Thursday, June 04, 2009

Burn Notice, "Friends and Family": Wanted man

Quick spoilers for the "Burn Notice" season three premiere coming up just as soon as I mix beer with yogurt...
"You might as well tattoo a bullseye on your forehead." -Harlan
I already wrote a lot today about "Burn Notice," between today's column and my Matt Nix interview, and I don't have a lot to add at this point, save that, as with the introduction of Carla last season, I feel comfortable that Nix has found a way to shake up the serialized aspects of the show without in any way undermining what makes the episode-to-episode stuff so much fun. There's a lot of potential in a Michael Westen who's constantly being hunted -- by cops, by old enemies, even by old friends like Harlan -- even as he, Sam, and Fi do their usual thing.

One question: how do you feel about the use of the subtitles in this episode? There were a couple of instances -- the introduction of Harlan, and of Falcone as "the gatekeeper" -- where the subtitle flew up so fast, and just rehashed what had been in the dialogue, that it's clear the show is trying to have more fun with that device this year. But do you think it's too much fun?

Also, one observation: I was at the doctor this afternoon, and the guy brought up the column today. Turns out he's a "Burn Notice" fan, and we very quickly devolved into doing dueling impressions of Jeffrey Donovan's narration, as applied to every day situations. "When you go to to ear, nose and throat specialist, you want to make sure that..." or "When ordering Thai food, most people think..." It's fun. You can apply it to virtually any situation in your daily life.

What did everybody else think?

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes!!! I didnt think this would be back to like August. I was getting bummed out the only thing on tv now that Breaking Bad is done is Rescue Me.

And did you watch the Whitehouse special Alan? I dont care if you like Obama or not it was just fascinating seeing that much of the whitehouse

Jordan said...

Wow. That was like a movie.

Andrea said...

Well that was fun. I am hopeful for more Fi and Michael, but there was a lot of Sam that was great. Speaking of the text, Barry no longer gets one.

Andrew said...

The subtitles continue to be unmitigated awesome.

R.A. Porter said...

They'd actually started having fun with the titles like that last year. I remember when Mark Sheppard was on he was first introduced as something like 'the stalker' and then quickly a new title popped up identifying him as 'the bank robber' or similar. They did something akin to that when Fi broke up with Campbell, re-titling him 'Fiona's ex-boyfriend'.

With The Middleman no more, I'm happy if any show wants to take the funny titles mantle.

As for the episode...it was great as usual. I like how just enough hints were dropped about Harlan so we *could* suspect him, but not so many that his backstabbing was a foregone conclusion. And I loved Madeline's overly and obviously fake cheery welcome to Sam. Those two have such great chemistry together.

More thoughts in my review.

Bobman said...

One of the subtitle gags definitely made me chuckle. "He's the chief... how do you say that in Spanish"

BAM subtitle identifying the guy as "El Jefe." Perfect.

R.A. Porter said...

@bobman, that was also a bit of the foreshadowing on Harlan. He claimed not to know the word for chief in Spanish - playing into Michael's perception of his intelligence - and then used it quite naturally right after the snatch and grab.

Bryan said...

First off, I'm a long-time lurker, first-time commenter, and I love the blog and columns.

Anyway, I wanted to say that I agree with your point about the narrations, and add that they're also useful for getting through mediocre action movies. I caught Point Break on TV a couple weeks back, got bored in the middle, then found myself imagining a Michael Westen commentary track detailing all the things the characters were doing wrong. "When you're upset, it's never a good idea to shoot your gun in the air. The bullets have to come down somewhere."

Anonymous said...

Over the last few weeks, I've often found myself saying things like, "What would Michael be voicing-over right now in this situation?" I'm glad I'm not the only one!

Antid Oto said...

I'm glad it's back, and it's as fun as ever, but by god the actor playing Harlon was bad.

BigTed said...

I agree, the character of Harlan was the weak link in this episode. We've seen old friends of Mike's who are charming and almost as skillful as he is, so the fact that this guy was so dull and seemingly dumb made it obvious that he was faking right from the beginning. Meanwhile, Mike's takedown of the baddie seemed a little too easy this time around.

I'm looking forward to all the new obstacles the gang is facing this season (especially if that includes Moon Bloodgood), but I'd have to say this particular episode wasn't one of the best.

Mo Ryan said...

You guys are making me think of so many things that would be made more awesome by Michael Westen voiceovers.

"When you're staring down a smoke monster, what you don't want to do is..."

I'm going to be hearing that in my head all weekend.

Sorry to be a broken record (I twittered this yesterday), but the third episode of the season is all kinds of awesome. Jay Karnes is the guest star and he and J. Donovan are 110 percent perfect together. It's a really good episode, a pretty classic BN in my opinion.

dez said...

Pretty fun ep and yeah, that Harlan guy was not as good as the rest of them. I'm just happy the show is back.

Re: upcoming eps, I couldn't stand Moon Bloodgood in the Terminator flick, so I'm not looking forward to her and her overly bright teeth hitting Miami.

Carolyn said...

loved the subtitles. don't think they could ever have TOO much fun with them. :)

Gregg said...

Agreed, the subtitles are always fun.

Karen said...

I've got no beef with the subtitles--I like them, and like that they've been having more fun with them since mid 2nd season.

I agree that Harlan was a weak link. His arrival wasn't convincing from the moment he bailed Michael out, and his sloppiness was a little over-the-top for a guy in Special Forces. So I did find myself waiting for the moment when he'd turn, and I liked that Fiona wasn't won over by him. I did think that Michael would have seen through him, though, or at least had a contingency plan for if Harlan turned on him. Maybe this is an example of his increased sentimentality.

And the notion of doing Michael Westen voiceovers to narrate one's own life? GENIUS.

jennilynn said...

Michael Westen voiceovers found their way into our everyday lives long ago...

The family talked about the Burn Notice return all day yesterday, raising the eyebrows of some teen friends who had no idea what we were talking about...

We love the subtitles & the speed at which they arrive, answer questions (El Jefe) or change the status. It was over far too quickly. Why can't great shows be on 4x week instead of crap like "I'm a Celebrity..."

M.A.Peel said...

I was a little surprised by the plotting that Michael wants "back in." That he actually wants to be re-hired by some agency. He now knows who Management is, but what is the path to clearing his name so that he can be rehired? As for Sam, was it established that he's retired from an agency?

Tyrone said...

The Michael Weston voiceover I really want to hear is "When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way . . ."

Otto Man said...

I finally figured out where I'd seen the guy who played Harlan before. He starred as Butchie Yost in the tragically disappointing John from Cincinnati.

Hatfield said...

And for any Sons of Anarchy fans, he was the guest star in the infamous tattoo episode that finally won over Alan and many others. I wonder if his "bad" acting in this was part of his play, because he seemed much better after he revealed himself.

I thought this was a solid episode to get things going again, and I'm looking forward to a Michael who can actually get in trouble. One thing, though: Didn't buy that the mercenary team would just believe some dude on the phone. I know they hesitate to show Michael kill anyone, but he should have offed Harlan himself, especially after his "That's all I needed to hear" line.

Henry said...

My favorite part was after the initial meeting with the Gatekeeper (I still love the amusing subtitles, by the way) and Michael looks to see if he's watching, then pops his shoulder back in, screams in pain, then immediately growls and stalks away in anger.

It was hilarious to me how swiftly Michael changes personalities.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It was hilarious to me how swiftly Michael changes personalities.

One of the things that occurred to me during the Matt Nix interview, is that "Burn Notice" is kind of the show that Fox initially wanted "Dollhouse" to be: the main character adopts a new identity every week, and is a blank but interesting slate the rest of the time, and each episode is more or less its own genre (with action and comedy as constants within those different genres).

Jeffrey Donovan works as a chameleon; Eliza Dushku doesn't.

Henry said...

Well, I think the difference is that Jeffrey Donovan infuses Michael with a good dose of humanity. I was watching the Pilot before the third season premiere and it occurred to me that Michael is a ruthless guy (kinda has to be in the spy business), but that he has some kind of heart. That makes the show work, whereas Dollhouse uses sci-fi principles to try and fill in the gaps left by each personality Eliza Dushku inhabits. That doesn't get people to root for Echo the way people root for Michael.

Karen said...

Plus Donovan/Westen have charisma up the wazoo. His relationships with Sam, Fi, and Madeline give him something to do with his personality even when he's not taking on new cover identities. Dushku/Echo simply aren't given that opportunity.

Anonymous said...

In response to the question "why does Michael want to get back in?" They touched on that with Fi, plus it's the subtext for the next season, at least that's what I infer from the Nix interview.

It's a good question for the rest of the season. I take it as something of you can't fire me, I quit. Also Michael wants his good name back. He's not a traitor, even if he doesn't go to jail for the false charge, it's not something someone wants hanging over one's head.

rhys said...

I think the subtitles are a nice little humorous part of the show and I don't have a problem with them always being humorous.

I didn't catch the "jefe" trick with Harlan, good call.

The grab at the end was an awesome pay off like usual.

I think they could better express Michael's motivation for wanting to get back in, but I don't have a problem with believing it personally. First, to me, this is this only thing he's known for years and he's good at it. What exactly else is supposed to do? My feeling is that maybe by the end of the series he will finally quit the spy business and start a private security firm to do good deeds all over the world. But for now, I can easily see a man as focused and determined as him not wanting to give up the only career he has known in his life so easily. Second, it might be a little more believable if they focused on the fact that an intelligence agency would also offer him protection from his enemies.

medrawt said...

As a big recent Burn Notice fan - I caught the second half of season 2, then watched season 1 on DVD - I didn't think the episode was great, but was happy anyway.

As a Dollhouse fan, I get not liking the show for empathetic/charismatic/difficult-to-root-for-Echo reasons, but (and I don't think I'm just carrying water for Whedon here, even though I probably would) that's kind of the show's point, and while softening that aspect of the show would probably make more people like it, it'd betray the extent to which the show is trying to seriously engage its own premises.

And as a Jay Karnes fan I'm ridiculously over the top about hearing that he's coming back. Jay Karnes and Richard Schiff are at the top of my list of "presumably available television actors who I really can't fathom why they don't show up everywhere, all the time, because they're probably more interesting actors than whoever's supposed to be your lead." I'm glad Burn Notice recognized that both of them were worthy of screen time (and I was very glad of Schiff on In Plain Sight.

dez said...

I finally figured out where I'd seen the guy who played Harlan before. He starred as Butchie Yost in the tragically disappointing John from Cincinnati

That's where I know him from! Thanks, Otto Man.

I'm also another one who loves the titles. I was saying "El Jefe" at about the same time that title popped up, which made it funnier to me.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

"Jeffrey Donovan works as a chameleon; Eliza Dushku doesn't."

Jeffrey Donovan is a good actor.

Susan said...

@rhys "My feeling is that maybe by the end of the series he will finally quit the spy business and start a private security firm to do good deeds all over the world."

Leverage crossover!

J-rod said...

I liked the episode save for the utter implausibility of the authorities not investigating a waterside fire in the middle of the night.