For a long time, television has brought us a plethora of police & detective procedural shows. From Dragnet to Law & Order, Columbo to Monk, we’ve often spent hours at a sitting looking into the lives of the men and women who enforce the law. It’s a rare show that instead deals with the world of espionage in a similar way. Burn Notice sets itself apart in a variety of ways.
One of the unique things about the series is also something of a stumbling block to new viewers, myself included. Michael Westen has a bit of a “seen it all, done it all” attitude, which can cause him to come across as wooden or blasé. However, this actually adds to the show, rather than taking anything away from it, as the CIA clearly trained Michael to be extremely adaptable, able to roll with just about any punch. At the drop of a hat, he can adopt any number of personalities, along with an appropriate accent, and be entirely convincing to whomever he needs to fool. He also lets us into the procedures and thought patterns of the espionage world through his frank and sarcastic narration throughout the show, which keeps the tone from getting too dark. Finally, and somewhat reluctantly, he occasionally gets help from his mother, which ranges from assistance in surveillance to spending time in her air conditioning, since his low-rent loft is without that amenity, which is odd in South Florida.
Fiona Glenanne, Michael’s Girl Friday, is a former IRA operative who’s the “shoot first, ask questions later” foil to Michael’s analytical, procedural way of doing things. Michael has a system, an answer for just about any situation he comes across, but while his toolbox tends to include a variety of clever alternatives, Fiona’s is full of bullets and C4. Their relationship is a complex one due to a past entanglement that ended abruptly thanks to Michael’s cover being blown, and while this makes for more than a few interesting and/or awkward exchanges, it means that the two of them trust each other completely.
And then there’s Sam Axe. A former SEAL and one of the best in the business in his prime, Sam’s now a semi-retired Lothario floating from one sugar momma’s love nest to another. He’d have been a contemporary of James Bond, and his skills haven’t atrophied with time, keeping up with Michael’s mercurial changes in cover & planning, and easily shooting as well as Fiona. He does all this in loud Hawaiian shirts and is never far away from some form of liquor. Oh, and did I mention that Sam is played by Bruce Campbell?
If you have any interest in espionage stories, good use of first-person narration, or an off-beat procedural different from anything in the worlds of law enforcement or medicine, I advise you to check out Burn Notice.