Thursday, December 12, 2013

Burn Notice: Retrospective

It's been a few weeks now.  The air has cleared from the towering finale of Breaking Bad, and the stink has dissipated from the finale of Dexter.  And so this might be a good time to look back at Burn Notice, which also took its final bow this year.

Ever since Lost re-introduced mainstream TV watchers to the addictive quality of episodic storytelling (I say "re-introduced" because the serial was a popular mode in cinema before the advent of TV), "procedural drama" has become something of a dirty word in this Golden Age of Television.  (the distinction for drama is important - comedy requires each episode to have a discrete conclusion).

And sure – when we point to the shows that commit that greatest of entertainment sins, being uninteresting, most are indeed procedurals (or they're The Walking Dead... but that veers us too far off track).

But the procedural drama can a rewarding mode of storytelling too.  House was anchored with a leading performance that were so engaging, the show was delightful even when the writing sagged; The Blacklist is following closely in those footsteps, to much success.

But for my money?  No show in the last ten years has done the procedural as well as Burn Notice.

Thank God terrorists never watch Die Hard.
I can point to no other show on television which, week after week, writes its characters into impossible corners, and finds entirely plausible ways to extract them – usually with the ingenuity of Angus MacGyver, the tenacity of Marshal Dillon, and the cockiness of David Addison Jr.  (no, please – take a moment and go to Wikipedia.  I'll wait.)

The success of the show was in how firmly it knew what it was:  a group of reluctant heroes-for-hire who needed cash up front, usually gave it back, and had a devil-may-care attitude along the way.

It's great fun, and if you didn't dive into it while it was on the air, you can start burning through episodes on Netflix.

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