Screen Savors: Wicked 'Burn'

Along the way, Westen offers Spy 101, with his lessons fluctuating between clever and tedious.

Burn Notice 224 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Burn Notice 224 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Being on your own has its advantages, as we discovered on a recent trip abroad. No one to tell you what to do. No one who wants the computer. No one who thinks you shouldn't eat that Devil Dog. On the other hand, no one to hug, or to go through your pockets before the laundry or to inform you that your shirt and sweater don't match. Even spies find it tough going it alone. For example, Michael Westen, a US government agent who, in the midst of a deal in Nigeria, finds a "burn notice" posted about him, is cut off from any government contact, money, etc. Whoever pulled the rug out from under him didn't get his most valuable asset - his mouth. Westen can talk his way out of any situation. This means, though, that most of his thoughts are shared as asides, something that gets tiresome after a while. Still, when it's funny ("Southern Nigeria isn't my favorite place in the world…it's unstable, it's corrupt and the people there eat a lot of terrible-smelling preserved fish"), the show's cool - especially while watching Westen get out of a jam and back to his home base, Miami. As he gets back on his feet, we watch him try to figure out who "burned" him. He meets old girlfriends and former colleagues Fiona and Lucy along the way. The latter helps him find work as a private investigator while he continues to probe how things went wrong. Along the way, Westen offers Spy 101, with his lessons fluctuating between clever and tedious. We learn how to get away when you're being watched, how to get a kid to say the agent watching you tried to molest him and how to lose someone in a car chase. Unfortunately for Westen, but fortunately for us, the one person he can't seem to shake is his mother, Madeline, well-played by Sharon Gless (Cagney and Lacey) in a frightful wig. "Drop me in the Gobi Desert, bury me in a goddamn cave on the moon and somehow she'll find a way to call me and ask for a favor," observes Westen. That's good news, because Gless injects a little needed comic relief into what's otherwise a fairly pedestrian, albeit above average, spy show. In fact, Gless comes close to stealing the show. Lured into driving his hypochondriac mom to the doctor, he offers that, despite his extensive weapons training, "I still haven't found any defense against mom crying into my shirt." Besides instructions on how to deal with annoying drug dealers (use duct tape) and the best way to waylay a goon (use his car's air bag), Westen also offers his credo, "There's nothing like helping some little guy kick some bully's ass." That applies in Afghanistan, where Westen served, as much as it does on the streets of Miami. So, it's only natural for our hero to help a Cuban boy learn to defend himself against the school bully as he helps the boy's dad get out of a tight spot in Westen's first job as a PI. While that problem is easily solved, his troubles with the Feds aren't. Returning to his apartment, still glowing from completing his first job, he finds his place rousted. Pictures of himself are thrown on the floor along with a "Welcome to Miami" card, making it clear that someone isn't happy with his return. Jeffrey Donovan (Touching Evil) actually is pretty slick as Westen but Gabrielle Anwar (The Tudors) is even better, as his sexy ex, Fiona, for whom "violence is foreplay." Not everything here works, especially the bumpy script. In advising the Cuban boy, Westen offers, "You have to lose some fights so you can win." Groan. And though the bikini-clad girls at every turn may scream Miami and keep the male audience tuned in, it's a bit much. But, with elements of The A Team (building cool weapons out of household supplies), Simon and Simon (serious detective/spy stuff with humorous injections) and others all its own, Burn Notice takes the sting out of the summer TV schedule doldrums - even if you're home alone. Burn Notice airs on YES Stars 2 Wednesday nights at 10:20 p.m.