Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Burn Notice, Season 1 (2007)

I became aware of this show at about the same time as I first encountered Leverage.  The parallels were immediately obvious: both featured a team of highly-skilled experts using their unique skills to help ordinary people who had been targeted by those more powerful than them.

While Leverage has a great cast, excellent characters, and wonderful dialogue, I quickly became a bigger fan of this show.  Burn Notice might not quite have anything to match the Hardison/Parker dynamic of the other program, but it's strong in all the areas Leverage was, and in two other areas, it is much, much stronger.

The first of those two areas is the plots of the individual episodes.  Leverage was very much about the characters.  The jobs they undertook were generally just a pretext to have the cast bouncing clever dialogue off each other.  For me personally, the facile, hand-wavey resolution of many of the plots really detracted from the show.  Burn Notice didn't make that mistake.  It delivers satisfying 'capers' as well as satisfying characters.

The second area is the crux of the show: Michael Westen is a spy who suddenly gets 'burned'.  That means he is disowned by the agency that employed him, and blacklisted.  They freeze all his assets and dump him in Miami.  Westen has no idea why this has been done to him, and his quest to find out is a linking thread throughout this season.  Now often, shows with a 'central mystery' will waffle on and on about it without ever making progress.  Burn Notice neatly avoids this: over the course of the season Westen begins to piece things together and it is clear that in season 2, the situation will have evolved.  This strong execution of an ongoing narrative distinguishes Burn Notice from most other shows on TV.

While trying to solve the mystery of his burning, however, Westen needs to eat.  That's why he takes the jobs he does, assisted by (or occasionally conned into assisting) a team that he describes as "Anyone who's still talking to you.  A trigger-happy ex-girlfriend.  An old friend who's informing on you to the FBI.  Family too ... if you're desperate."  They're a fun group, all well-cast.  Each brings a different set of skills (and problems) to the table, which creates plenty of interesting dynamics.

Burn Notice is a smart show with strong scripts combining both action and humour.  You should check it out.

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