BURN NOTICE 4.8: Where There’s Smoke

There was a definite bondage thread running through this week’s episode of BURN NOTICE – but probably not the sort of bondage of which you’re thinking. It was also about key female characters who proved to be more capable, clever and resourceful than suspected.

It started with Maddie (Sharon Gless) getting pinched while helping Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) and Jesse (Colby Bell) assess the security at a bank. The boys sent her in to trigger the alarm so they could observe the response, but the guards turned out to be overzealous and talked about jail time for Michael’s mom. But quick-thinking Maddie played on the guards’ sympathies and managed to get herself sprung. Clearly, we know where Michael got his talent for prevarication and improvisation.
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BURN NOTICE 4.7: Past & Future Tense

michael and paulThere can be no doubt that having Burt Reynolds (Smokey himself) on BURN NOTICE looked good on paper, and probably looked even better in previews. But in practice? Well, not so much…

This episode was one of those rare installments of BN that I really just didn’t care for. It’s not that the episode was bad, but rather it could have been so much more. I wanted to like it more than I did.
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BURN NOTICE 4.6: Entry Point

Oh, BURN NOTICE, how I missed you. Please don’t take another sabbatical so soon after coming back, okay?

Now, we all love BURN NOTICE for the fun and informative tricks o’ the trade Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) shares about being a spy. Well, this week he found a more productive use for his insider knowledge: getting a job. Specifically, getting a job as a fake security consultant by sharing his SpyTips with one Mr. Bocklage (played by Alan Dale – you remember him; dude last seen on LOST. The man with the best agent in showbiz, since he lands on all the best shows, up to and including TORCHWOOD). Michael showed Bocklage how a thief used infrared paint to map out an escape route for a robbery planned for that night. And Michael didn’t show this one to Bocklage, but how cool was that little trick of tying off the hydraulic arm on the door to create an instant lock? Brilliant!
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BURN NOTICE 4.4: Breach of Faith

This week’s BURN NOTICE took a sort of “divide and conquer” tack, with Jesse and Fiona tracking down an address related to this season’s umbrella story, while Sam dragged Michael into the case of the week: taking hostages in a storefront office.

Well, that wasn’t exactly what Sam (Bruce Campbell) had in mind when he talked Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) into helping out Josh Warren (guest star Frank Whaley), the administrator of a charity for police widows and orphans. Josh lost the fund’s money to a crooked financial manager, so Sam and Michael were meant to be muscle to scare Nick (Clayton Rohner) into giving back the money. But Josh foolishly brought along a gun, and somebody has read their Chekhov – if you show a gun in the first act, it has to be fired – so the situation quickly devolved into a hostage situation. Sam insisted on staying to help his pal, so there was no way Michael was going to leave without Sam.
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BURN NOTICE 4.3: Made (in the shade) Man

BURN NOTICE, while never in a slump, is actually experiencing a bit of a creative renaissance in its fourth season with the introduction of Jesse Porter, a counterintelligence officer who was burned by Michael. It’s a brilliant inversion of the series premise that has refreshed the case-of-the-week format.

Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) accidentally burned Jesse (played by Colby Bell, whom some will remember as Officer Tyrone Davis on THIRD WATCH) at the end of the season premiere, when Michael used Jesse’s credentials to access secret files. Jesse is actually a lot like Michael used to be back when the series began: confused about what happened to him, but determined to get to the root of the problem, no matter where it takes him. The fun for the audience is, we know exactly where that quest will take him. Jesse has vowed to kill the man who burned him, so a reckoning is coming.
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BURN NOTICE 4.1: When Michael met Vaughn…

The fourth-season premiere of BURN NOTICE picked up seconds after last spring’s cliff-hanger, with Michael seated in a mysterious, comfy drawing room. Turns out he was brought there to meet with a man called Vaughn, who claimed, “We burned you.” However, he praised Michael for rescuing Management last season, and recruited him to join him in busting a shadowy international organization blamed for lots of the nasty things happening around the globe. Michael doesn’t ask too many questions, and in short order, he finds himself racing through a jungle, trying to outrun a rocket attack on an arms dealer’s encampment.

That’s kind of how it is with BURN NOTICE: You just get just enough explanation to make the story seem plausible, and the rest of the time you spend watching stuff get blown up while Michael cruises around looking confident and cool.
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Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 8/7/09

Michael Westen really got himself worked into a soapy lather in the “summer finale” of BURN NOTICE. Just when things seemed to be coming together for him, it all fell apart. Fiona walked out on him just when Michael was finally getting some traction with her. She fretted that he couldn’t let go of his past because he was obsessed with getting his old job back by working with sleazeball Strickland. It seemed to be working: Strickland got his case reopened at the highest levels. Michael saw getting back in from the cold as making things safer for everyone, bit Fiona saw him as dwelling in the past. Speaking of dwelling in the past, Madeleine revealed she was selling Michael’s childhood home. That made him all nostalgic, and he actually mooned over old photos of Fi and a box of old toys! But Fiona had her own problems with the past. Paul Blackthorne (ex-Steven, 24) played O’Neill, a thug who wanted to drag Fiona back to Ireland to face her old enemies. Of course Michael rescued her — but was it for old time’s sake, or a new beginning? Michael was forced to kill Strickland, but that only brought a new threat to town — a new hitter intent on killing Michael. In this case, he was probably better off with the devil he knew. (New episodes resume this winter.)

ROYAL PAINS also got more than a little personal, as Hank and Jill dealt with the awkwardness of having sex after “breaking up.” Meanwhile, Divya had to fool her visiting parents into thinking she attends Wharton business school (with Evan). That plot thread hinged on viewers buying the idea that the ‘rents would be angry/disappointed to learn she went to medical school even though they wanted her to have a career in real estate. But after she saved Dad’s life with an emergency tracheotomy, they forgave her for fibbing. We also learned that Hank and Evan have Daddy issues: Their father walked out on them as kids when their mother got sick. Oh, and Jill’s ex-husband, Charlie, returned. How’s that for a series of blasts from the past?

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 7/24/09

“If something seems too good to be true, it’s best to shoot it, just to be sure.” — Fiona, BURN NOTICE

No one who saw this week’s episode of ROYAL PAINS will ever look at breast implants the same way again. Roselyn Sanchez (ex-Pilar, AS THE WORLD TURNS; ex-Elena, WITHOUT A TRACE) played Sofia, whose insanely jealous husband had a GPS tracker implanted inside her body when she underwent breast-augmentation. When she underwent an MRI, the powerful magnet (50,000 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field, FYI) nearly ripped the metal device out of her chest! A huge, deformed lump appear in Sofia’s cleavage; it looked so painful! Hank swooped into action and removed the device, but it ruptured, giving Sofia radiation poisoning. The twisted kicker to it all? Sofia interpreted the implant in her implants as a sign of how devoted hubby Javier was to her.

Sofia wasn’t the only person afflicted with an unconventional malady. The enigmatic Boris (played by Campbell Scott) appears to have a secret disease he won’t talk about. Based on his interest in Katie’s research with sharks, I’m going to guess some type of cancer. Oh, the fact that Boris keeps a shark in his basement inspired one of the best lines of the night (from Hank): “I feel like I’m living on a Bond villain’s property.” We also got to see a few more of Divya’s secrets. Hank’s super-hot physician’s assistant met Raj, the fiancé her mother lined up for an arranged…I mean, “strategic” marriage. Sadly, there appeared to be no chemistry between them. Which must have been the case with Jill and Charlie, her ex. Did we already know Jill used to be married? Considering how mercenary Evan is, it’s no wonder he name-checked Grey Goose, Facebook and even HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE! (Only the vodka brand bought an actual commercial, though.)

BURN NOTICE has been conspicuously stingy with the “How to Spy” tips lately, which makes me wonder if some watchdog group has been complaining. If anyone is concerned about terrorist groups learning any new tricks of the trade, I’ll remind you that the show always leaves out a key ingredient or step, so that unsupervised children cannot replicate the feats of Michael Westen and co. That being said, the Spy Tricks returned this week, and the tutorial on how to take out street lights with a cell phone was pretty cool. But that bit about making blood squibs with C4 and bottle caps sounded a bit too dangerous to even dare trying at home. (Yeah, like you have access to C4, anyway…) I was disappointed to see Nicholas Lea, who was so wonderfully evil as Krychek, the “rat boy” traitor of THE X-FILES, wasted in an essentially generic part. Lea should be reserved for a Big Bad role.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 7/10/09

I know what you’re asking: “Joe, is there an unscripted show you hate even more than AMERICAN IDOL?” The answer is, “Why, yes, of course — lots of them!” Most alleged “reality shows,” like JON & KATE PLUS 8, are beneath contempt and I refuse to sully my TV screen with them. However, of the shows I can force myself to watch, BIG BROTHER is certainly at the bottom of the barrel. Perhaps it’s the premise: 12 strangers living in a house together. On most other unscripted series, the contestants live together and it’s just another minor component of the series, not the entire point of the show. Or, perhaps it’s the host: Charisma-free Julie Chen imbues even the most mundane statements — from tossing to commercial to announcing a contest — with the same sense of grave portent as reciting the Ten Commandments. And her halting delivery makes William Shatner‘s stuttering cadence sound normal. No, I know what it is: BIG BROTHER’s sense of entitlement gets me. It’s not just Chen — the entire show is full of itself. The phoniness started with the opening sequences, in which the contestants supposedly were presented with their keys to the house. They all acted surprised — in front of the cameras. Why did they think they were being filmed? Once they got to the house, everyone lost their mind over the “super-delicious” house. Is indoor plumbing still that rare in 2009? Later, right after saying, “Expect the unexpected,” Julie told the houseguests that, as usual, there is a “twist.” How is that “unexpected”? It’s just the same ol’ garbage. And I’m not looking forward to watching it fester on my screen.

On a vastly more interesting and considerably more fun note, BURN NOTICE gave us a rollicking little tale of industrial espionage and spy-hunting spiced up by Michael and Fiona doing a sort of mating dance. She wanted him to commit to her (by taking her to dinner), while he preferred to concentrate on getting his job back. What I like about their complicated relationship is that they openly acknowledge that they care for each other, it’s just tough to make a relationship work while dodging bullets and bombs. He doesn’t dally with a new girl every week, and Fi gave up trying to make him jealous with that hunky EMT last season. In the end, Michael tossed the relationship in her lap like a live grenade: He wants to get back in the game, and if Fi really cares about him, she will want that, too. Good thing Fi is a whiz with explosives.

ROYAL PAINS featured a number of familiar faces this week: Susan Misner (ex-Alison, GOSSIP GIRL; ex-Grace, ONE LIFE TO LIVE) as a pregnant woman who wanted to induce on a private island; David Alan Basche (ex-Kenny, THE STARTER WIFE; ex-Mike, LIPSTICK JUNGLE) as her tycoon husband; James Rebhorn (ex-Henry Lange, ATWT; ex-Bradley, GUIDING LIGHT) as the island handyman; and Jason Kravits (ex-Dr. Brody, AS THE WORLD TURNS; ex-DA Bey, THE PRACTICE) as a smarmy doctor at Harbor Heritage. Hank got a chance to MacGyver a splint for Will, saline solution and do blood-typing with a mirror. He also drilled into a guy’s head with a half-inch bit to relieve a hematoma! (The drilling was fine, but I did not need to see that compound fracture to his leg! Yikes! Still, even that was better than watching the pathetic “wedgie” competition on BIG BROTHER…

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 6/22/09

Last night’s NBC premiere of the British series MERLIN surprised me by not totally sucking. In fact, I quite liked it. It took me a while to get past the near-total reimagining of the King Arthur legend, but once I accepted the (ludicrous) premise that the key players were teenagers and the castle could be thought of as “Camelot High,” I settled in. The fact that TORCHWOOD’s Eve Myles (Gwen) guested as the baddie in the first story helped reassure me. She completely suppressed her natural Welsh accent, but couldn’t hide that trademark gap in her teeth. I also got past the anachronistic language by telling myself the-powers-that-be simply wanted to be accessible to today’s lazy teens, hence Arthur and Morgana tossing off phrases like, “Thanks,” “See you,” and, “Tell me about it!” Whatever! The other major change in the adaptation was making making Morgana the “ward” of Arthur’s father, King Uther. At a time when American soap operas go out of their way to play up or even just hint at incest (we’re looking at you, GENERAL HOSPITAL), this retooled British import has taken pains to sanitize the incest element from the established Arthur/Morgana relationship that has been part of the established legend for hundreds and hundreds of years.

It was old home week on BURN NOTICE, as THE SHIELD’s former Detective Wagenbach, Jay Karnes, reprised bad guy Brennen, who used Michael’s perpetual sad-sack brother, Nate (Seth Peterson, ex-Robbie, PROVIDENCE), as leverage to force Michael to pull a job. Also, Detective Paxson (Moon Bloodgood, from Terminator Salvation) stepped up her investigation of Michael. Nothing particularly original there, just nice execution of the material, thanks to fine casting.

BURN NOTICE’s lead-out, ROYAL PAINS, however, is on a distinct downturn. The latest episode was a bald-faced clone of HOUSE, with Hank treating a would-be college athlete for a bafflingly mysterious ailment. Would Hank diagnose the problem and save the boy’s life (and football career) before the hour was up? But once again, at least the casting was interesting. GOSSIP GIRLS’ maniacal Eleanor, Margaret Colin (ex-Margo, AS THE WORLD TURNS; ex-Paige, EDGE OF NIGHT) played the sick boy’s also-maniacal mother — the Lady Macbeth behind her senator husband. Colin’s former GOSSIP GIRL co-star, Dreama Walker (she’s Hazel on The CW series and also cameoed on ONE LIFE TO LIVE as Karen and GUIDING LIGHT as Janie) portrayed the senator’s neglected daughter, Melody. If ROYAL PAINS continues to neglect what makes it interesting (the “MacGyver as concierge doctor” angle) in order to ape HOUSE, I won’t take pains to tune in anymore. After all, USA already airs repeats of HOUSE — earlier that same night!

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com