August 14, 2008


Bele, Gorshin's other famous television role, ...

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USA Today: The network’s newest misfits. (Nancy Franklin, August 11, 2008, The New Yorker)
In “Burn Notice,” Jeffrey Donovan stars as Michael Westen, a suddenly former spy—“burn notice” is the term used in spy circles when an agent is terminated. Westen has been burned for reasons he doesn’t know; one moment he’s in a market in Nigeria, and the next he’s being packed onto a plane and sent off to a place not of his choosing, which happens to be Miami, where his mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless), lives. But he’s not out of danger—his own people, whoever they are (we’re never told which government agency Westen was connected with, or even if he was formally connected with one at all), may be after him, and so may the people he was after. Miami, with its heat, intrigue, flow of shady capital, and fabled glamour, is a good spot for “Burn Notice”; it’s both Hollywood and Casablanca. (The show’s creator, Matt Nix, originally set it in Newark but was, shall we say, gently persuaded by USA to move it to Miami.)

While Westen is trying to figure out who burned him, and how he can regain his job, he lends a helping hand to his mother’s friends, and to other locals who have found themselves on the wrong side of thugs, assassins, and blackmailers. At the same time, he has to protect his mother, who, by virtue of being related to him, is always a potential target for no-goodniks. Michael has a complicated relationship with his mother, who is a less blowsy and flamboyant version of the mother Gless played in “Queer as Folk,” combined with some of Mama Rose’s will. She’s pushy, she chain-smokes, and she wears the kind of big, colorful earrings that say “Florida retiree with pizzazz.” Michael resents her for not having been the best mother and for having turned a blind eye to his father’s failings—his father was an irresponsible, absent type, and it’s clear that that neglect has something to do with Michael’s escape into another life. Upon his return to Miami, his mother says, “You missed your father’s funeral. By eight years.” Michael’s ambivalence toward his mother is already getting old, partly because his character is not deepening as the series goes on. Donovan has a hard, closed face, and he deploys a broad, deliberately insincere grin that conveys Westen’s bitterness and cynicism, but not much else. It is not a terrible thing that Donovan strongly resembles the actor James Franco, but it is unfortunate that his steely glint, his wiry frame, and his often inappropriate smile call up Frank Gorshin’s Riddler in the old “Batman” series.

What little emotional life Michael has is with a weapons expert, Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), who works with him and is a sometime flame; but if there’s lingering feeling between them in the script, it’s not on the screen. Fiona’s value is comic; she’s a pretty Irish lass, who happens to be turned on by violence, and who gets pouty when she has to hold her fire. The best character in “Burn Notice” is an old colleague of Westen’s, Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), who left the world of espionage for the girls, the bars, and the ease of Miami; he’s a happy bachelor, if slightly harried by his (offscreen, and funnier for it) girlfriend, and despite the fact that he has been secretly reporting to government agents on his old pal Michael and is a little torn about that. Campbell, a square-jawed, solidly built, handsome actor with a resonant, announcer’s voice, became famous in the eighties for his appearances in the “Evil Dead” movies (he wrote a book called “If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor”). His suburban-dad looks have given way to a warm, scruffy bearishness, and he ambles through “Burn Notice” as if he were having the time of his life. note that the main players pull it off without seeming like they're trying very hard.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at August 14, 2008 10:09 AM
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