Burn Notice

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10-11 p.m., Thursday, June 28
USA Network


Equal parts "MacGyver," "Equalizer" and "Alias" (OK, maybe less of "Alias,"), "Burn Notice" tells of a CIA operative who, for unknown reasons, is suddenly out in the cold (CIA lingo for dumping someone is giving them a "burn notice").

The timing is bad. Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) gets the word while in Nigeria, just as he is about to deliver a hefty bribe to a local warlord. Angered, the warlord inflicts the first of many beatings on Westen, whose recuperative powers are nearly a match for the cheerleader on "Heroes."

Westen barely hops a plane back to Miami, where he is penniless but not without friends, including his ex-girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), an ex-IRA operative who is in Miami for no particular reason. Then there is Westen's nagging, hypochondriac mother (Sharon Gless).

(The depiction of Miami, by the way, is exactly as Victoria's Secret would imagine it. Everywhere the camera looks, it finds so many stuffed bikinis that the show could have been called "Twin Peaks.")

Over the course of the series, Michael will try to figure out who turned his life upside down and why. In the meantime, he takes odd jobs to make ends meet, which given his special operative training is like hiring Steven Spielberg to film your kid's bar mitzvah. In the premiere, he helps the caretaker of a wealthy estate prove he didn't pull off a multimillion-dollar heist of his boss' property. It ends up being an emotionally manipulative story (the caretaker is a single dad with an adorable little kid), but it establishes Westen as a decent human being.

Matt Nix, who created the series and penned the premiere, goes a little heavy on exposition. Far too many scenes open with a Westen voice-over. Many of these are instructive, even amusing, but the technique is overused. Worse, it borrows from a film noir style that is otherwise little evidenced elsewhere in the show.

"Burn" is at its best when Westen is outwitting and outracing bad guys, including the FBI agents assigned to tail him. Director Jace Alexander's experience with such fast-paced, hard-hitting shows as "Rescue Me" and "Prison Break" frequently pays dividends. In fact, the show only bogs down a bit when Fiona tries to rekindle the former relationship and, especially, when Westen's mother resumes her nonstop kvetching.

With few well-developed supporting roles, the burden falls squarely on Donovan's shoulders. Fortunately, he's equal to the challenge. He brings us a Westen who is quick-witted but not overly intellectual, confident but not cocky. Women are attracted to him, but he seems almost weary of his own appeal. Good thing, perhaps, because in this Miami even Westen could get worn out quickly.

BURN NOTICE
USA Network
Fox Television Studios and Fuse Entertainment
Credits:
Executive producers: Matt Nix, Mikkel Bondesen
Producer: Jeff Freilich
Co-producer: David Levine
Consulting producer: Michael Wilson
Director: Jace Alexander
Creator/teleplay: Matt Nix
Director of photography: Roy H. Wagner
Production designer: J. Mark Harrington
Editor: Casey Brown
Score: John Dickson
Casting: Wendy Weidman, Barbara Fiorentino, Rebecca Mangieri
Cast:
Michael Westen: Jeffrey Donovan
Fiona: Gabrielle Anwar
Sam: Bruce Campbell
Madeline: Sharon Gless
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