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TV Preview: Burn Notice – Season Four

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At its best, Burn Notice is a television show that deftly mixes humor and action, intimate family moments and plots for secret agent world domination, excellent spy insights and lots of alcohol.  At its worst, Burn Notice is as foolishly plotted spy comedy that is never sure whether it wants to be funny or dramatic and seems ill at ease with both.  Thankfully, those worst moments are few and far between – the show is far more the former than the latter, and the season four premiere, which airs June 3 at 9pm on USA is a perfect example of that.

ThPhoto by: Nigel Parry/USA ough the main character, Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), does a great job and bringing new viewers into the fold via his voiceover at the beginning of every episode, for the uninitiated the story goes something like this – Westen was a spy, got burned (blacklisted), and ever since has been trying to figure out who burned him and why.  Through the seasons he's actually progressed on this quest, learning that a shadow group known as "Management" burned him and exactly how they went about doing it.  To go into greater detail would not only rob you of some pretty exciting television, but it would also spoil the opening of season four, which is not something I particularly wish to do.

One of the areas where Burn Notice routinely seems to falter is with its juggling of the long-term story and the single-episode ones.  The show, all too regularly, features a few minutes of Michael doing something to progress the long-term story at the beginning and at the end of the episode with the rest of the 44 minutes devoted to the problem of the day (sometimes this formula features a couple of minutes of long-term story in the middle).  It doesn't happen all the time, but it can make for a rather boring several weeks when the show falls into the rut. 

In fact, season four opens with just such a dividing of the time, but as the show is going to be changing slightly again this season in Michael's quest for knowledge, access, and where he plans on finding both, the bookends are good ones.  And, even better, the case of the week is good too.

The rest of the main cast – Sharon Gless, Bruce Campbell, and Gabrielle Anwar – are returning for season four, and they certainly all have various bones to pick with Michael after his extended absence between the end of season three and the opening of this one.  It is Gless, who plays Michael's mom, who gets to do much of the heavy emotional lifting with Donovan in this episode.  Her character, Madeline, was told some awfully bad things about her son at the end of last season and never got the chance to talk to him about it.  As for Anwar's Fiona, Michael's on-again off-again girlfriend, while the two of them have a couple of moments in the premiere, there are surely fireworks coming down the line.

In the end, although Michael's long-term story has turned something of a corner, it appears from the season premiere that we're going to be getting a whole lot more of the same from Burn Notice this year.  That is really not a complaint at all – although the series can find itself stuck on repeat a little too often in terms of its structure, usually the cases are diverting and the writing witty.  Bruce Campbell, who plays Sam, Michael's friend and semi-regular co-worker, is as much fun here as he is in anything.  Anwar manages to mix her character's love of Michael and guns in always entertaining ways.  Gless' chain-smoking, guilt-tripping mother is a master of her trade and the perfect example of why so many think it so important to have a buffer.  And Donovan, his Michael is an utterly obsessed (but with good reason) guy who is just trying to do the right thing, something which we can all relate to, and when it's combined with girls, guns, and fast cars, many of us would like to actually live (without the burn notice and constant threat of death, naturally).

Burn Notice, though it is "summer fare" in that it routinely opens its seasons in the summer, should not be mistaken for what one usually thinks of as summer television.  It features great dialogue, clever plot twists, and good acting.  It is also not too late to start watching the series, the spy comedy seems to still have a whole lot of life left in its fourth season and despite its having a long-term story arc it is easy enough for new audience members to pick up.

Burn Notice's fourth season premieres June 3rd at 9pm on USA.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • http://www.stephencarey.net Stephen

    Wonderful encapsulation of the show, Josh (if I may). And, I more than anything as so pleased that you spoke to the fact that it is not what used to be “summer fare.” I believe that there are a number of very solid, fun, and just plain entertaining programming that makes its appearance from the middle of spring to the summer of the year.

    These programs, usually on basic cable (though the cable network may be owned by one of the broadcast networks – think how NBC has bounced Law & Order: Criminal Intent all over the place as they struggle for any sign of life), are not fluff and entertainment sun. Some, more than others, are quite clever and let the plot of the episode bring out parts of the characters we have yet to meet.

    Thank you for taking to the time to write such a well thought out article on Burn Notice (yes, I am one of the many who can’ t wait for summer, not only for the sun, but the programs which can truly bring the viewer into the episode. All the best.

  • david hughes

    Great article, great show!

  • David Calvo

    nice analysis.love the show.