Burn Notice aired on the USA Network from 2007 to 2013, 111 episodes in all. It was created by Matt Nix, based in Miami, and was a single-camera show.
l-r: Sharon Gless, Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar.
Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) is a spy. Or he was, until, in the middle of an operation, he gets a call informing him that he’s been burned, identified as an unreliable or risky operative. This comes as he’s closing a deal with a group of Nigerians, who take him out, beat him and leave him for dead. He wakes up sometime later in a hotel, being tended to by his former girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), a former member of the IRA, who tells him that he’s in Miami, his hometown.
At this point, he has nothing: no work history, no money, no contacts in the intelligence community; in essence, he doesn’t exist. He’s being surveilled constantly, and knows that, if he leaves Miami, he’ll be arrested. He needs to do something for money, and, more importantly, find out who burned him and why. He enlists the help of Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), a retired operative and Michael’s best friend, in his pursuits. Sam has no money (he hits on older women to sustain himself) and is known as “the guy who knows a guy.” Both Michael (Army Rangers, Green Berets) and Sam (Navy SEAL) have a Special Forces background, which makes their work as private investigators a natural fit. Fiona invites herself to help them, and her contributions (mostly with firearms) are not insignificant.
Michael’s mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless), usually sits at home, smoking cigarettes and fretting about Michael and his brother Nate (Seth Peterson), but she occasionally gets involved in Michael’s business. One interesting example: when Michael needed a list of names from the DMV, he sent his mother in to get it, where she worked with (and became friends with) a clerk played by Tyne Daly (a reunion of the lead characters in the ’80’s series Cagney & Lacey).
In the fourth season, Michael inadvertently burns another agent, Jesse Porter (Coby Bell). The two eventually reconciled and Jesse joined the group for the remainder of the series.
The shows themselves relied on action and, more importantly, narration by Westen as to what he was doing and why he was dong it, as though he was narrating a training film for operatives. It was a show that had a lot of supporting characters (many of whom were only in one episode) and several interesting subplots. Michael does manage to work his way back into the CIA, only to be hunted, arrested, shot at, and bullied. His friends stood with him, his brother died helping him dispose of a particularly psychopathic agent, and Madeline makes the ultimate sacrifice for him at the end of the series.
There was a prequel movie made, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, that aired toward the end of the series, that focused on Sam during his days as a SEAL. Tod Goldberg wrote five tie-in novels that were particularly good that you can probably get at your local used bookstore (that’s where I got mine).
I really enjoyed the series because the characters, as wild and off-the-wall as they seemed, were very relatable. You can feel the heat between Michael and Fiona as their relationship goes from “former lovers” to “lovers,” you can appreciate the friendship between Michael, Sam, and Jesse, and witness Maddie’s love for her sons and Michael’s friends. The series doesn’t seem to be running on TV, but relatively inexpensive used copies of the DVD’s are available on eBay.