Thursday, September 18, 2008

On Notice

USA aired the season finale of Burn Notice tonight, and it ended with an appropriately explosive cliffhanger. The show will have a third season, but there's more good news. That season will premier in January instead of July. Yes, the ultimate piece of summer escapism is shaking loose the restrictive chains of its slightly JV setting and moving to the big leagues.

But while that's a welcome development, I can only hope that those involved with the show use that move as a rationale for shaking up some of Burn Notice's formulas.

That's not to say the second season was a disappointment. In fact, in many ways it did alter the landscape a little. Most importantly the writers finally introduced a handful of characters who could actually play in Michael Westen's league. Carla, Victor and Larry all managed to challenge and occasionally best Jeffrey Donovan's burned spy. More than a few episodes ended with Michael stymied by Carla and her superiors. Granted, the "mundane" villains, the bad guys who threaten Michael's clients, remain thoroughly out-classed. But it's nice to see someone stand up to the ultimate bad-ass.

Still, season one ended with the promise of a second season revelation. We were going to find out who burned Michael and why. Instead, Burn Notice almost instantly reverted to the client of the week formula. We spent the season inching toward that revelation, the writers doling out drips and drabs of clues that didn't seem to add up to much.

Well, it turns out they did add up to something. There was a neatly constructed plot arc throughout the season, and it came together in the last couple of episodes. Unfortunately, tonight's finale, as noted above, ended on yet another cliffhanger, this one without even a promise of more information to come.

It was a well-written, well-assembled episode, complete with several unnecessary scenes of Tricia Helfer in a swimsuit and the usual outstanding performance from Donovan. He really does do a remarkable job of portraying both Michael and Michael's various cover IDs; tonight's "drunken bodyguard who finds Jesus and righteous rage" was pretty inspired.

But killing off the sniper who had become such a key part of the burn notice arc without even giving a hint as to his target leaves the audience guessing, and not in a good way. Further, ending the episode with Michael jumping over a railing to avoid an explosion rings hollow. He's not going to die. Period.

So what do we need from the third season? Variety. Just a little. You don't have to eviscerate all the concepts that make the show successful. But keep trotting out bad guys who can challenge Michael. Maybe wound him with that season-ending explosion, remove some of his combat skills for a couple episodes and make his weekly client rescues more challenging. Take the show on the road once or twice; Miami's lovely and all, and it does reflect the light-hearted tone required of a summer series on USA, but at some point even sun, sand and palm trees grate.

Above all else, grant the audience some insight into the series-spanning storyline. You obviously don't have to reveal the hows, whys and whos of Michael's burning in the first five minutes of the season premier. But give us some reason to believe this will eventually have a resolution. Eventually we're going to get tired of watching our fired agent beat up drug dealers and kidnappers.

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