Soap Opera Weekly: 1/15/10

Be sure to tune in to Fox Sunday for a double dose of adrenaline: an hour of the new series HUMAN TARGET followed by two hours of 24. (Maybe that’s a triple-shot).

Kiefer Sutherland is back for his eighth very bad day, but this time in a new town: New York. Jack is sucked into a plot to assassinate a Middle Eastern leader played by Anil Kapoor (Slumdog Millionaire). I have seen the first four hours, and I can tell you Jack is back in fine form, and lots of stuff explodes and bullets fly while bodies (and body parts) drop left and right. Focusing on protecting one man again (like the halcyon days of Season 1) actually freshens the show. We feel more connected with Kapoor’s Hassan, and let’s face it, Jack saving the entire globe for the umpteenth time can get a bit repetitive. Or… does it? (And who says the threat won’t…evolve?) Of course, this wouldn’t be 24 without a shocking twist or three. Speaking of threes, Monday’s third hour is when the action really cuts loose, building tension relentlessly into an explosive cliff-hanger. 24 premieres Sunday at a special time: 9 p.m., and then Monday’s two-fer begins at 8 o’clock.

At 8 on Sunday, leading into 24, however, is a “preview” of HUMAN TARGET, which moves to its regular time slot, Wednesdays at 8, on Jan. 20. TARGET stars Mark Valley (ex-Jack, DAYS OF OUR LIVES; ex-John, FRINGE) as a daredevil bodyguard. Look for BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Tricia Helfer (ex-Six) as Stephanie, his client.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

THE PLAN: It All Comes Together, and I Love It!

Cavil and Sharon

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: THE PLAN reveals that yes, there was a Plan – to kill all the humans — but it went wrong, and then the humanoid cylons frakked up. Because to err is human. No one was supposed to be alive — humans or cylons. The skinjobs were supposed to be pre-positioned to cause destruction, not forced to mop up afterward. But as the skinjobs lived among the humans, they began to fall in love, and as Six told Cavil, “You can’t declare war on love.”

It’s great to see new scenes with our old friends. The story fills in blanks left in the regular series; THE PLAN doesn’t so much fill in gaps as expand on what was hinted at happening offscreen. We saw things from the other side, including how Cavil (Dean Stockwell) controlled Sharon (Grace Park) — using a carving of an elephant that activated post-hypnotic suggestions — why Ellen Tigh (Kate Vernon) did not show up immediately, and exactly how the Shelly version of Six (Tricia Helfer) disappeared so completely after trying to discredit Baltar and his cylon-detecting machine. The Simons (Rick Worthy) were the least-developed model in the series, but here the 4s get major attention. Cavil spent the entirety of the series trying to get the cylons in the fleet to pick up the pieces.
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Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 3/6/09

The season finale of BURN NOTICE really went out with a bang. Several of them, in fact. Y’know how everybody dies in the climactic final moments of the Godfather movies? Well, this was a little like that, only with more boats, helicopters and bikinis.

As we got closer to the truth, thing got more and more confusing as it was revealed that Carla (Tricia Helfer) and Victor (Michael Shanks) were both burned spies themselves; Carla went into business for herself and forcibly recruited Vic by killing his family. His quest for revenge brought him into alignment with Michael (Jeffrey Donovan). Mike and Vic gathered enough intel and dirt on Carla to go to her boss, code-named Management (and played by John Mahoney), who explained to Michael that he had been protecting him from all his old enemies. When Michael demanded to be released from the life, Management withdrew his protection, and Michael made a literal leap of faith — about 100 feet from a helicopter — into the open ocean. So we last see Michael literally at sea, struggling to keep his head above water. I love that kind of metaphorical stuff. It was a baptism of sorts into a new life. The status quo for season three will be the same, yet completely different! Michael is, if anything, even more burned — if Management is to be believed.

This episode featured many more stunts and car chases than usual, leading to my favorite spy tip of the night: If you get in a firefight during a car chase, aim to ricochet your bullets off the pavement and up through the floorboards of the pursuing vehicle. (How can you not love a show that dispenses advice like that?!) Also, nondairy creamer mixed with gunpowder will generate a really explosive (and dangerous) distraction! Sam (Bruce Campbell) and Madeline (Sharon Gless) really got a chance to shine as he protected her from thugs. Madeline showed not only a backbone, but genuine concern for her son’s safety over her own. Plus, she keeps a shotgun in the house.

I was sorry to say goodbye to the amorally fun Carla and Victor, who were shot dead by Fiona and Michael, respectively. (Well, Michael sort of just finished off Vic.) No more Carla means Helfer has to find another job, what with her tenure as BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Six also wrapped. Coincidentally, Shanks’ decade-long gig with the STARGATE franchise is also…uh, in transition.

The new season of BURN NOTICE ignites in June.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 3/2/09

Big doings on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA this week for Starbuck and Boomer — and DAYS OF OUR LIVES alum Roark Critchlow had a rather significant guest role: He portrayed the mysterious piano player Kara called “Slick,” who tickled the ivories in Joe’s Bar. It has been some weeks since the mutiny, and Kara was back to serving as Commander, Air Group (CAG), delivering the daily briefings to the Viper and Raptor pilots, who now include a significant number of Sixes and Eights working as planet hunters and flying Combat Air Patrol (CAP, protecting the fleet). In a rare bit of humor, Kara offered the first pilot to find a habitable world “the last tube of Tauron toothpaste in the universe,” labeled Felgercarb. This is especially funny because “felgercarb” was, like “frak,” a made-up cuss word in the original 1979 series. Whereas frak was a fun replacement for the f-bomb, felgercarb stood in for the s-word. Kara was wearing down from the endless grind, and found herself spending more time in Joe’s Bar, where she encountered “Slick” (real name unknown – or is it? Read on…) Kara initially complained about Slick’s attempts to compose a song, but he eventually drew her into helping him, sharing memories of her composer father along the way. (The only item she valued among her possessions was a recording of her father’s performance, called Dreilide Thrace Live at the Helice Opera House.) She realizes the song Slick is “composing” is the exact same tune her father worked on — one that comforted her as a child. Eventually Slick is able to tease the tune out of her, and we realize it is… “All Along the Watchtower”! And, just as Kara and Slick revel in playing the entire song, Saul, Ellen and Tory confront Starbuck — but Slick is no longer beside her! Egads! He was all in her head! He was either a total hallucination, or a virtual being, like the Virtual-Six that appears in Baltar’s head. So why? Could he be her father? It would make sense… she loved playing that song with her father. And Slick claimed he left his family because his wife wanted him to quit playing piano — exactly like Dreilide abandoned Kara and her mother, Socrata. And here’s where it gets really freakkin’ complicated: Remember back when the fleet landed on the blasted Earth a few episodes ago — Anders claimed he wrote that song there for the woman he loved 2,000 years ago! Kara said her father used to play the song and it made her happy — so is she the reincarnation of the woman Anders loved — is she a previously unknown 13th Cylon model? Or perhaps a new incarnation of the permanently-boxed Daniel line?

Reincarnation — or, more precisely, downloading — played a big part in Boomer’s story this week. A new Six, called Sonja (still Tricia Helfer), was elected to the Quorum, and petitioned that Boomer be turned over to the rebel Cylons so she can try for treason for siding with Cavil — and execute her! Tyrol begged Roslin to refuse extradition, but the president refused. In fact, she signed the extradition order right in front of him! How cold was that? Obviously, Roslin was holding a grudge for Boomer (Grace Park) shooting Bill at the end of season one, but we can hardly blame her (Bill hasn’t forgiven Sharon, either). Tormented by memories of Boomer dying in his arms after Cally pulled a Jack Ruby and killed her, Tyrol visited Sharon, who told him, “I thought about you every day from that moment I died in your arms.” To prove it, she used Cylon Projection to show him an image of the home on Picon they dreamed of back when they were lovers; a home that included a daughter called “Dionne.” Determined not to lose her again, Tyrol attacked an Eight from the work crew, and staged a power outage to swap out Boomer. Dressed as the worker Eight, Boomer went to the pilot locker room where, unfortunately, Athena recognized her, forcing Boomer to take her out. Helo entered and mistook Boomer for Athena, so Boomer took the opportunity to get physical with Karl. That was highly ironic, because Hera was conceived on Caprica when the Sharon who would eventually take the name Athena pretended to be Boomer and tricked Karl into making love to her. So here, Boomer pretended to be Athena and had sex with Karl. Then she went to daycare and spirited away Hera. Boomer then coldly attempted to use the child as a human (well, half-human) shield to cover her escape from Galactica. As Boomer tried to flee, she clipped a wing on the hull! Sharon originally got her callsign, “Boomer,” not because of her sexual reputation, but because she was known for loud and clumsy landings; here it was her takeoff that went “boom.” And then she made things worse by jumping in close proximity to Galactica — with devastating results! Galactica was already suffering significant structural damage due to aging (the battlestar is well over 50 years old). The spatial distortion from the jump ripped vast holes in the battleship’s hull. Can Galactica be saved? As Boomer disappeared, Roslin shouted “Hera” and collapsed. What was that about? What was the entire plot about? Ellen figured it out: Boomer “escaping” with Ellen was all a plot by Cavil to get Hera. He was willing to lose Ellen to get the hybrid child. But why?

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 2/27/09

BURN NOTICE went out of its way to be as soapy as possible this week, introducing Michael’s previously unknown former fiancée and a son who may or may not be Michael’s! BURN NOTICE also brought in a passel of familiar faces. In addition to the returns of Tricia Helfer (ex-Six, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) as Carla and Michael Shanks (Daniel Jackson, STARGATE: SG-1 and ATLANTIS) as Victor, we also met Dina Meyer (ex-Roxy, NIP/TUCK; ex-Barbara, BIRDS OF PREY) as Samantha, while Jay Karnes (ex-Det. Dutch Wagenbach, THE SHIELD) filled the snarky villain role, Brennen. Thief Samantha came to Michael because Brennen had blackmailed her into stealing a missile guidance system by kidnapping her son. Samantha used the possibility that Michael might be his daddy to compel him to help her get the boy back without letting the guidance system end up on the black market.

Relax, little Charlie was not Michael’s spawn (and Michael came up with a typically brilliant plan to save the boy and the guidance system) — but that reveal didn’t make things any easier for Fiona, who practically had to be physically restrained from launching herself at Sam. This episode was so heavy with Michael/Fi subtext that it practically became the text! Fiona’s jealousy/confusion has been percolating for weeks now, recently manifesting in her resenting Michael’s bromance with Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), so her head was about to explode when Samantha showed up on his doorstep. (And given Fi’s skill with guns and explosives, that festering anger is more dangerous than most women’s.) Michael and Fiona still both insist they’re no longer an item, but in classic soap form, both wallow in Meaningful Glances and Things Left Unspoken. Except that this time, Michael actually said some stuff: He explained to Fi how Samantha proposed to him after a whirlwind romance — and the reason he broke up with Sam was because he met Fiona and fell in love her. Awww. How will that confession affect Fiona?

After the mission was over, Sam and Michael parted ways on a bittersweet note: “Charlie’s not yours, but he could have been,” Sam sighed. “A lot of things could have been,” he replied, wearily. They kissed, and she left.

A couple of random fun points from the episode:

•Brennen told Fi, “I’m exactly as smart as I think I am,” which was funny because his Detective Wagenbach was well-known for not being quite as smart as he thought he was. (He ranked himself roughly on par with Columbo and Sherlock Holmes.)

•Michael’s advice about breaking into maximum-security facilities: “Trip one sensor and you’re toast; trip 100, and nobody knows what to do.”

•Samantha and Michael acknowledged their still-simmering attraction by checking each other out as they stripped to their skivvies and put on clean suits at the facility.

•Michael apologized to his mother for being such an uncommunicative… uh, handful, and for letting his messy life of international intrigue interfere with her quiet domesticity.

While all the emotional angst was going on, Michael was also trying to work a deal to team up with Victor against Carla — because it appeared that she had also burned Victor. After trading bullets in a game of cat-and-mouse, Michael gave up on teaming up and got the drop on Victor with a homemade Taser and set out to trade him to Carla (who wants revenge for Victor killing her operatives) in exchange for Carly telling Michael who burned him. That set up next week’s season finale…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 1/23/09

I have been waiting all winter for BURN NOTICE to return to USA for the second half of its second season, and it was worth the wait. Former spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan, ex-Dwayne, ANOTHER WORLD) survived the bomb planted at his door in the midseason finale — but only just barely. The story wasted no time propelling the wounded Michael directly into a car chase, and then he was back to his old tricks in no time: While running for his own life, he took time out to save a man from committing suicide! Michael’s brush with death really affected him this time. He decided to stop running and surrendered to Carla (played by Tricia Helfer, Six, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA), and the two of them got into an uncharacteristic screaming match. We never saw Michael get so emotional last season; normally he is as cool as the other side of the pillow. But there he was shouting at Carla, demanding, “I want my life back!” But Carla clearly had her own problems. She was back on her heels (and not the fashionable Jimmy Choo kind); she seemed to be on the run from someone (probably the people who tried to blow up Michael), losing her power (running out of henchmen) and clearly frightened. Still, a hero is a hero, and Michael took the case of that would-be suicide, who was despondent after being taken in a medical scam. The fake-drug operation involved head baddie Rachel, played by Stacy Haiduk (ex-Hannah, ALL MY CHILDREN), and her enforcer, Todd, portrayed by Graham Shiels (Cody, GENERAL HOSPITAL; Liam, TRUE BLOOD). In contrast to tough-guy Cody, Todd had a practical streak for avoiding physical harm during interrogation. In one of this week’s “how to” spy lessons, Michael explained to viewers the methodology behind effective torture: “Violence perceived is violence achieved.” Meaning, it’s better to keep your victim scared and guessing what you’re going to do rather than having him screaming in pain from actually doing it. Sam intimidated Todd into talking by cutting his own finger with a big knife. (Which is typical of this show: Sam was the one who ended up needing a Band-Aid after “torturing” a guy. Another cool thing we learned is that chlorinated water conducts electricity well enough to short out listening devices — which is why Rachel insisted on meeting Michael and Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) in a hot tub. In addition to foiling surveillance, the scene also gave Haiduk and Anwar an excuse to show off their rock-hard abs in a bikini catfight. Did I mention I’ve been waiting all winter for this show to come back?

You know I would never miss an episode of SUPERNATURAL that featured a magic tarot deck! Barry Bostwick played the Incredible Jay, a washed-up magician who appeared to be using real magic to stage a comeback. A death-transference spell keyed to tarot cards was helping him survive fatal stage tricks by…er, “transferring” the death to someone else. In the first case, Jay was able to survive being stabbed by sharp spikes because a rival magician suffered the wounds after being slipped the 10 of Swords tarot card, which depicts a man pierced by…well, 10 swords. The 10 of Swords is the closest thing to a card that predicts physical death. (Remember, the actual Death card refers to a transformation and/or change in circumstances, not physically dying.) After Jay survived an onstage hanging, another rival was found hanged to death with the Hanged Man card nearby. Interestingly, The Hanged Man (which shows a man hanging upside down, suspended by his right foot) indicates that a person will receive knowledge/achieve a goal only after a great hardship. In other words, it has nothing to do with death, even though it features a guy hanging from a noose. Even more interestingly, the show chose to use a version of the tarot known as the “Rider-Waite” deck, however, they could have selected the “Tarot of the 78 Doors,” a deck in which the Hanged Man is illustrated by a magician hanging upside down to perform a water escape! Jay’s fellow magician Charlie was revealed to be using the spells on Jay without his knowledge. Charlie died holding the Magician card, which can indicate a charlatan or deceitful person; Charlie certainly was a con man! In the end, it was unclear if the cards themselves were powered or just the means Charlie used to focus his spells; probably the latter, otherwise Jay never would have left them with the barmaid, right? Talk about a tip!

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/19/08

I want to start off with last night’s standout show: the fourth-season premiere of SUPERNATURAL. Last season ended with Dean getting dragged down to hell, and last night he awoke in his coffin and clawed his way out of his own grave. That certainly was special. (The opening flashes of Dean in the box would have made Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento proud with its lurid reds and blacks). As befits such a series, Bobby assumed the resurrected Dean was a disguised demon and tried to kill him. Even Sam had the same reaction — before the inevitable joyful reunion. Viewers got a real sense of universe from the way word of Dean’s escape from Hades had spread through the preternatural community, with everyone (including Dean) asking: How the hell did he get out of hell? The answer was entirely logical — and stunningly unexpected. Dean was rescued by Castiel — “an angel of the Lord.” Yep, SUPERNATURAL went there. 

There’s an understanding in occult comic books, TV and most movies: It’s okay to depict demons, monsters, hell and assorted manifestations of hell, but you don’t depict God or angels, because that might “offend” people. Nobody cares if a writer disses a devil, but hands off the divine. Well, SUPERNATURAL crossed that line, and I’m damned happy it did. Why shouldn’t angels be fair game? Especially when someone as talented as series creator Eric Kripke is doing the writing. The angel was depicted as massively powerful — too powerful for lower beings like humans and demons to comprehend. And he came with a bombshell: Dean was pulled out of hell “because God commanded it. We have work for you.” It’s going to be one hell of a season! 

Although it wasn’t up to the level of SUPERNATURAL, the premiere of SMALLVILLE really felt different from the previous seven seasons. Most folks are probably unaware that Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the executive producers who translated the Superman comics to the small screen for SMALLVILLE, left the series over the summer, but I noticed. I had the pleasure of interviewing both gentlemen a number of times over the years, and they are both talented guys who were dedicated to putting out the best show possible; they really believed in the material and held true to their vision. In my very first interview with Al, the summer before SMALLVILLE debuted, he laid out their “no flights, no tights” policy, and except for a few storyline-dictated temporary deviations, Clark remained earth-bound, and we have yet to see the red-and-blue longjohns. I salute their seven fun seasons. But I’m here to assure fans the show is in good hands. New exec producers Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer have been with the show for a long time, and they know what works. 

But the new regime also took the opportunity to tinker a bit — the most obvious change was Clark suddenly growing a sense of humor. (Even Lois was shocked!) The disappearance of Lex was expected, since Michael Rosenbaum has left the show (He might be convinced to return for a guest spot, but don’t bet on it), and Lana is not expected back until much later in the season. I did enjoy the return of Green Arrow, Aquaman and Black Canary, played by the same actors: (Justin Hartley, Alan Ritchson and Alaina Huffman). Hartley (ex-Fox, PASSIONS) is now a series regular, and while he won’t be in every episode (next week’s, for example) Oliver Queen will be a major player, which I welcome. I did hate one idea, however: the idea that LuthorCorp suddenly has some kind of magic serum (synthesized from the spinal fluid of Chloe’s mother, no less!) that can control people’s minds. Huh? What’d I miss? 

The best (and most important) development last night was character development — specifically Clark’s. Although Jor-El stripped Clark of his powers, he still acted like a hero. He relentlessly tried to escape from the Russian work camp and later fearlessly risked his life to help his friends. Clark was determined to help, no matter what. In fact, he got himself killed, only to be saved by the timely self-sacrifice of the Martian Manhunter. With the villain Doomsday on the way this season, I wonder if Clark dying is going to be a theme. (Doomsday was the baddie who killed Superman in the comics back in 1992.) Clark finally realized he has a Destiny (Yes, one with a capital D), and resolved to pursue it. And, oh, yeah — he took that job at the Daily Planet. I won’t mind if the Last Son of Krypton takes to the skies this season — just don’t put on the tights… 

Sure, last night’s BURN NOTICE was billed as the “season finale,” but it was just the “summer” wrap — the show will be back with five more new episodes in January. But that didn’t make the episode any less important. I have to admit that I have been a little disappointed in the apparent aimlessness of this season’s stories — there just has not been enough “mythology” for me. I regard the slowly unfolding story of Michael’s burning as the real point of the show; the client of the week is just window-dressing and an excuse to keep Michael doing something. After the first two episodes, Michael’s tale was shunted to the far back burner while he took on (admittedly) entertaining cases that were quickly forgotten. But last night put Michael’s burning squarely on the…er, front burner. And that meant the return of bombshell Tricia Helfer as Michael’s handler, the mysterious Carla. Apparently the producers suddenly remembered that they had hired Tricia Helfer — and put Carla in a variety of bathing suits and other clingy attire while Sam and Michael ogled…um, I mean, surveilled her to get to the bottom of why she’s manipulating Michael. (In the words of sage Sam, “You gotta love it when you tail somebody to a place that serves a good mojito.”) The operative realized he had been forced to secure a sniper rifle and passkey, obviously tools for an assassination — but who was the target? 

This episode, “Good Soldier,” also marked a return to teaching viewers cool real-life spy stuff, like the best way to hide items in your home (using easy-to-access, yet hard-to-find spots called “slicks”); how to beat facial-recognition security software with a photocopy of a guy’s face; and how to drink a lot without getting drunk (better left unsaid here). Star Jeffrey Donovan (ex-Dwayne, ANOTHER WORLD) also got his only chance so far this season to really cut loose with some emoting. Michael had to spin a lie to dissuade a client, so he made a speech about recognizing his own faults and seeing what’s been in front of him all along — but from Donovan’s emotion-clogged delivery and red-rimmed eyes, we knew he was talking directly to Fiona about letting her get away. But did Michael get away from the bomb Carla planted at his loft? I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Michael got singed but survives to finish out the season.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 7/25/08

Who would have thought that Cat Fancy is the toughest magazine on the newsstand? Okay, maybe not the toughest, but Michael did use a rolled up Cat Fancy to beat up two thugs on last night’s BURN NOTICE. Talk about an improvised weapon!

The muscle men were working for a loan shark, and Michael had promised to rescue their victim (well, technically Fiona volunteered him for the case). Seems she was impressed the poor sap had gone to the shark to help his mother with her medical bills, only to lose the money to a con man. Fi admired a man who was willing to put love for someone else ahead of his own interests. Gee, do you think that was a not-subtle-at-all reference to Michael’s obsession with getting to the bottom of his “burn notice” even if it means ignoring her and putting his own life on the line?

This turned out to be a big relationship episode, because Madeline finally pressed the issue of Michael’s “breakup” with Fi. (He insisted to Sam that Fiona was never his girlfriend. But we don’t buy that, do we?) Anyway, in true stoic hero fashion Michael refused to share his feelings with his mother — actually, make that “in true guyfashion” — so Madeline went to Fi for the scoop. The elder Westen told Fiona she was the best thing to ever happen to her son. Fiona revealed that compliment was more than Michael ever paid her. Madeline pointed out that Michael’s father was exactly the same way: non-communicative. Fiona said she broke it off with Michael because she could not be the second most important thing in his life. Later, as Michael was helping his mother with the dishes (Yes, the man does dishes! He is a hero, after all…), she broached the subject again. Michael figured she was fishing for grandchildren, but she insisted she just wanted him to be happy. “Life is tough alone,” she said. “Kids make the ride more fun.” So getting a girlfriend wouldn’t even be enough — he has to add kids?

Michael was incredulous that he and little brother Nate could have been considered “fun,” but it’s definitely fun to learn spy stuff from Michael. For instance, when it comes to cracking a cheap safe, it’s easier to simply knock the lock off with a hammer than try to pick it or work the combination. I also learned that while most people who work at an embassy or consulate are civil servants, the head of security is almost always a spy. Michael boosted some low-level files and used them (and a camera) to blackmail Aseem of the Pakistani consulate into providing him with some old files on Carla. Perhaps Fi needs to blackmail Michael into facing his feelings for her.

Don’t make me blackmail you into reading the next installment of Night Shift — especially since I’ll be discussing part two of the three-part season finale of DOCTOR WHO! And who isn’t excited about that?

Originally posted on Soap Opera Weekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 7/18/08

My education in all things espionage-y got under way as soon as BURN NOTICE fired up last night: In the very first scene, ex-spy Michael (Jeffrey Donovan, ex-Dwayne, ANOTHER WORLD) gave a crash course in stegenography — the art of hiding coded messages in such a way that no one even realizes there is a message. In this case, Michael’s beautiful and mysterious new handler, Carla (Tricia Helfer, Six, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) hid a message in a crossword puzzle — which is apparently a common tactic in the real spy world. Carla set up a meet that demonstrated her unnamed organization is adept at undercover work and has its own personnel and resources.

Carla demanded Michael duplicate a high-tech security badge for some unknown reason, so he went to master forger Nefzi (Erik Avari, ex-Chandra Suresh, HEROES). The mystery deepens: Why does Carla need Michael to do this stuff? Was he burned and planted in Miami specifically to be available to Carla? Clever Michael figured out that Carla speaks Arabic with a Khurdish accent, so she was probably once stationed in the Middle East. And it was cute how Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) was instantly antagonistic toward Carla — jealous much, Fi?

Meanwhile, Sam (Bruce Campbell, Ash from the Evil Dead flicks) was approached by a comely damsel-in-distress who wanted to enlist Michael’s help. Sophia (Jacqueline Piñol, ex-Rikki, CSI: NY; ex-Sherry, GENERAL HOSPITAL) turned out to be a DEA agent who got in over her head with gangsta boyfriend Raul (Kevin Alejandro; ex-Santos, UGLY BETTY; ex-Dominic, YOUNG AND RESTLESS) while working undercover in a drug operation. Helping her interfered with Michael’s gig for Carla — which made his handler unhappy. And when she’s unhappy she kills people — and threatens Michael’s mama, Madeline (CAGNEY & LACEY’s Sharon Gless).

Until this episode, I had no idea how easy it is for counterfeiters to “wash” a check: All you need is some checks, nail-polish remover and a pen. Oh, and another secret ingredient. See, series creator Matt Nix always leaves out a vital step or two when detailing secret/dangerous/illegal activities, so no misguided kids can actually try this stuff at home! However (without leaving anything out), Michael also explained how to get skeptical strangers to trust you: Let them think they have discovered some dirty little secret of yours, because trusting a stranger is all about perceived leverage. And never volunteer a lie; let the bad guy drag it out of you (by force if necessary), so he thinks it’s his idea. Another handy tip: An obnoxious guy is a better distraction for thugs than a pretty girl, because the thugs will want the babe to stick around, but the jerk gets sent packing as soon as he has served his purpose. Oh, and Carla demonstrated a sneaky way to kill a man without leaving any traces: Pump in nitrogen to displace all the oxygen from a room. (I hope there’s more to it than just slipping in a hose; after all, how does the oxygen get replaced rather than the native nitrogen, which naturally makes up 70 percent of our atmosphere?)

There was another fun bit with Madeline’s coffee-maker — which could make for a nice running gag, perhaps replacing last year’s yogurt jokes. However, I was concerned that Sophia mentioned hearing “rumors” about Michael helping people. That means he’s becoming known — which is not a good thing for a secret agent (James Bond notwithstanding).

But it would be good if you return for the next installment of Night Shift, in which we will discuss the return of Billie Piper‘s Rose to DOCTOR WHO!

Originally posted on Soap Opera Weekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 7/11/08

I have been waiting for the second season of BURN NOTICE the way my nephews look forward to a new Pokémon release: It cannot premiere fast enough! And last night was the night. The teases suggested that ex-spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan, ex-Dwayne, ANOTHER WORLD) might learn who burned him, but I didn’t think that was really going to happen — and it didn’t. Not really.

The mysterious semi dropped Michael into a war zone, complete with a burning plane and dead bodies. The mysterious female voice commanded him to return a bound-and-gagged man to Miami so he could steal some computer data. But that plotline was the MacGuffin to get Michael involved with his mysterious handler. The mystery voice belonged to Carla, who appears to be the face of the people who burned Michael — but honestly we don’t know if she is connected to that organization. (People rarely are who they appear to be on this show). Carla was played by BATTLESTAR GALACTICA‘s sultry Cylon Number Six, Tricia Helfer, but in a switch, it was her voice that was emphasized. She didn’t appear in the flesh until the final scene, in which she flirted with Sam (Bruce Campbell) and left Michael a teasing note. I know this is TV, but I have to wonder about the organization using Carla as a (literal) mouthpiece. Helfer is so statuesque that I think she would make a lousysecret agent — she’s too eye-catching. (BTW, Helfer is even taller and more beautiful in person, if you can believe it!) People notice her — and the last thing a spy wants is to be noticed. Then again, this is TV, so everyone is attractive. And if your cast already includes Gabrielle Anwar, then it takes a someone special not to get overshadowed.

I like to think of BURN NOTICE as educational TV, and the second-season premiere taught me a lot! I learned how to: evade high-speed pursuit through a forest without triggering my car’s airbags; surveil a security firm; make an accurate security floor plan from memory; cut through a concrete-and-steel floor; beat heat sensors and motion detectors; and which ammunition is best for destroying a computer hard drive (quadrangle buckshot) and shattering bulletproof glass (frag 12). Far warning to my office mates: Watch your backs!

But aside from the “This Old Spy” technical lessons, I enjoyed catching up with Michael’s friends and family. His mom, Madeline (Sharon Gless), is a paranoid mess — which is why he kept her in the dark about his spy career to begin with — but Sam seemed to have settled comfortably into Michael’s loft. (Raise your hands if you expected a product placement from Wonder Bread.) He even borrowed Michael’s clothes! Aside from Madeline, Fiona (Anwar) seemed most affected by Michael’s trip to confront his enemies. She dealt with her mixture of relief and anger with wisecracks and a succession of increasingly short miniskirts. When she finally pinned him down for “the talk,” she acknowledged that while they can work together, “We can’t be together.” Michael agreed, but as Fi left his vocie-over sadly noted that in the spy game it’s too easy to think of people as “assets” instead of human beings. “But you don’t miss the scent of an asset when she leaves the room,” he mused. Nice reference to Anwar’s most famous role, as the titular Donna in 1992’s Scent of a Woman.

I laughed when I recognized “Jimmy the Client” was played by Patrick Fishler, because earlier this week I happened to be discussing MIDDLEMAN with one of my colleagues, and I pointed how the dude who played Dr. Newleaf — Fishler — was one of those actors I call “That Guy”; someone whose face you recognize from a thousand small roles, but whose name is a mystery, so when you see him you go, “Oh, that guy!” (Look for him next in the third episode of the new season of MAD MEN.)

And look for the next Night Shift soon..

Originally posted on Soap Opera Weekly.com