In our continuing quest to bring you the very best TV we can find, we at the Den thought it was high time we introduced you to the most popular show you’ve never heard of – Burn Notice.
Currently in rotation on FX UK, you’d be forgiven for never having heard of Burn Notice. Despite quietly building up an audience of over five million viewers in the US over its three season tenure, it’s the very definition of a cult show. The loyal following it enjoys isn’t a product of million dollar advertising or high profile casting, but simply word of mouth, the sheer quality of the programming and, oh yes, Bruce Campbell.
Created by relative TV newbie Matt Nix, the show follows the adventures of ex-spy Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan, The Changeling), after the eponymous burn notice is dropped on him mid assignment in Nigeria. Essentially cutting his ties with the government, freezing his assets and generally being a huge pain, the burn notice leaves him with no job, no credibility and nowhere to turn.
Dumped in his hometown of Miami after a particularly narrow escape from Nigeria, Michael is desperate to get his job back and get the hell out of town. However, penniless and essentially non-existent, Michael is forced to make a living helping the hopeless, while trying to figure out why he was burned in the first place.
With his IRA affiliated ex-girlfriend Fiona (Gabriella Anwar), ex-navy seal acquaintance by the name of Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) and um, his mum Madeline (Sharon Gless), Weston rights wrongs, stands up for the little guy and generally ensures justice is served in his little Miami enclave, all the while fighting for his reputation and career.
Two parts A-Team to one part Magnum, with more than a little dash of MacGyver, Burn Notice adds a fantastically sarcastic voiceover, step-by-step bomb making and survival techniques and more martial arts than you’ve ever seen crammed into an hour, to bring you one of the most entertaining and well made shows currently available to the discerning viewer – a show that’s fresh, funny, smart and more interesting and mysterious than five series of Lost.
The series premiere, creatively titled ‘Pilot’ won the Edgar Allan Poe award for Best Episode Teleplay, and it’s easy to see why. After dispensing with the set-up at break neck speed, Michael grudgingly takes his first job – investigating a robbery at the home of a multi-millionaire property developer. The estate’s caretaker, Javier, is in the frame for the robbery and is desperate to prove his innocence. A widower with a young son, Michael resolves to clear Javier’s name. During the investigation, he shows anyone who cares to watch how to crack a safe using a pencil, how to bug a car with a mobile phone and how to take out a drug dealer using duct tape. He also gives Javier’s son a crash course in self defence and even steals a car to drive his mum to the hospital – but he has it back by five. All of which takes place in less than an hour.
It’s not all plain sailing, though, as Michael’s crack team prove somewhat troublesome. Fiona, bitter and almost impossible to understand thanks to her Connery-esque Oirish accent, is still in love with our spy, making working together just a tad uncomfortable, while Big Sam is informing on Michael to the FBI in return for a liquid lunch. What’s that about keeping friends close?
Despite these minor hiccups, Michael solves the case, and even persuades the real thief – the property multi-millionaire – to pay out a substantial amount of money in return for Javier’s inconvenience. How does he do it? With a Christmas tree, one or two fantastically barbed comments and some well-placed furniture. Genius.
While it’s a happy ending for Javier, Michael finds that he’s got yet another problem to deal with – while he was tied up solving the robbery, the super-spy failed to notice that he was being followed and photographed.
It’s no secret that the US is currently producing some fantastic TV – Mad Men, True Blood and Dexter among them – and Burn Notice more than deserves to be included on the list. From the opening scene down to the closing credits, it’s all sharp humour, fast paced action and a huge amount of fun.
The show’s casting is pitch perfect. It’s great to see Bruce Campbell reaching the mainstream audience that’s been deprived of him for so long, and the show clearly agrees with him – he’s never been more twinkly; even Gabrielle Anwar, despite the ridiculous accent, more than holds her own, but it’s Jeffrey Donovan who’s the real revelation here. From the sarcastic voiceover to the violence for eight-year-olds, Donovan doesn’t miss a beat. His obvious affection for the character, coupled with the supremely confident performance of an actor on top of his game makes the show all the more enjoyable.
Creator Matt Nix has managed to produce a show that’s both familiar and original, uses some fantastic dramatic devices, and always stays the right side of snarky. If you’re looking for something to fill an hour long hole in your week, you can’t do much better than Burn Notice. Did we mention Bruce Campbell is in it?