Sunday, July 15, 2007

Burn Notice Will Pass the Time

To be completely honest, the presence of Bruce Campbell was the first attraction to Burn Notice. Sure, Campbell has taken more than one dumb role (some Sci-Fi produced movie with him and his crew crash landing on a planet of bugs or something being one of them). It's not out of character for him. Whenever he has a good role, though, he has GOOD roles in fun productions.

Campbell doesn't necessarily have the most interesting role in Burn Notice, but the show makes for good enough fun to pass the time over the summer. The premise of the show is that the main character, Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), was a CIA agent who received a burn notice then dumped in his hometown of Miami. The regular supporting characters include his mom (Sharon Gless) with whom he has a stereotypically loving yet ambivalent relationship, Sam (Bruce Campbell), a washed out retired member of the intelligence community and Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), a current or ex-member of the IRA. The Westen character wants to find out who issued the burn notice and fix the problem, all the while the end of each episode has a clue showing that someone has their own reasons for doing all of these things. . .and he also has to take jobs as an unlicensed private investigator to pay the bills.

This show makes me think of Charlie Jade without the science fiction, the epic quality and the satire of corporations. Both Charlie and Westen are private investigators, have training in the martial arts, are good with surveillance equipment and other technology and, in many ways, are practically undefeatable in a fight or even really in a competition of wits with most of the people they encounter. Charlie only had a problem with something like 3 or 4 other characters in fights, and one of them was genetically altered! Westen hasn't really faced anyone he couldn't defeat easily. . .I'm really waiting for an in-your-face real down-and-dirty amoral fight between Westen and some other character, like when Charlie took on that security guy at Vexcor who nearly killed him.

Hell, even the actors have very similar names! Jeffrey Pierce plays Charlie and Jeffrey Donovan plays Michael Westen. Not only do they have similar names, but also hold themselves in similar fashions, but that's easily understandable since the characters are both trained fighters, private investigators and had some presence in the intelligence community.

This is simply an instance of an archetypal character and story being executed different enough. Charlie Jade certainly had a less appealing beginning to the series, mainly, in my opinion, because it had an ensemble cast and didn't really seem to no where it was going until somewhere between the 7th or 12th episodes. I actually kind of liked the fact it had that open endedness to it, as I talked about here.

On the flipside, Burn Notice takes an approach similar to Eyes from a couple years, which didn't last more than half a season. All the point of view comes from Jeffrey Donovan plays Westen or his main supporting characters when it has to do with his story, and, in general, the overarching plot involving the mystery character leaving intentional clues that Westen's burn notice and being stuck in Miami has more to it than possibly just someone trying to dick him over. Essentially, the show leaves enough of a lure for people who might become fans, but it's mostly focused on the casual viewer until maybe closer to the end of the season.

Nonetheless, Charlie Jade has only been on international non-US TV, and Eyes was on US TV. Up until maybe LOST, the US audience hasn't been well known for its patience. Will Burn Notice do a good job of entertaining casual fans, possible fans and balance well between the two.

As I allude to in the title of this entry, I'm essentially a casual fan to the show with some possible interest in the larger arc for the fans. Nonetheless, I don't see that much potential for dragging me in as a genuine fan or really doing all that great of a job getting people to make the commitment as fans. It needs to kick in some bigger themes. By the third episode, Charlie Jade had already thrown in some allusions to The Odyssey, a hero getting thrown into the wilderness, corporate satire, neoliberal criticism, exploring the ideas of propaganda and the split between freedom fighters and terrorists, the lengths to go to save a way of life and the list probably goes on and on. It's very likely that Charlie Jade originally started off trying to bite off more than it could chew, but the fact that it reached for so much really grabbed me and struck my curiosity about the possibilities.

Burn Notice, on the other hand, doesn't necessarily put all that much for heady topics or even emotional issues to catch my deeper attention. I feel like I could miss a couple episodes then not have a problem at all coming back to the show. I'd miss out on nothing.

My TiVo labels it as either a crime drama or crime comedy, probably the latter. I feel that the main mistake of Burn Notice is that it romanticizes the character and the situation too much. He's too clean, too morally good without much of a back story to explain it, too perfect and too angsty when it comes to the family. The Fiona character is too pretty, too whimsically into chaos and violence, too flirty, too happy to have spent time with the IRA. Sam works fine enough, but I think that's mostly because Bruce Campbell plays him. Even the very minor bad guys are too innocent and fit into certain can't take seriously pigeonholes. In other words, Burn Notice doesn't have the complicated and compelling characters to keep me around and invest my time except that it's kinda funny and there's nothing else to grab my attention.

I think Burn Notice should aim for more maturity, when it comes to plot lines, characters and arcs. It needs to be much more dirty and underhanded. The characters need to make tougher decisions and not always show their best selves. Make the characters more complicated in this way would go a long way to engaging the audience and maybe inducing them to commit and invest themselves in the show. As it is now, though, whatever. . ..

1 comment:

Jose said...

I liked Eyes while it was on, but I wasn't crushed when it went away. I like Burn Notice so far, but I may get bored soon if it doesn't acquire some depth, Bruce Campbell notwithstanding.

I pretty much feel the same way about the Dresden Files, which I just finished watching a couple of weekends ago. I like it, but mostly for reasons unrelated to the show: it's got a connection, however tenuous, with the books, which I feel are fantastic. But if it goes away, I'll be ok with that.

The show I've enjoyed most recently is Life on Mars. Still digesting how it ended, but I enjoyed those final 8 episodes immensely.