Thursday, September 11, 2008

Burn Notice, "Double Booked": Eric Stratton, rush chairman, damn glad to meet you

After taking some time off for tennis, "Burn Notice" is back for two more weeks until going on siesta until early '09. Spoilers for tonight's episode coming up just as soon as I offer a man named Ted Nugent a thousand dollars to listen to my proposal...

Well, if they're going away for a while, at least they're going away with two really strong episodes. (USA sent out a screener of both, but I'll obviously refrain from saying anything more about next week's show.)

Let's start off with Tim Matheson, who both directed the episode and guest-starred as Michael's not-so-dead old buddy. When the hell did Matheson go and turn 60? (IMDb says nearly a year ago, actually.) He may not be as young and spritely as he was in "Animal House" (or even "Fletch"), but he can still carry himself like a man you don't want to mess with, and he was appropriately menacing and darkly funny here. The bit where he casually twirled the screwdriver in his hands was nice, but what really sold the danger was the fact that Michael -- who has an answer for any situation -- seemed scared of the guy.

Michael of course had less reason to be afraid around the hitman-hiring stepson (the latest in a long string of post-"Home Improvement" young punk roles played by Zachary Bryan), and slipped convincingly into character as a knife-wielding psycho. In some ways, "Burn Notice" is beginning to resemble the better parts of "Alias" -- not the confusing Rambaldi mythology or constant reboots, but the way it gives the leading man an opportunity to slip into another character each week before he gets to convincingly kick ass by the end.

(The shows also have strained parent-child relations in common, and this season's rehabilitation of Madline continues with the therapy session where Michael finds out his mom, not his dad, signed him into the military.)

I admire the way the "Burn Notice" team has been able to stretch their basic cable dollar, not only snagging three recognizable guest stars (including Amy Pietz as the target) when usually they have to get by with one at best, but also doing a good old-fashioned stunt with Michael jacking the garbage truck onto the back of his stolen pick-up. Not to sound like a grumpy old man who loves to talk about how everything was better in the good old days, but watching a gag like that reminds me that practical effects are often much more impressive and convincing than the CGI that's become so abundant because it's (relatively) cheap and easy to use.

Though Fiona's paramedic boyfriend turns out not to be Victor, as some people had guessed, the Carla arc progresses, and we finally get back to the key card she had him steal in her last appearance.

Good stuff. This season, "Burn Notice" has gone from amiable background noise to can't-miss viewing for me.

What did everybody else think?


Unknown said...

Maybe it's a happy coincidence, but I suspect the only reason the writers named Fiona's boyfriend Campbell is so you could have a scene with Max on the phone with her asking about Tim Matheson: "Is he as handsome as Campbell?"

R.A. Porter said...

"You a soil scientist too?"
"Oh yeah. Big time."

Not sure why, but that exchange in the ambulance slayed me.

I thought it was a great episode, and was really shocked how well Matheson directed himself. Usually when I see an actor self-direct, he avoids strange setups, sticking with really basic shots. But those shots at the end, with Otter around the corner in tight were really dramatic and worked well.

Anonymous said...

I loved Michael's list of the things he was grateful for (such as mom giving him the idea for getting the landlady out of the house).

On the one hand, I'm disappointed Fi's not dating Victor. OTOH, I like that she's happy and that Michael's jealous. Oh, and I loved Sam's new "buddy"!

The dumptruck collision was wicked cool. I love this show!

Anonymous said...

Alan said: "but what really sold the danger was the fact that Michael -- who has an answer for any situation -- seemed scared of the guy"

That was a small, terrific scene that shows how well-written and acted this series is. I agree, it has become "must-see" viewing for me. Simply excellent all around.

amitytv said...

Raul, I thought that scene was funny because the character Fiona was talking to on the phone(Sam, not Max) is actually named Bruce Campbell. Thus, the Campbell comment.
Good post as usual, Alan. Loved the scene where Michael realizes he can actually tell his Mom the truth and have her contribute help in the form of an exterminator's outfit and a good cover story. Also loved that he truely thought that was something to be grateful for, while she took it as an insult. Hilarious.

justjoan123 said...

Good post as usual, Alan. Loved the scene where Michael realizes he can actually tell his Mom the truth and have her contribute help in the form of an exterminator's outfit and a good cover story. Also loved that he truely thought that was something to be grateful for, while she took it as an insult. Hilarious.

I wonder if Madeline's rehabilitation is a result in part of Sharon Gless' being a favorite of the writers and cast. From watching the First Season DVD over the past weekend, complete with cast and crew commentary, it is clear that Jeffrey Donovan has a hard time keeping an emotional distance from her character when he so obviously adores Gless. Whether it's that or just the arc for the characters, the way Madeline has moved from being an obstruction into a real mother is wonderful to see.

Karen said...

R.A. Porter, that was the exchange that got me, too. BARKING with laughter. The fact that Sam is checking his gun during it is just added value.

I loved this episode. It was strong on so many levels. But that final scene with Michael and his mom, when she tells him--spits at him, almost--that she signed him in to the military in order to keep him from going down a bad path was a wonderful echo of Michael's reaction when Larry asked him to kill the woman. Larry saw in Michael what Madeline feared to see in him; her actions helped make him the kind of person who would take the job simply in order to put the kibosh on it.

I also loved that she didn't appreciate the sincerity of Michael's list (although, I'll grant you, the vision thing was stretching). But the sight of that list with "Providing me with a great cover i.d." at the top was priceless.

And Tim Matheson! SUCH a pleasure to see him again! He did make Larry truly malevolent. I loved that he survived--I would definitely want to see him come back again.

David J. Loehr said...

I've always liked Tim Matheson, going so far as to watch Tucker's Witch, which lasted all of 12 episodes in 1982. (Basically Nick and Nora Charles as written by Thorne Smith, in theory. Or Bewitched meets Hart to Hart.) So I'm glad that he survived precisely because I'd like to see him turn up here again...

I didn't try Burn Notice until this spring--thank you, iTunes--but it's turned into one of the few shows I watch the night it TiVos.

Anonymous said...

I also hope Matheson shows up again, both as guest star and director. He's great! And I refuse to believe he's 60 (don't even try to sway me your "facts," heh).

Unknown said...

Amity, that was exactly my point, though somehow Sam Axe in my head became Max on the page (I blame late night posting). I gotta think that little meta moment was on purpose.

Anonymous said...

Admist a bunch of "eh maybe" debuting shows and "will it be as awesome?" coming in, Burn Notice is one of the few true gems out there that I eagerly anticipate every week.

Of course I question why on earth he NEEDS Michaels help (other than, duh, set up the plot). I guess it's that he is smarmy and wants to go ahead and out himself while having "fun."

Kinda sucky that Tricia will actually be in so few episodes for the whole season- I still think they blew a lot of momentum they had going at the season ender.

Liked meeting Fi's new beau, what on earth was with her hair in that first scene? I also noticed the beau was NOT happy with these spy shenanigans and said never again. That's trouble for Fi- toning down the explosions is one thing, not playing cat and mouse at all? I don't think so.

And loved Michaels list as well- it was so much like what my list would be and perfect for his character. And that mom once again fired the therapist.

Cmon, is there anything meaningful NOT to love about this show?

Anonymous said...

Totally off topic, but I just heard Diane Ruggiero is gone from The Ex List. Some are saying she quit and others say she was fired. Any idea what really happened, Alan?

Grunt said...

Anon, I have one word for you on that matter (not to Hyjack the thread):


Dan said...

I've been watching this show from the very beginning, and for me it's Bruce Campbell who pulls the show together.

Everyone else is very good in their roles, although I think Gabrielle Anwar is maybe just a touch above average, but it's really Sam Axe who gives the show such a brilliant texture.

He's a non-typical sidekick in the form of a slightly aging, boozy ex-operative. He looks like every High School Football coach I've known: a handsome, formerly athletic man gone slightly to seed, which fits the role to a tee. His mannerisms and delivery are often derided as hammy or campy, but in this setting he's fantastic.