USA’s Burn Notice Sizzles

Occasionally there is talk about somebody wanting to do an updated remake of the British cult classic series The Prisoner, in which a spy who resigns is transported to a mysterious village, where he is trapped because he knows too much.

That talk can stop for a while, since — whether intentionally or not — USA Network has effectively taken that premise and turned it into a very fun and thrilling comedy/drama series called Burn Notice, which premieres June 28.

Jeffrey Donovan plays Michael Weston, a spy who — unfortunately, in the middle of a dangerous mission — is suddenly and mysteriously given what is called in the trade a “Burn Notice.” For some reason, Michael has been fired, and since, like The Prisoner, he knows too much, he is stripped of his credit cards, social security number, and basically his entire identity and trapped in a location where he is under constant surveillance by his former bosses and co-workers. However, his “prison” could be considered a bit more pleasant than those in which The Prisoner found himself — Michael is trapped in his hometown of Miami, unable to even rent a car to get out and discover who burned him and why.

But Michael may not find this a paradise. Miami happens to be the home of his mother, Madeline (played by a delightful Sharon Gless), a hypochondriac who is constantly calling Michael and wondering if he is coming by for Christmas. Michael had never wanted to come home, but now he’s stuck with family problems in addition to constantly trying to stay under the spy network radar.

Michael does have some help in the form of his only friend and a former spy himself, Sam (the always terrific Bruce Campbell) and Michael’s ex-lover and former IRA soldier Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar). And as he tries to determine who is responsible for his predicament, Michael funds his ongoing investigation by using his Special Ops experience to help those who the police can’t — or won’t.

Donovan is terrific as Michael, displaying a calm, cool wit while trapped in his dire situation, a personality similar to his wry role in the canceled series Touching Evil. From the very first moment you meet him you are on the side of this very likeable character. With the intertwining intrigues of Michael’s overarching search along with the current case he is working on to help someone in need, there is plenty of action. But the series doesn’t really on an overdose of explosions and stunts. The characters always take prominence, and they are all very well realized personalities.

One of the stronger personalities is Fiona. Gabrielle Anwar, while not in the pilot episode too much, displays a strength as Fiona that you can actually believe she was once a soldier. And Anwar also displays that strength herself. She kicks some butt right away in the first episode, and when asked how much fight training she needed for the role, she matter-of-factly responds, “None. I’m born that way! (She was once kicked out of a school in England for fighting.) I hope [we see more of that]. I think that my character does have some anger issues, and I can work my own out!”

As Fiona, the British Anwar manages a good Irish accent, which she also did not find too hard to master. “I had just spent the summer in Dublin last year,” she says, “so I was surrounded by Irish folk, and I guess a little bit rubs off.”

When it came time to research her character, again it did not take too much of a stretch. “I had met a couple of very interesting, shady characters while I was in Ireland. I don’t actually officially know what they did for a living anyway [laughs]. It made for a very interesting character study.”

Audiences will discover right away the good humor found in the series, but that wasn’t as apparent to Anwar until later on. “I didn’t realize it was as funny as it was. When I saw the pilot, I had a sudden panic thinking how I had been misguided. I didn’t think I was playing a comedy, and then I spent the entire pilot laughing! It may have been inadvertently!”

Naturally, viewers will also be enamored of the beautiful scenery of the series’ setting, South Beach in Miami. “It’s incredible!” Anwar says. “What a place to have to go to work every day! It’s an entirely novel experience and absolutely exhausting — and I’ve only been there for three days.”

There is some great chemistry between all of the characters in the series, which seems to be a rare thing to find. “That whole chemistry question is such an interesting phenomenon to me,” says Anwar. “I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in England where the film industry is minimal, to say the least, and there’s just a very different vocabulary for actors. But I think if you’re an actor you can play chemistry, can’t you? Obviously it makes your life much easier if there’s something you can connect to with your costar. [Jeffrey is] a very likeable guy. I’m really impressed with his performance.”

And viewers will be impressed with this series, wanting to get trapped with all of these characters each week.