The spy in this spy show is played by Jeffrey Donovan (who incidentally was not in Mumford). Donovan is Michael Westen – a US Government agent who is unceremoniously fired, beaten up, and discarded in Miami without so much as a pink slip or explanation from his former agency (I’m assuming this is the case. I missed the beginning of the first episode so I’m going with the commercials on this one). To make matters worse for Westen, his money’s gone, his history’s been erased and he’s stuck in the same city as his possessive mother and combative ex-girlfriend who also happens to be a spy. It’s now Westen’s job to figure out how things went wrong and then put them right again.
Burn Notice has a difficult mission. It wants to be two parts James Bond to one part Remington Steele. It’s a fine line to be edgy, dangerous, and comedic and I have strong suspicions that Burn Notice will end up falling on the softer side of Remington Steele.
For one thing, leading man Jeffrey Donovan isn’t quite suave enough to be Bond (or even Steele, really) but he fits smoothly into the role of an everyday nice guy caught in a jam -who just happens to be an ex-spy. And in many respects, Donovan’s acting is a lot like his character’s personality; he wants to be a tough guy but deep down inside he’s all softie. Sure, he may help immigrants and little old ladies because he needs the money and information, but we know it’s really because he’s a decent guy who can’t ignore a genuine plea for help.
That’s not to say that Michael Westen is a wuss. Donovan is sleek and muscular enough to be a credible killing machine even if his puppy dog eyes (I may be a dude but I do notice these things) convey an inner good guy-ness. It’s only when Donovan tries to be cold and conflicted that he instead comes out sounding stiff and stilted.
It’s still early in the show’s career, but the simplistic plotlines also keep Burn Notice out of Bond territory. Westen quickly meets a wronged victim and sets out to help them in exchange for some cash or helpful intel. The bad guys are then identified within the first ten minutes and the remaining time in the hour long show is spent going through the espionage motions of bugging, shadowing, and general tomfoolery. This could get formulaic real fast except for the key additions of some excellent co-stars.
Gabrielle Anwar is the trigger-happy ex-girlfriend and she manages a solid performance despite an Irish (?) accent that makes her sound like a female version of Colin Farrell. By the second episode, some actual chemistry exists between her and Donovan and the makings of a relationship that isn’t quite “love-hate” begins to emerge.
The real scene-stealer, however, is good old Bruce Campbell. Brisco County Jr. has aged considerably since the last time I saw him, but he’s still got that same loveable charm and goofball wit. Campbell plays washed out ex-agent Sam who is Westen’s energetic foil and reluctant ally. Sam looks like he’ll be a frequent partner for Westen and bringing in Bruce Campbell already looks like the smartest move Burn Notice has made.
Visually, this is unmistakably a beach show. It doesn’t have the crazy colors of CSI:Miami (or David Caruso’s baby lips), but the washed blues and beiges remind me of Pacific Blue from back in the day. And perhaps I’m simply spoiled on high-definition television, but the film quality on Burn Notice seems grainer than most shows.