I have a confession to make. Actually two. OK, three. I have three confessions to make. 1. I haven't watched USA's summer spy drama Burn Notice in about three seasons. 2. I fell asleep while watching the season six premiere last night and had to watch the end of it this morning. 3. I find Jeffrey Donovan unbelievably attractive.
Now that you know all that, you know where I'm approaching this show from. Originally about CIA operative Michael Westen who gets "burned" and isn't allowed to leave Miami for suspicious reasons he hopes to untangle, Burn Notice started out as a fun and flirty show. It was about Michael trying to deal with his kooky mother, sarcastic partner, and crazy ex-girlfriend while readjusting to life outside the CIA and using his Bond-like skills to solve little mysteries every week for people around town. It was cute. It was a bunch of easily digestible episodes with a theme running through them. It was the perfect show for summer, where you could miss an episode or two or doze off in the middle and it didn't really matter.
Tuning in after six season, things have gotten considerably more complicated. Michael's girlfriend Fiona turned herself in after being framed for blowing up the British consolate and Michael was forced to work by some guy named Anson whose chief crime seems to be wearing a rather unfortuate mustache. There's also a bald CIA (FBI?) agent named Jesse who is running around saving Michael's mom (Sharon Gless, who is always holding a cigarette and never taking a drag) and a lady fed who is wearing Kohl's worst pantsuit.
There was no cute little case this week, no fun kvetching between Michael and his silly partner Sam, there was lots of running and standoffs and explosions. I do like explosions, but the rest seemed so upset. It's like when your stoner friend finally gets upset about something and you kind of freak out because you don't like all his nervous energy and he doesn't quite know how to channel it. Oh, and there's the voice over. Originally it was so Michael could explain his nifty spy tactics, now it's just an annoying incursion to move the plot along.
Yes, Burn Notice is still an enjoyable hour, but it's not what it used to be. It's a show that's gotten bogged down in its own mythology at the expense of the lightness that used to be what attracted so many people to it. Good thing Jeffrey Donovan is still so damn hot.
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Exclusive: Jeffrey Donovan Asks His Enemy for Help in 'Burn Notice' Preview
'Third Watch' Actor Gets A 'Burn Notice'
Burn Notice Premiere
October 01, 2004 10:40am EST
As Ladder 49 opens Baltimore firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) gets trapped inside a blazing warehouse while rescuing a trapped civilian. With his escape routes either caved in or burned down Jack has to keep his wits as he waits for Fire Chief Mike Kennedy (John Travolta) and his fellow firefighters to rescue him. Lying in a bed of rubble Jack has rather vivid and detailed flashbacks of pivotal moments in his life including his first day at the firehouse the day he met his wife-to-be at the supermarket their wedding day the birth of their daughter and so on. While these flashbacks provide neat chronological accounts of his life they do very little to shape or build Jack's character because they are focused on his heroic antics rather than the man underneath the uniform. The film also works feverishly to showcase the brotherly bond between the men but doesn't extend beyond silly firehouse pranks including putting a goose in someone's locker or tossing a lit newspaper into an occupied toilette stall. The only thing missing from these tawdry sitcom-like moments is a laugh track. Third Watch the NBC drama following New York City police paramedics and firefighters on the 3-11 p.m. shift offers more character development and intrigue in a one-hour episode than this feature film dishes out in two hours.
Phoenix is both sweet and awkward in the role of Jack a rookie firefighter who can't hide his enthusiasm about his line of work. Jack's charming side is demonstrated in his relationship with his wife particularly in the intensely loving way Phoenix looks at his co-star Jacinda Barrett whether they're at a crowded birthday bash or riding on the back of the fire truck following their humble small-town nuptials. Phoenix's Jack also has a slightly dim-witted side which comes through in the "Aw shucks" way he reacts to being the butt of many firehouse pranks. But there's a third sadly missing dimension missing to Jack: He's a hero with no fire in his belly. Travolta on the other hand just isn't convincing in this blue-collar role of fire chief. Perhaps it's just that these characters are too damn perfect. Post 9/11 firefighters have become more than rescuers they are in the eyes of many Americans heroes and Ladder 49 adopts the biased notion that they are also faultless.
Director Jay Russell (Tuck Everlasting) visually captures the essence of this working class Baltimore neighborhood and its firehouse from Jack's cluttered wood-paneled home to Mike's utilitarian firehouse office. Production designer Tony Burrough paid meticulous attention to set details particularly in how the backdrops age over a decade; Jack's house becomes junkier and his gear gets dingier. The controlled fires on the set look incredibly real and feel equally oppressive--and this is where Russell's direction really shines. A scene in which Jack enters his first burning building for example adds to the film's authenticity: The probie (firefighter lingo for a new guy) runs up the stairs too fast and doesn't aim the hose high enough. These small details remind moviegoers what an exact line of work this really is. But while Ladder 49 effectively demonstrates the risky and altruistic work firefighters do it doesn't delve any deeper than its spectacular rescues. Throughout the film Jack is asked what motivates him to run into a burning building when everyone else is running out--a question scribe Lewis Colick never lets Ladder 49's characters answer.