?

And I don't understand your response. Do you agree with all my points, but they just don't bother you, or do you not agree with them, but just can't be bothered to say why?

I was just trying to have a real discussion for once.
I started this discussion so people could post their reactions to the show. I don't care whether they're positive or negative or how much they differ. I didn't mean to ignore you, The way I see it, you have your reaction and I have mine. I'm not trying to talk you out of your opinion.

Again, the issues you had weren't issues for me. I can see how someone might be bothered by the things you pointed out. That's not so much agreement or disagreement as it is respect.
I thought the pilot laid the voiceover and the attitude on way too thick. It was also overplotted, as a lot of debut episodes are. I'd certainly give it another shot, though. Interesting premise, and a charismatic lead in Donovan. Plus there's my loyalty to Bruce Campbell to consider.


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