September 20, 2007


The Man Behind a Spy Left Out in the Cold (MARGY ROCHLIN, 9/20/07, NY Times)

“Most spy skills are criminal skills,” Mr. Nix said recently, sitting in his tiny, almost heartbreakingly drab office in Glendale, Calif. “You’re just doing them under the umbrella of an official agency. You’re going to other countries and breaking their laws. You’re a burglar, a thief and a con artist — just to hopefully good ends.”

In the case of “Burn Notice,” viewers don’t know the ethical extent of our hero’s cloak-and-daggery; they just know he liked his job and wants it back. Using his secret-agent arsenal to help desperate clients, he is aided, or distracted, by a willful, Irish Republican Army-trained ex-girlfriend (Gabrielle Anwar); a former military intel buddy who’s also an F.B.I. informant (Bruce Campbell); and a hectoring mother (Sharon Gless) who keeps his cellphone ringing.

The television critic Alessandra Stanley, while noting that in real life a burn notice is serious business, wrote in The New York Times that the show was “cheerfully insouciant about the world’s trouble spots but takes its hero’s inner child to heart.” The generally positive notices have been reflected in the ratings: The series has won its Thursday-night basic-cable time slot every week, and USA has already ordered a second season.

Mr. Nix, 36, who makes a living writing feature films but has not had a script produced, came up with the idea for “Burn Notice,” his first television gig, through conversations with an international security expert named Michael Wilson.

Mr. Nix said Mr. Wilson would “say things, like, ‘If you’re going to get into a big fight, it’s a good idea to get into a fight in bathrooms — there’s a lot of hard surfaces,’ and I’d think, ‘O.K., when am I going to use that?’ ” From this, one of the comic elements of “Burn Notice” was born: In voice-over, Westen offers deadpan tips — say, how to make your own flash grenade by, among other things, putting aluminum foil through a coffee grinder — as if ordinary viewers might often find themselves outnumbered by heavily armed opponents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 20, 2007 7:23 AM

The marvelous thing about this show - besides its quick-moving, breezy feel - is that it actually obeys the old literary rule of 'Show, don't tell'. Instead of repeatedly telling us, and having other characters tell us, how clever and pragmatic the protagonist is, they just show him doing it...

Posted by: Mike Earl at September 20, 2007 9:33 AM

The depiction of spy skills is probably the most realistic ever committed to film. Plus, it's just a whacking good time all 'round.

Posted by: Mike Morley at September 20, 2007 10:34 AM

This is amazing. We like the show, but have seen nothing about it anywhere, so we assumed it hadn't caught on and would go south like another show "3-lbs" we liked.

Granted the title was awful, but it was amusing and should have been allowed to find an audience instead of being yanked after only three episodes.

Posted by: erp at September 20, 2007 1:30 PM

I love Burn Notice, especially Bruce Campbell's character. I like his quote during the opening credits about spies being whiny little girls, but said with more panache.

I liked 3 lbs, too, but they never give a show a chance to catch on anymore.

I am eagerly awaiting the return of Jericho, which I caught over the summer. Outstanding show, and well worth watching again.

Posted by: Stormy70 at September 20, 2007 1:42 PM

BurnNotice is great.

Anyone watch Mad Men? I almost stopped watching the first episode, when it seemed to be just another excuse to bash the pre-60s Revolution society, but it's turned out to be more sophisticated than that.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 20, 2007 2:45 PM

The only caveat is that they're leaning toward having Robert Schiff "Toby Ziegler' from the
West Wing explain the mysterious corporate conspiracy that led to his burn notice.

Posted by: narciso at September 20, 2007 8:29 PM