Questions and realisations from television this week

Project Runway: How exactly is Sky One managing to show season three of this already, when it isn’t going to air on Bravo in the US until October or November? How much is it going to annoy US viewers if the results are announced in the UK before they’re announced in the US?

Psych: Have you noticed that people don’t talk about television much on television, even though it’s quite a big chunk of many people’s conversational lives? While you’ll occasionally get a reference to an old show or one that’s made up, you very rarely get mentions of current shows, particularly ones on other networks, too. There are exceptions to this or else Toby wouldn’t have to struggle with all those ‘zonks’. But large numbers of references, as with Friday’s Psych, to Nanny 911, Jake and the Fatman, et al, do make you realise those mentions are few and far between.

Burn Notice: Verisimilitude is a hard thing to pull off, even when it’s with an area that most people don’t know a lot about. Case in point: Burn Notice. It’s been trying really hard to be authentic, although with decreasing success each week (IRA ‘guerilla’? Oh really?). This week was its biggest major fluff so far, when it referred to ‘false flag’ as the name for forged ID, when it’s actually recruiting people into spying or stealing critical documents, by convincing them that they are working for a friendly government or their own government (cf Wikipedia, which is actually accurate on the subject). Still, it does a good job most of the time.

Interestingly, it appears to be quite high budget for the USA Network, judging by its guest stars: Lucy Lawless this week, I think Richard Schiff is on the way very soon, and we already have Bruce Campbell and Sharon Gless in the roster of regulars. Couple that with the cost of filming in Miami, which has gone sky-high thanks to insurance premiums caused by all the hurricanes and we can see that USA is actually putting some effort into it.

Some thoughts on a few recent series

Meadowlands/Cape Wrath

Well, if you made it through to the final episode, you’ll probably have been a little frustrated, but will no doubt have spotted the continuing parallels with The Prisoner. At the end of that 60s classic, after a series in which Number 6 had tried to work out where the village was using stellar navigation and other means after a couple of boat trips home, it’s finally revealed he’s in Britain at the end of an A-road.

Similarly, at the end of Meadowlands, it’s finally revealed that the eponymous village of that show is in fact in the middle of a desert. That would be the only desert with a small enclave that has the exact same weather conditions and solar strength as Kent, then.

John From Cincinnati (not Cincinatti, people!)

For true weirdness though, you had to watch John From Cincinnati. I’m sure that people are going to be discussing it for ages, and with every line of dialogue amenable to being stamped on a T-shirt, it’ll probably grow as a cult over time. The ending, of course, explained little, but did explain a few things. Quite who John is remains somewhat inconclusive, although with his various speeches about his father and his father’s father and heeding his father’s words, I’m veering towards John being the son of Jesus, sent here to warn us of impending doom. Anyone got any better theories?


Burn Notice

Sorry. Forgot this one the first time round. Was that Richard Schiff (Toby from The West Wing) I heard on the phone a couple of episodes ago as the guy who put the burn notice on our hero? If it was, he’s going to the villain of note this season, I suspect. Also, good use of Arye Gross as an assassin last week.


Third-episode verdict: Burn Notice

The Carusometer for Burn Notice
2, a partial Caruso

Oh dear. And it started so promisingly. I really had high hopes for this but the deadening hand of the USA Network has struck again.

The first episode showed promise. Burn Notice could have been a very good spy show with a quirky side. Instead, it’s now a quirky show with a slight spy side. The balance is all off. Worse still, Bruce Campbell has almost nothing to do.

True, Gabrielle Anwar dispensed with her rubbish Irish accent in the second episode, but she replaced it with an American accent that was only slightly better. The arcing “who gave Jeffrey Donovan a burn notice?” plot is now restricted to just a couple of minutes at the start and finish of the episode, while the “let’s help a loser using my special spy powers so that I can learn about family” guff is now the predominant theme of the show. Blurgh.

Still, there’s just a hint of dark left to the show, with Donovan and co willing to bump off, blackmail, fire bomb and generally do anything underhand that they like in order to right wrongs, which can”t be all bad. I suspect that as the arcing plot gathers momentum, we’ll be back to the original promise of the first episode, although I’ll probably be proved wrong.

So The Medium is Not Enough has no great pleasure in declaring Burn Notice a two or “Partial Caruso” on The Carusometer quality scale. A Partial Caruso corresponds to “a show with two walk-on cameos by David Caruso as a self-proclaimed master spy. He will try to get his character, Mick McGrady McMurphy, to explain the history of the Irish Republican Army. Unfortunately, his only only reference material is a copy of Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games and a box of Lucky Charms cereal. Before he can ad lib a scene in which he decides to bomb the ‘train between Dublin and London’, the producers send him a swatch book for his trailer decorations and they are able to recast him before he’s chosen ‘ultramarine’”.


Review: Burn Notice 1×1

Burn Notice

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, USA Network

In the UK: Not yet acquired but Hallmark or Five will probably get their greedy mitts on it

I’m rather partial to a good spy show. A good spy show is better than almost any other kind of genre show you can think of.

But note the use of the word ‘good’ there, because there haven’t been many good spy shows. Not proper spy shows. Callan, The Sandbaggers, a couple of episodes of Man in a Suitcase but that’s about it.

Don’t you even think about mentioning Spooks. Just don’t.

The other spy shows all suffer from a serious lack of realism. They aren’t so much spy shows as action shows (or comedies in most other cases). And as Jeffrey Donovan points out during the voice over at the beginning of Burn Notice, most spy work is about as interesting as sitting in a dentist’s waiting room all day. It isn’t action work.

Burn Notice tries to have its cake and eat it. It tries to be a proper, grown-up spy show – the first the US has probably ever produced (don’t even think of saying 24. Or Threat Matrix. Or whatever you were just about to say. Just don’t). But it also tries to mix in a bit of action, a bit of humour – mostly through Donovan but also through MAN GOD Bruce Campbell – and a bit of that relentless “character” that USA Network is now (in)famous for.

And you know what? It actually works. I think.

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