Thursday, February 18, 2010

Burn Notice: A Few Short Words

So now that Dollhouse is officially dead (time of death: the reveal of the real head of Rossum in the antepenultimate episode) (yes, I just used the word antepenultimate) (it's better than penultimate). My roommate and I have been enjoying the USA network original television series, "Burn Notice", which is ostensibly about a spy who has been disavowed, or "burned", without reason. This spy, a gentleman named Michael Weston (played with a brilliant, darkly sardonic humor by Jeffrey Donovan), spends his days as a private-detective-slash-mercenary, going around doing (generally) good deeds in deliciously evil ways while raising funds and supplies for his investigation into his own burning.

It's kind of like 24, if 24 took less than an ENTIRE FREAKING SEASON to reveal the contents of one day, and if 24 was set in Miami, and if 24's Jack Bauer didn't instantly conjure up mental images of a stereotypical greaser bullying some poor 1950s kids. Also, Burn Notice's average episode consists of nothing but the following five things:

1) Michael Weston trying to claim his relationship with his girlfriend isn't a relationship

2) Michael Weston telling his client of the week "I'm working on it"

3) Michael Weston inevitably failing his original plan ~25 minutes in and then having to tell his client not to call the police, because that won't work

4) Michael Weston putting on sunglasses in dramatic slow motion

5) Michael Weston taking off sunglasses in dramatic slow motion

It's a pretty cool show, despite how bad I make it sound. I'm done now, I promise. Oh wait, no, it's also racist, because all the bad guys are Czech immigrants who are secretly assassins. Or Jamaican immigrants who are secretly money launderers. Or Cuban immigrants who are secretly slum lord gangsters. Or Columbian immigrants who are secretly kidnappers. Or Iranian immigrants who are secretly spies. Or Mexican immigrants who are secretly sex traffickers...the list goes on.

And yet, it's still marvelously entertaining, with the kind of perfect touch between serious meditation on aging and responsibility and the generation gap, and ridiculous dry farce that Psych tried to master and House tried to avoid. And it has Bruce Campbell, another underrated actor that looks like he's just cut loose and is having fun. I haven't seen Gabrielle Anwar (Fiona) or Sharon Gless (Madelyn Weston) anywhere before, but they're both perfectly cast. Ms. Anwar is a character who used to be the kind of "bad@$$ chick with guns" role that producers could have easily been tempted to throw to a younger a Jessica Alba/Angelina Jolie/Eliza Dushku-type actress, yet now needs to let go of the whirlwind of free spirits and violence that once chracterized her life- in other words, in a similar situation as Jackie Brown from my favorite Tarantino movie, having to learn how to age gracefully. It's a difficult, almost invisible role, but played well against Donovan's emasculated hero, who is doing everything he can to get back to those salad days- his ultramasculine, ultraviolent James Bondian world. Meanwhile, Gless is the perfect shrewish-manipulative-vulnerable mother, playing a stock role and injecting it with more verve and fun than almost anyone I've seen not named Jessica Walter.

Of course, there are all kinds of conceits and irritating difficulties that go along with it:

1) The music-video-style fast-forward-rewind-fast-forward loop that the editors stick on every establishing/B-roll shot of Miami is annoying, and the shots themselves look like they were borrowed from stock footage of tourist promotion videos, which they probably were

2) How does Michael Weston, who's basically living paycheck to paycheck once he's burned, manage to not have a safe-deposit box, a dead drop, an anonymous storage unit, or a shoebox full of cash buried somewhere in his home town? In case he might lose his incredibly difficult, incredibly failure-prone secret spy job? I mean, for goodness sake's, the closest thing I'll ever get to his situation is getting a Love Burn Notice that says I have herpes, and even I have a safe box for that eventuality (don't ask what's in it). (Am I writing out loud again?)

3) For that matter, how does Michael Weston, who's basically living paycheck to paycheck once he's burned, manage to have an inexhaustible supply of sunglasses and tailored Armani suits? The things are *expensive*.

4) Remember how improbably Mrs. Lovitt's meat pie business was able to run? Weston's detective business is even worse. Even at a job a week, if he's making between $1000-2000 per job, the suits alone will bankrupt him (see #3). And half the time he gives the money back, or does something silly with it.

5) Why are there so many improbably-shaped women in Miami? Am I the only one who's noticed this? It's like the whole city is one bikini ad.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dates Everyone Should Know, from AP European History

476: Romulus Augustus deposed, end of the Roman Empire

1492: Columbus finds the new world, Moores kicked out of Spain as the Reconquista comes to a close, Jews also kicked out

1521: Diet of Worms, Protestant Reformation begins

1555: Peace of Augsberg, Princes can worship however they want in the German states

1648: Peace of Westphalia, the Netherlands officially recognized

1713: Treaty of Utrecht finishes War of Spanish Succession, universal monarch of Louis XIV (the "Sun King") avoided

1763: Treaty of Paris ends French and Indian (N America)/Seven Years' (Europe) war between France and everyone else

1815: Congress of Vienna ends Napoleonic wars

1848: Revolutions sweep everyone

1871: Foundation of "modern" Germany under Emperor Wilhelm I, shepherded by Otto von Bismarck

1918: Treaty of Versailles ends WWI

1945: End of WWII

So, for those of you keeping score, that's 12 dates: 476, 1521, 1555, 1648, 1713, 1763, 1815, 1848, 1871, 1918, 1945.

Here's a few more that aren't vital, but good for party talk:

1066: Battle of Hastings: Normans conquer England, ensure that French will become a vital root of modern English, start the Middle Ages, end the Dark Ages

1588: A "divinely inspired" storm destroys the Spanish Armada, along with machinations by Francis Walsingham et. al. Also, two words: fire ships.

1776: Duh.

1792: French Revolution breaks out.

1812: The year in which the War of 1812 was fought.

1861: American Civil War. Pesky Europeans all try to influence it, while maintaining neutrality.

1914: Archduke Franz Ferdinand assassinated by Gavrilu Princep, causes chain reaction leading to WWI. First major continental warfare since Germanic Reunification wars of 1871

1917: Russian Revolution. 'Nuff Said.

1929: NYSE market crash starts the Great Depression worldwide

1931: Spanish Civil War breaks out. Fascist and Communist forces duke it out via proxy in Spain. Hitler and Stalin try out their new toys: gas, tanks, bombers, etc.

1939: On September 1st, Hitler's Nazi Germany invades Poland, starting WWII.

1941: Pearl Harbor ensures American entry into the war.

1960: DeGaulle withdraws France from NATO, because, well, he's a dick.

1989: Fall of the Berlin Wall

1991: December 25th, USSR falls.

So, to recap: 476, 1066, 1521, 1555, 1588, 1648, 1713, 1763, 1776, 1792, 1812, 1815, 1848, 1861, 1871, 1914, 1918, 1929, 1931, 1939, 1945, 1960, 1989, 1991.

Not so hard.