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October 4, 2015

'Burn Notice' A to Z: Catching Up On This Hot Summer Favorite Before Season 5 Premieres

by Kim Potts, posted Jun 21st 2011 4:00PM
He's back! They're back ... it's back! We're talking about 'Burn Notice,' which kicks off its much-anticipated fifth season this week (Thurs., June 23, 9PM ET on USA).

To celebrate the show's return, we're walking down 'Burn Notice' memory lane, A to Z-style. This also happens to serve as a nifty primer for those uninitiated to the ways of the 'Burn' (are there such people?!), and as a little sneak peek for those who already know what a delicious slice of summer viewing Michael Westen and his pals make.

Bruce CampbellA is for Axe, Sam Axe, the Navy SEAL vet and lover of mojitos played by cult movie actor Bruce Campbell. Low on funds, Sam initially spied on his pal Michael Westen for the FBI and supplemented his meager retiree funds by squiring wealthy Miami women around town in exchange for food, shelter and borrowed cars. Sam, who early on was also Michael's only government contact after getting burned, also seems to have a seemingly endless supply of contacts. He's always the guy who knows a guy ...

B is for Burn Notice, which is not just the title of the show, but also the show's beginning concept. CIA super spy Michael Westen receives a burn notice while on a mission in Nigeria, meaning his bosses fired and blacklisted him, dumping him in his hometown of Miami without telling him why, after stripping him of all his assets. Michael spent the subsequent four seasons tracking down the who and why behind his burn notice.

C is for Contraptions, which Michael and friends use in their quests to scope out more info on Michael's burn notice and in their many private investigator missions. Like a team of MacGyvers, Michael, Sam, Fiona and new pal Jesse use common objects like cell phones, microwave ovens and duct tape to whip up everything from bombs to listening and tracking devices. The show employs an actual retired intelligence guy as a consultant, in fact, and the many things Michael can make from a cell phone, along with all his other concoctions, are real ... with, always, one key component missing, lest enterprising viewers get the idea to do some DIY bombing of their own.

D is for DVD. For newbie 'Burn'-outs, Seasons 1 through 4 are now available on DVD from Fox Home Entertainment, with a slew of bonus materials that include audio commentary, deleted scenes, Comic-Con panels, featurettes on the show's stunt team, gag reels and cast audition footage.

E is for Edgar Allan Poe Award, which 'Burn Notice' creator Matt Nix won in 2008. The Edgars, as the awards are commonly known, recognize the best mystery books, movies, TV shows and theatrical works and are doled out by the Mystery Writers of America. Nix won the Best Episode in a TV Series honor in 2008 for the 'Burn Notice' pilot.

Grant Show Jeffrey DonovanF is for Finley, as in Chuck Finley, the name Sam Axe uses when he doesn't want to use his real name for some covert action. In the 'Burn Notice' prequel movie, we learn that Chuck Finley does indeed refer to the former Major League Baseball player of the same name, as Sam tells a new friend, "Yeah, made a lot of money betting on him back in the day. I'm thinking it's a lucky name." In an interview with AOL TV last year, Bruce Campbell revealed that, coincidentally, his father also had a friend named Chuck Finley.

G is for Guest Stars. 'Burn Notice' attracts more than its fair share of quality guest cast, which has included Burt Reynolds, Garret Dillahunt, Carlos Bernard, Tyne Daly, Richard Kind, Danny Trejo, Tim Matheson, Richard Schiff, Lucy Lawless, Mark Pellegrino, Tricia Helfer, John Mahoney, Larry Miller, Michael Shanks, Jay Karnes, Method Man, Kevin Alejandro, Moon Bloodgood, Jude Ciccolella, Dylan Baker and Robert Patrick. In Season 5, guest stars will include 'True Blood,' '24' and 'The Tudors' alum James Frain, Bush rocker Gavin Rossdale, and, introduced in the season premiere, 'Melrose Place' and 'Big Love' alum Grant Show as Max, who -- SPOILER ALERT -- is Michael's new CIA pal.

H is for Home, which, for Michael Westen, is a cheap, somewhat gross, loft above a Miami nightclub. But given Michael's meager, sporadic income, the thrifty loft (club owner Oleg rents it to him for $400 a month) fits his budget for a crash pad. Plus, given how, ahem, unglamorous the loft is, Michael and the gang don't worry about using it as a factory for crafting their sometimes explosive (literally) gadgets.

Gabrielle AnwarI is for IRA, as in the Irish Republican Army, the organization with which Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), Michael Westen's girlfriend, learned her serious combat and bomb-building skills. Fi, as Michael often refers to her, had a falling out with her old cohorts when she decided she no longer wanted to follow their orders, and now she hangs out full-time in Miami, teaming with Michael, Sam and Jesse on their P.I. gigs and taking the occasional freelance job on her own. In addition to her many skills, Fiona has a fondness for designer fashions, and isn't above using a slinky dress to sway the attention of various bad guys ... and Michael. The two met and fell in love when he was working undercover in Dublin, but when his cover was blown, he had to run away in the middle of the night without an explanation to her. Now reunited in Miami, their on-again/off-again relationship provides the show's romantic storyline, and, tumultuous as it is, she tells Jesse at the end of Season 4 that she'd rather die with Michael than live without him.

Jeffrey DonovanJ is for Jeffrey Donovan, the actor who plays super skilled burned spy Michael Westen. Donovan, who's also starred in 'Touching Evil' and 'Crossing Jordan' on TV and 'The Changeling' and Clint Eastwood's upcoming 'J. Edgar' on the big-screen, has much in common with Michael, including the fact that he grew up in less than ideal circumstances and has a black belt in karate, six years of aikido, a year of Brazilian jujitsu and can speak Russian. Says Matt Nix of Donovan being the perfect man for the 'Burn Notice' job: "If you look at Jeffrey's career before 'Burn Notice,' it was this odd flipping back and forth of good guys and bad guys. And the thing about Jeffrey is, he's kind of uniquely well-suited to that ... oftentimes on 'Burn Notice,' you know, (Michael's) plan almost always involves some version of going and making friends with the villain, and often proposing plans for the villain that are far more hardcore than anything the villain was thinking about doing. Sort of like, 'Hey, great! Let's be friends. You want me to help you move your cocaine? Let's kill a client.' Like that kind of thing. And he's really good at that. He also has a certain sensitivity and a way of connecting with people that really suits the kind of good guy half of the role. So I think we were really lucky there."

K is for Killers, as in the bad guys Michael and company have to contend with. And that isn't just the villain of the week. There's also: "Management," a black ops syndicate that engineered Michael's burn notice so he'd be free to use his many spy guy skills on their behalf, as well as Victor (Michael Shanks) and Carla (Tricia Helfer), two Management employees; Vaughn (Robert Wisdom), Carla's Management replacement with Michael; Tyler (Jay Karnes), a gun-running former spy who ticks Michael off by threatening his family and friends; and John Barrett (Robert Patrick), a corrupt telecom company CEO who was willing to kill Michael to get his hands on the roster of members of Management.

L is for Laundering, as in money launderer Barry Burkowski (Paul Tei), one of Michael's go-to guys. Barry is good for any sort of financial info, and info on and introductions to many of Miami's sleaziest characters ... though it is always understood that Michael will have to do him a solid in return at some point. Barry is also one of the show's recurring characters, along with guys like Sugar, Michael's one-time enemy and the drug dealer who lived below the loft, who later came to Michael for help; Marv (Richard Kind), Jesse's old CIA cohort and an unfortunate victim in Michael and Jesse's burn notice wars; and "Dead" Larry Sizemore (Tim Matheson), Michael's frienemy and one-time mentor who's a great asset when he's on Michael's side, but who has also stabbed Michael in the back repeatedly when it was in his own best interest. Oh, and the "Dead Larry" moniker? When Larry wanted to "retire" as a spy, he faked his death and became a freelance assassin.

M is for Miami, the setting for 'Burn Notice' action. The show films on location in the Florida city, and makes such fantastic use of the sunny city that Campbell has called it another character. "Oh, it is absolutely a character in the show. And, you know, the state of Florida should be cutting us a check every week for amazing PR, because we shoot in the coolest clubs, the fanciest hotels," Campbell says. "We also shoot in the crappiest alleys and abandoned buildings, but I'll leave that part out. But, you know, we really do sell the exotic nature of the city, because it's a crazy, off-the-hook kind of city."

Jeffrey Donovan and Burt ReynoldsN is for Nix, as in 'Burn Notice' creator Matt Nix. Nix, who also created the unfortunately short-lived Fox cop series 'The Good Guys,' first conceived of 'Burn Notice' as a spy series that would be set in ... New Jersey?! "Through a series of events, some of them having to do with USA saying, 'We don't really do shows in Newark,' and some of them having to do with realizing that, when I was writing the script, it was sort of lighter," Nix told AOL TV. "It was kind of funnier than was really suggested by my proposed environment. So when USA wanted it in Miami, I initially resisted. And then I was like, 'Oh, well it actually kind of works better.' So that was how it went."

O is for Opening, as in the 'Burn Notice' expository opener that pithily reminds us each week how globe-trotting super spy Michael ended up back in his hometown.

P is for Porter, as in Jesse Porter (Coby Bell), the newest member of Michael's informal freelance spy group. Jesse, like Michael, was a top CIA guy, and, also like Michael, Jesse was the victim of a burn notice. Unbeknownst to Jesse for a while, however, was that Michael was the one who accidentally caused his burn notice. Jesse had vowed to kill the person responsible for burning him, so when he realized it was Michael ... let's just say it nearly ruined his friendship and partnership with Michael, Sam and Fiona (whom Jesse has a bit of a crush on). Jesse has also bonded with Michael's mama Maddie, who tries to keep the gang playing nice with each other.

Q is for Quips, as in the show's lighter side. The show's trademark silliness can come from the chain-smoking sassiness of Michael's mom Maddie, from Fiona's deft dressing down of her male friends or even from Michael's serious approach to, well, almost everything. But the show's go-to guy for a lighter moment: Sam Axe. Whether busting out his Chuck Finley persona, trying to make time with the ladies or scheming to get Michael to fund his love of libations, Sam can always be counted on for comic relief, like with his spoofing of a certain other Miami thwarter of bad guys:

R is for Ride, which, for Michael Westen, means his dad's old 1973 Dodge Charger. Michael has a painful past with his father, who was abusive to Michael and his brother, Nate. He also taught the boys some serious mechanic skills, which Michael put to good use in fixing (and since re-fixing, many times) the car and getting it into running shape when he was burned and dropped in Miami. The Charger was seemingly destroyed in the Season 4 finale episode, but -- SPOILER ALERT -- don't count the car out just yet.

S is for 'Saturday Night Live,' which spoofed the popularity of 'Burn Notice' with a
2010 skit that featured a game show called 'What Is Burn Notice?' In the backhanded bit of homage, the joke was that, despite the show's popularity and high ratings, none of the contestants could offer any information about 'Burn Notice.'

T is for TV movie, as in the 'Burn Notice' prequel flick 'Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe.' The movie, which was directed by Jeffrey Donovan, aired in April 2011, and provided info on Sam's pre-'Burn Notice' activities. Namely, we find out that Sam received an honorable discharge from the Navy after he unwittingly slept with a superior's wife and was sent on a dangerous mission to track down a terrorist group in Colombia. 'The Glades' star Kiele Sanchez played a doctor who had serious chemistry with Sam in the movie, and there have been hints that the prequel's storyline may carry over into the regular 'Burn Notice' action during Season 5.

Coby BellU is for USA Network, which counts 'Burn Notice' as one of its signature "Characters Matter" shows. The network has already greenlit 'Burn Notice' not just for this week's Season 5 premiere, but also through a sixth season.

V is for Voiceovers. Michael Westen's frequent voiceovers are a very effective technique the show uses to relay info on Michael's MacGyvering efforts, as well as the occasional aside on spy life. Michael's voiceovers are such a fan favorite, in fact, that Jeffrey Donovan has filmed a whole series of cheeky Michael Westen video tips on how to carry out various spy-related activity, from spotting a liar and surviving a bar fight to escaping from a locked car and avoiding intoxication.

W is for Westen, Michael Westen, the blacklisted spy guy at the center of 'Burn Notice.' Several important things to know about Michael: He loves his mother, Maddie, even though she also drives him crazy; ditto his younger brother, Nate (Seth Peterson), who is well-intentioned, but frequently gets himself into trouble; he's fiercely loyal, though he often has to choose between his own interests and what's best for his friends and family; and he is a champion of the underdog, partly because of the childhood abuse he and his brother suffered at the hands of their now-dead father, Frank. His father is also the main reason why, at age 17, Michael had his mother forge his father's signature so he could enlist in the Army and leave Frank and his violent temper behind.

Sharon GlessX is for Xenial, which is one of the best words to describe Maddie Westen (Sharon Gless), Michael's mother. Their relationship is complicated, as chain-smoking, savvy Maddie is devoted to both her sons, yet failed to protect them from their father's physical and emotional abuse during their childhoods. That is a topic, Matt Nix says, that the show will address further in Season 5. But back to Maddie's xenial ways. She can always be counted on for hospitality to Michael's friends and clients -- her Miami house that Michael grew up in has served as the temporary home for Michael's clients, as well as Sam and Jesse. Gless, an Emmy and Golden Globe winner for the classic cop series 'Cagney & Lacey,' is the only 'Burn Notice' cast member, so far, to receive an Emmy nomination for the show.

Y is for Yogurt, which, along with beer and mojitos, is Michael and company's main source of sustenance. Why yogurt? Matt Nix points out that, as part of the unglamorous side of a spy's life, long stakeouts are necessary. A spy needs to have snacks on hand that can both last a while and are healthy. The 'Burn Notice' actors do eat a lot of yogurt during filming, so much so that Bruce Campbell says he's suggested alternative munchies. "I'm lobbying for hard-boiled eggs, and we've Jeffrey Donovan and Bruce Campbellalways got nuts around now," Campbell says. "And pickles. Sometimes we've got some pickles in there ... all of those items are things you can kind of leave in there a while, and it's okay."

Z is for zealous, which describes Michael Westen's all-consuming desire to find out who burned him at the start of the series. That, and his subsequent desire to clear his name and have his former CIA brethren welcome him back into the fold, have been Michael's driving force throughout the series so far. His commitment has put him at odds with those who love him the most, especially Fiona, who wants him to stick around Miami and fully embrace his private eye activities, and mama Maddie, who just wants him to stick around.

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Y is for Yogurt! I knew it.

June 24 2011 at 2:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Stacie Bennett

so how much do the fans know??? Michael did not "have his mom" fordge the docs. she did it w/o his knowlage

June 22 2011 at 9:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

it's back!


June 22 2011 at 12:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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