Monday, October 8, 2012

Opinion — Burn Notice, Making A Violent Miami Fun Again

Miami is one of those great backdrop cities.  I wouldn’t want to live there (too hot), but it is exciting.  I’ve visited many times.  Good food, great beaches, danger, adventure and a wonderfully, stylish sleaziness that makes it distinctive.  So, in the tradition or perhaps besting the traditions of Miami Vice and CSI Miami, here is Burn Notice.

After I watched the first episode on Netflix, I wasn’t sure I was going to watch a second. I didn’t warm to the main character.  He possessed a cockiness that would have been acceptable if there had been a level of charm to make the medicine go down.  In fact, the only character that appealed to me was Sam, an affable everyman who was quite capable of deadly force. I thought that was a nice touch. You kind of expect Clint Eastwood’s characters to get mean if they have to, but not a nice guy like Sam. 

I gave it a second chance. I was hooked.  And after having a similar thing happen to me with White Collar, I wanted to figure out how I got the habit.  How could I become addicted to something that, in a way, didn’t seem all that special?  This wasn’t Downton Abbey or The Wire for that matter. I’m sure smarter minds had the addictive formula figured out a long time ago. But I was just discovering it.

It’s the tease.  It doesn’t always work.  Let me explain. I started watching The Killing. I was deeply impressed. The acting and the story were multi-dimensional, the characters richly drawn and wonderfully acted.  There was a real urgency in the way the story unfolded.  There were enough twists to keep the viewer guessing.  We were left hanging at the end of each episode.  I was willing to hang on. I’d wait until the end of the season if I had to. It was that good.  Then, at the end of season, there was nothing.  Still no resolution.  None. Nothing ended.  We, the viewers, were to wait until the next season.

Well, fool me once….  I didn’t go back.  I felt like I wasted my time.  It’s the feeling you get when you didn’t know you were starting a show that at the last moment, just when you thought you’d get the answer, the screen goes dark and the words “To Be Continued” appear.  All tease. Suddenly you are left in the lurch.  You are not satisfied, or at least I’m not. If it continues the following week, I might tune in. But I’m pissed. In the case of The Killing,” I’d been teased every week for weeks and I finally decided I’d let the damned murderer go free.  I didn’t care anymore.

 What both Burn Notice and White Collar do is give you some satisfaction while dangling something more promising ahead.  Fundamentally, they give you a resolution to each episode while keeping you hanging on a larger plot, or plots in the case of Burn Notice. In fact, this more explosive light-hearted thriller actually takes this idea one step further. 

I hope this makes sense: In essence, each episode of Burn Notice deals with a minimum of three plots, only one of which is resolved at the end of each episode.  Another plot ends after maybe three or four episodes.  All the while the plot that is the central premise — why has he been burned and who did it — continues not only from show to show, not just throughout the first subplot, but also from season to season. Add to all this a backstory of the main character as well as the others and you have quite an intricate spider web.  You just can’t break free.

Jeffrey Donovan plays the smart-ass spy that nearly kept me from watching episode two.  He is, however, one of the main reasons I continue now.  As a spy his job is to play various other characters.  He does that well and, as I discovered, often with humor.  This show, much like White Collar, doesn’t take itself seriously.  In one episode, Donovan does Eastwood’s Dirty Harry or any character Eastwood plays — a few simple, threatening words said in a low growling whisper.  Hilarious.  At one point they also unite Cagney and Lacey, though not as Cagney and Lacey, but as elderly women friends. Maybe this is what they would have been like once they were on a police pension. 

Unlike White Collar, though, Burn Notice is violent.  And none of the characters are more violent than the lead’s scantily clad girlfriend Gabrielle Anwar, whose answer to any problem is either “shoot them” or “blow them up.”  Lots of people get shot.  Lots of people and places get blown up. (With several seasons behind them, it’s amazing there are any buildings left in Miami.)  They must have a big budget. The third main character is Sam.  Bruce Campbell, as I mentioned at the top — who just might be Marshall from How I Met Your Mother at mid-life, but much deadlier — is excellent. 

The stories can be a little corny and repetitive especially if you are watching them in marathon fashion as I am. But this isn’t Pulitzer Prize material anyway, just absolutely well-done action drama that hits all the right notes.  And Miami couldn’t be any more inviting than it is here.  I’m ready to go back.  I hope the show can stay there.  Reportedly there has been some trouble between the show’s producers and the civic powers in that sunny Florida city that might have prevented a seventh season. Late reports indicate an agreement has been reached. A seventh season in Miami is possible.

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