Friday, January 29, 2010

Burn Notice, "Friendly Fire": Devil inside

A review of "Burn Notice" from last night coming up just as soon as I pack my 8-tracks...
"This man is a freelance psychopath - and I'm the only one in a position to do anything about it." -Michael
"Friendly Fire" was a mixed bag of an episode, illustrating many of the series' strengths, but also some of its pitfalls.

On the one hand, it was a good Sam showcase, and offered a lot of spycraft tips (warehouse roofs are easy to bust into, ice cream carts can be rigged to blow) and cool action beats (Michael, Sam and Mack walk down the side of a building under heavy fire). And it followed up on last week's Michael/Madeline confrontation in showing a Michael who now accepts he's more vigilante than spy, and that helping people comes before any attempt to get back in.

On the other, Michael's satanic gangster character was too much to swallow. Michael's undercover characters always skirt the edge of caricature, and this guy - particularly in that goofy whisper he used - fell over it. Even though things kept blowing up whenever he snapped his fingers, I kept waiting for Omar or someone else to refuse to take him seriously until he talked in a normal tone of voice.

(Also problematic, but not in a "Burn Notice" structural way: how do you cast Danny Trejo in an episode where a bad guy wields a machete, and not make Trejo the guy with the machete?)

I'm reserving judgment on Gilroy until we see where this is going. Giving basically the same performance he did on Fox's annoying, short-lived international production "Mental," Chris Vance fit in much better as a cartoonish "Burn Notice" bad guy. But he also seemed very much like Michael Shanks as Victor. Gilroy's situation is different than Victor's, but "Burn Notice" has been on long enough that the danger of feeling repetitive is very real, so we'll see if this winds up seeming like a Carla retread or not.

What did everybody else think?

36 comments:

MyFawny said...

hated the bad guy whisper and that hideous red/black suit

Austin said...

I hated the whisper/accent or whatever he was trying to do there, but the snap was oddly enjoyable. Plus there was a lot of spy stuff in this one so overall I liked it.

Anonymous said...

The suit might have worked without the whisper accent, but both together. Overall a pretty good episode, but like other episodes would be better if they didn't make the bad guys seem so witless. All around that's the one main flaw of this show as I see it. It's too procedural--if they're going to win every case every time and be able to finish the show unscathed and drinking a cool beer where's the fun in that?

max_h said...

Yea, Mike's hoarse whisper voice was jarring. I kept thinking "Michael's channeling Christian Bale's Batman voice in The Dark Knight!" Otherwise, the episode was a lot of fun to watch.

אורי said...

Archer post! Archer post! I mean, c'mon, an international spy that can't even dress himself. That's Comedy Gold right there.

Stiff Shots Photography said...
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Stiff Shots Photography said...

If Clint Eastwood were the Devil, that's what he'd look and sound like.

Yeah, it was a little over the top (and in hindsight, basically said "wow, those gullible Chicanos!"), but I'd hardly call it a deal-break in the overall scheme of things. Let's not forget BURN NOTICE basically falls into the "light entertainment" category, although it still has more heft than 85% of the shows on TV right now.

Jim said...

Yeah, it was a little over the top (and in hindsight, basically said "wow, those gullible Chicanos!"),

I had the same thought. And a white shirt and black tie would have toned the whole thing down to a healthy degree, I think. Also, Sam and Fi can't walk down the street without being noticed as "gringos", but they can climb all around into towers and park in view of everything that happens and set up remote bombs and... without being noticed? They couldn't wear baseball caps and sunglasses? The white guy in a frickin' Maserati doesn't attract attention?

Still a lot of fun, but almost, almost, required too much suspension of disbelief.

Maura said...

Max_h, I was also thinking Christian Bale as Batman. Both the Batman whisper and the suit totally cracked me up, but not as much as the finger-clicking leading to explosions. And there were so many great explosions last night. They made up for any flaws in this episode.

I got a little teary when Madeline said that Sam is her best friend.

Chris said...

You guys must really hate this whisper thing if no one is even bringing up the white elephant in the room...Danny Trejo was ridiculously terrible!

Alan Sepinwall said...

Of course he was terrible! He was in a bad mood because they wouldn't let him hold the machete!

Andy L said...

Am I the only one who thought that Michael's "Louis" persona was intentionally over the top because he was going to drop character with the "good" gang leader? Even after they took down Rincon and Vega I was expecting him to drop the act and let them know that he was a guy they wanted to have as a friend.

That has been my main issue with this show as it goes on. With all the underworld figures and small timers that he has helped, he should have a much bigger stable of friends and allies. Especially now that he has accepted the fact that he is a vigilante, not a spy. Leaving his extended circle at Barry and the arms dealer with the crazy eyes doesn't feel like it is enough anymore.

Chris said...

I suppose I can't argue around that explanation, Alan.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's because I only had three hours of sleep but I thought it was a scream. I'm tired of the southern accents.

ha! word verification..weadstor

Alan said...

Was the bad-guy (who wasn't so bad) the same actor who played Spike in the early 90s classic rollerblading movie "Airborne"? Just looked like him...

Alan said...

It was! I can't believe I picked him out. That's Jason Vargas, aka Snake (not Spike, sorry!) from Airborne.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0889846/

Toby O'B said...

It was Chris Vance's voice that kept bugging me. I realize it's probably his own, or close enough to it, but it kept making me think of Cary Elwes and Simon Jones.....

dez said...

Yeah, the voice was goofy, but I was entertained, so I'm happy.

Anonymous said...

I love this show and have watched since the pilot, and yet I feel like it's been getting worse throughout season three. Everything just seems very tired and cliche -- especially Michael's voiceovers, which keep telling us things they've already told us before (for example, "hard to hide a gun in a bathing suit," or "hotels make for great meeting spots because ...")

Jeffrey Donovan has also seemed really off in these last two episodes. Last week I thought his performance was very typical and going-through-the-motions sort of work. This week it was very stiff and deliberate. (The voice, the posture, the mannerisms. It all grated on my nerves).

Lots of continuity problems with Sam's friend showing up (going back to the explanation about his marriage last season), and after he punched the guy in the face and then decided to help him about two minutes later it bought the episode down a notch for me.

Burn Notice has really been as its peak when it gives us a memorable client story, yet these last two weeks they've abandoned that in favor of stunt racing, explosions and (one really ludicrous) gun fight in which 1,000 bullets were fired but nobody had a scratch on them, despite rappelling
-- rather awkwardly -- down the side of a building.

Matt Nix has talked at length about how he goes out of his way to do this "just because" and yet the need for bombs and guns has never seemed so forced, taking away the blue sky feel and comedic tone that made Burn Notice successful.

I can't be the only one that feels this way, right?

M.A.Peel said...

I thought the voice complemented the suit which complemented the Devil incarnate thing. Sort of like Bedazzled meets the guy from Conor McPherson's play The Seafarer.

ShayDetta said...

I agree, the voice was annoying but the suit was pimping lol. I believe the opening was set in the Epic hotel by the Miami river.

Chad said...

I guess I responded to this episode a little differently. I thought the point of Michael's "character" this week was to be a caricature, of sorts. He was supposed to stand out, be over the top, memorable/borderline crazy in every way. When he approached them, the gang members responded immediately.

The voice was a distraction, but I found it humorous rather than annoying.

I'm also unsure of the "win every time" criticism. If they don't win every time, isn't that the end of the show? (I'm not sure if that's always been true, anyway. Consider the end of "Friends Like These", where Barry gets his book back but the criminal gets away.)

Overall, I thought the episode was pretty good, though a little less comedic than usual.

DeeTV said...

I guess we don't have to worry about "will they or won't they". I was a little surprised Fi & Michael got together already, but maybe I missed something in the last (half) season.

Every time I saw the black suit, I couldn't help thinking, My God he must be hot. A black suit in Miami! I love all the light colored suits Michael usually wears. Living in the NY/NJ area, I rarely see men in those kinds of suits, even in summer. And boy, does Michael wear them well. But I'm digressing....

Erin said...
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E said...

I thought this was possibly the worst episode of the series. The dialogue was bad, the plot was cliched, Michael's character seemed laughable to me, I kept expecting the gang members to start laughing at him. The "Sam and his former friend" sub-plot seemed very week to me as well. The ex-SEAL friend was even more thinly drawn than the usual friend from the past character is.

Also, something seemed very off about the pacing. I can't quite put my finger on what it was - I don't know if it was editing or directing or what.

I thought the whole episode was a mess and not even close to usual Burn Notice standards.

WWWeaves said...

Okay, uneven may be the best word. But even when it didn't work, I really enjoyed the risks. The shipper bits with Mike and Fiona were fun. Kind of stunning that an actor of Trejo's stature was on the show. I wonder what happened to his character.

Allison DeWitt said...

I had heard this was a big Sam-centric episode when he didn't get all that much to do so I was disappointed. We got a peek about his personal life..which was good but not what I expected.

Some astute posters pegged the voice thing that was bugging me...the raspy Batman -like voice (which I loathed except when it was parodied on "Community") and the English accent.

I wasn't grabbed for some reason. Maybe the poor use (IMO) of Danny Trejo ? But they blew stuff up real good. That was a plus.

Mark Jones said...

I have to object to the "win every time" complaint. For one thing, you'd have to level that at almost every series on television. For another...

One of the things I like most about this show is that very often Michael's first plan DOESN'T work. The bad guys don't react as he expected. So he has to switch horses in mid-stream and try again. And again and again, in some episodes.

In this very episode, the first attempt at catching Mincoln--a basic armed snatch--failed. THAT's when he came up with the over-the-top Whispery Dude. Then THAT plan failed because Omar had bigger problems than Michael.

Yes, Michael almost always wins eventually. But so do most serial heroes. This was not their best episode by far--but overall I think they do pretty well.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I may be showing my age, but the minute I heard the whisper, and saw the red shirt/black suit/spooky "snap my fingers and something explodes" -- my first thought was that they were all subtle references to "High Plains Drifter..."

And, maybe I've been watching too much TV lately, but I will take a supposedly "subpar" Burn Notice episode (even though I don't think this episode was weak at all) over all the overhyped Conan/Leno angst over the past two weeks. Two mediocre "comedians" -- one of whom gets a $45 million dollar "go away" payment -- sorry, that just isn't TV I care about.

Frederick said...

Not my favorite BN episode but I'll take OK BN to most anything else on TV these days.

I have to agree with one poster on the pacing - my wife pointed out she noticed the editing seemed over done with lots of fade outs, stop and go editing etc, way more than usual for BN (she works in TV I don't) but she noticed the change in the way the show was edited and didn't like it. So that poster I think was dead on regarding the editing or pacing being different from the norm.

Jim said...

I was happy Sam is still seeing Miss Reynolds. Just because there's something about the way Bruce Campbell says "Miss Reynolds" that cracks me up.

timb said...

I noticed a different editing when they left a scene, sort of a freeze and then fade to black and white. I loved it. It reminded me of watching [reruns] "The Wild Wild West" as a kid and how they used their frames when they left the scene. If there's one show on TV which reminds me of how wonderful that was The Wild Wild West, it is BN.

Good, entertaining, trashy, and with the meta-acknowledgment and good taste to admit it up front front.

Mark said...

I loved this episode.

I think the people posting are expecting Shakespeare.

Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

cgeye said...

And I think an invocation of Moff's Law is in order:

http://www.racialicious.com/2009/12/21/and-we-shall-call-this-moffs-law/

If you don't like comments other than cheers on a TV critic's blog, it's sort of self-defeating to comment yourself, isn't it? It's one hell of a way to stop a conversation dead.

Mark said...

Speaking of rules, your post violates Alan's rules because it addresses a specific post. Nor am I telling people that they are not entitled to post their comments--unlike you.

Moreover, I liked most of the comments. I was just saying that some posts are hyper-critical of what is basically a good-time, simple show.

There are differences between a show like Mad Men that essentially begs for deeper analysis and Burn Notice. Certainly, the huge divergence in the sheer number of comments that these shows generate are a clear indication of the differences.

spiralx said...

I enjoy BN a lot, because it doesn't take itself too seriously.

Chris Vance' opening salvo was sheer delight - "getting to know you, getting to know all about you", with a hint of menace throughout, mostly through mannerisms and tone. I am so looking forward to the rest of him.

Yes, the red/black suit and gruff whisper was OTT, but - it worked, and was fun.