TV Review: Burn Notice Season 4 Premiere – “Friends and Enemies”

Hi again!

Wow… Season 4 already? Time flies when you’re following the exploits of a burned spy and his friends and family in Miami.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the saga of Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), here’s a quick summary of this awesome series on the USA Network. Michael is a burned spy, meaning he is no longer trusted by his handlers and dumped in Miami with no resources until they figure out what to do with him. In Miami, Michael reconnected with his old girlfriend (and ex-IRA operative) Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) and a semi-retired FBI agent Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell). Together the trio try to help clients get out of their trouble so Michael can investigate who burned him and possibly get back into the good graces of his former employer.

In addition, you meet Madeline Westen (Sharon Gless), Michael’s chain smoking worry wort retiree mother. And occasionally we see his brother Nate (Seth Peterson) show up on the scene with some new get rich scheme or asking for help getting out of trouble.

Over the first three seasons, Michael had been courted by an organization simply known as “Management” who want to use his skills for themselves. They somehow engineered Michael’s “burn notice” in order to get him into a position to recruit him. Michael isn’t fond of Management to say the least and managed to cut them loose back at the end of Season 2 even though that decision caused a few issues of its own.

In Season 3, in order to stop an insane plan by Mason Gilroy (Chris Vance), Michael gets close to Gilroy and professes to “help” him with a grand plan. That grand plan turned out to be releasing insane former agent Simon (Garret Dillahunt) whose horrific exploits Michael was framed for, thus causing his burn notice.

At the end of Season 3, after Gilroy met an untimely end, Michael reluctantly contacted “Management” and worked with them to stop Simon before too many innocent people died. And in the season finale, after stopping Simon, both he and Simon were taken into custody. In the very last scene, Michael is moved somewhere and put into a chair. When his hood is removed so he can see, he finds himself in a nicely appointed office wondering what he was doing there and who he’d encounter.

Between the end of Season 3 and the beginning of Season 4, Michael has spent his time in a lovely prisoner holding facility. Fiona, Sam, and Madeline have no idea what happened to him. And in the very first scene, Michael is placed into a well-appointed den with lots of bookshelves and fine antiques. He’s introduced to Vaughn (Robert Wisdom) who presents him with some interesting papers…

Can Michael work with Vaughn long enough to get to the bottom of whatever evil scheme Management is working to help or hinder? Only time will tell. But once Michael returns to Miami, he’s thrust into the middle of a little situation that Fiona and Sam managed to cook up while he was gone.

Somehow lawyer Winston (Rich Sommer) managed to help a woman divorce a member of a biker gang and get her to safety. The biker gang didn’t like that much and has put a price on Winston’s head. And once you’ve annoyed one member of a biker gang, it’s likely you’ve miffed them all. So Michael has to help Sam and Fiona clear up that mess and help Vaughn get some information he needs.

Looks like Season 4 of Burn Notice will be full of some interesting twists and turns for Michael and the gang. I’m happy that Management is back in the picture again. Though evil, they always seem to present some unique moral quandaries for Michael to navigate.

Be sure to tune in on the USA Network tonight – Thursday, June 3 at 9/8 Central – for the season premiere. I can’t wait to see what creator Matt Nix and his awesome cast have in store for us this time!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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[TV News] Covert Affairs on USA July 13

Hi there!

Yes, I love a good spy yarn. Burn Notice has been scratching that itch for a couple of years now. I didn’t really get sucked into the story of Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), and the gang until Season 2, but I’ve been a big fan since I got hooked. I’m excited to say that Burn Notice returns for Season 4 on June 3!

Joining it this July 13 is the new show Covert Affairs where we meet CIA trainee Annie Walker (Piper Perabo). Was she picked for her language skills? Or is it something else from her past that her CIA handlers really want her for?

Joining Ms. Walker is Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham), a military intelligence agent for the CIA blinded on assignment. Auggie will help guide young Annie as she becomes a spy in the real world.

Other characters in Annie’s new dual life are Arthur Campbell (Peter Gallagher) as the director of Clandestine Services for the CIA, Joan (Kari Matchett), Arthur’s wife and head of the CIA’s Domestic Protection Division, and Danielle (Anne Dudek), Annie’s older sister who doesn’t know her sibling is a spy.

I really like the concept of a new spy learning the ropes. Hopefully Perabo will bring a new and fresh perspective to the spy biz like Donovan did as an experienced operative in Burn Notice. I was pleased to know that Tim Matheson, a regular on Burn Notice and a great director behind the scenes, directed the pilot for Covert Affairs. He’s certainly keeping busy!

Gorham, based on some little clips I’ve seen here and there, looks to be both a conscience and a source of humor for the show as the blind guy leading the new girl around. I’d attach some clips, but evidently they don’t want them embedded now. (You can find one of them here for now.)

Anyway, it looks interesting. And once again, the USA Network proves it’s the place to find some of the more unique programs on television these days!

–Fitz

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Interview: Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar talk about Burn Notice

Hi all…

Burn Notice began airing in June 2007 on the USA Network. The series, created by Matt Nix, centers on Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), a spy “burned” by his own agency who ends up in Miami, Florida. When a spy is “burned,” he is considered a threat to national security and dumped somewhere he cannot leave. It’s tough to go anywhere when your bank accounts are frozen and you have no assets. Since the beginning, Westen has been trying to find out who burned him and how to get back into the agency’s good graces.

Luckily for Westen, he has friends and family in Miami. His mom, Madeline (played to the hilt by a chain-smoking Sharon Gless), lives in Miami, as does his friend and former FBI agent Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) and his former IRA operative girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar). This odd quartet mixes camp humor and action in an explosive combination.

This Thursday, Burn Notice ends its third season with another cliffhanger to hold us over until the fourth season begins in June 2010. As the season ramps down, actors Donovan and Anwar took some time out of their schedules to answer a few questions.

It was obvious from the beginning of the conference call that the pair had a good relationship off camera as well as on the set. The duo laughed genially a lot at many of our questions but seemed happy to answer just about whatever came up.

When asked what drew the actors to the show and their characters, Anwar said it was the initial script and how her character Fiona was written. “I couldn’t believe that a man had actually written the script,” she said. “I mean at least her character. When I first met Matt Nix, who created and wrote the script, I actually said to him ‘You must have a remarkable relationship with your wife, because you have such incredible insight.'” She continued with “When you sign up for a TV show, you don’t know if it’s going to be for a pilot or for the rest of your life, so I wanted to play a characater that I enjoyed thoroughly – and there weren’t that many of them out there.”

Answering the same question, Donovan said he was hooked by the introduction. “The first page is a voiceover. It says ‘You know what it’s like to be a spy?'” The opportunity to not only play a spy, but play a burned spy and “on top of that… talk to the audience about what it’s like being a spy [as a voiceover]” piqued his interest.

Another reporter asked about the actors’ success in television and why they keep coming back to do more TV work. Donovan said that, especially with cable, “it’s an avenue to be creative.” He said “I think why people are drawn more now to cable shows than ever is that they take more risks – they’re creatively pushing the envelope. I think that the networks have to answer to a bigger advertising calling, whereas the smaller cable [channels] have lower ceilings they can bump their heads on.”

He continued. “And if you think about it, we make 16 one-hour movies a season. You don’t get an opportunity like that in movies.”

Anwar said she likes the stability of television – “the continuity of having a lifestyle where I know I can pay my rent at the end of each month.” And as a mother, she said it was “nice for all of us to sort of know we’re going to be in a specific place for a certain amount of time. I’ve never known that in my career. So I’m really quite grateful at this point that I get to have this sort of double existence and can rely on both.”

When asked if actor/director Tim Matheson would return as ‘Larry’ – Westen’s former insane spy partner who has gone freelance – Donovan was quite outspoken about the actor. “He’s a terrific character and Tim’s such a wonderful man and an extraordinary actor. One, we were lucky to get him, and two – he’s actually happy to be on the show and wants to continually come back.”

During the call we also learned that Matheson will be directing the premiere episode for season four, which is great. He acted in and directed a few episodes of season 2 and 3, and whenever his character Larry shows up, the audience knows something bad will happen to poor Michael Westen.

Later in the call, Anwar was asked about working with Sharon Gless and how Fiona and Madeline’s characters have grown closer over the seasons. She definitely agreed with that assessment… “I think that these two women have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. There’s so little spoken about what’s really being felt and really being witnessed with that connection to Michael, I think it’s pretty accurate to real life, especially with in-law figures. There’s so much that’s not spoken out loud, and yet there are so many physical undertones and it’s very apparent – and that’s thanks to Sharon. I mean, her performance is so beautifully nuanced and I find it terribly inspiring. She’s a wonderful woman and actress.”

When Donovan was asked about what he does in his off time, he mentioned he golfs as regularly as he can. “Luckily down in Florida, there’s a lot of golf courses. And I just put a golf hat on and take my sticks out and usually walk a course. Sometimes I’m by myself and sometimes I just kind of walk onto a twosome or threesome and join them. And most people just kind of leave me alone. That’s my quiet time. I love walking about four or five hours on a golf course.”

This season, we were introduced to Mason Gilroy, a violent psychopathic villain played almost gleefully by Chris Vance (recently on FOX’s Mental). The characters of Gilroy and Westen seem on screen to be like two coiled vipers waiting to strike each other. When I asked Donovan and Anwar about working with him this season, they seemed quite happy with the opportunity.

“Yes, he’s definitely added a great tension to every scene that I’m in with him,” said Donovan. “And I think [he’s] kind of a great super villain that governs over the show. I think the best part of Burn Notice is always when the villain or guest star is more talented, smarter, or crazier than the rest of the cast because it ups all our game.”

Anwar agreed, adding “There’s nothing more inspiring than to have to pull everything you have out of your back pocket on the stage. And we have so little time to rehearse and to find everything imaginable in one scene, that when you do have this fantastic talent to work with it really is fun, [and] it makes it that much more enjoyable.”

It’s obvious that these two great actors enjoy the series they’re on, their characters, the setting, and the chance to act with some other great actors in the process. Burn Notice is one of the best, most interesting series on TV right now and I hope it continues long into the indefinite future.

Be sure to tune into the Burn Notice Season 3 finale this Thursday night on the USA network!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Burn Notice on DVD at Amazon!

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