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Good Summer TV:
I recommend Burn Notice on USA. It is a surprising reprise of The Equalizer from the 1980s. The Equalizer, Robert McCall (played by Edward Woodward ["Breaker Morant"]), was a former spy for the CIA who quit in disgust and used violence, technology and his clandestine talents, along with a motley assortment of free lance spooks to help ordinary folks in New York City who were being victimized by the evil and powerful. Two subplots concerned the extent to which McCall kept getting pulled back into his espionage past, and his conflicts with his son, Scott. Watching the Equalizer now (it is being rerun on Universal HD) is also like a time capsule of what New York City used to be like before Rudy.

Burn Notice is about Micheal Weston, a spy who is kicked out of the CIA (for reasons we don't yet know), deprived of all his assets, and forced to eke out a living in Miami. He does this by using violence, technology and his clandestine talents, along with a motley assortment of free lance spooks to help ordinary folks in Miami who are being victimized by the evil and powerful. Two subplots concern his effort to find out who "burned" him so he can get back into the spy game, and his conflicts with his cigarette smoking mother (played by Sharon Gless who obviously does not smoke) and his former ex-IRA terrorist girlfriend. Like Miami Vice in the 1980s, Burn Notice also showcases modern Miami.

Both shows are violent for the TV of their times. But while The Equalizer adopted an edgy and dark mood (though in reruns 20 yeas later it comes across a bit cartoonish), Burn Notice is more light-hearted--a teeny bit like the pre-Daniel Craig James Bond films, though not offensively unfunny and silly as Bond films became so maybe I should not have offered that comparison; after all, I am recommending Burn Notice. The USA Network is rerunning the first 3 episodes of Burn Notice the morning of March July 21 @ 9:00am-12:30am, so set your DVRs to catch up with this engaging new series. (You will also need to record the fourth Episode now playing.)

BTW have I mentioned how much I love the new Casino Royale, the best Bond film since Goldfinger? (Better than Thunderball.) Daniel Craig is now the second best Bond, maybe even (gasp) tying with Sean Connery in his own gritty take on the character. But more importantly, Casino Royale abandons most all of the Bond films' insufferable cliches, and returns the series, not to the Sean Connery films, but to the Ian Fleming novel. Kudos to the producers and very highly recommended in hi def DVD. But I digress.

For those who remember The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan--I watched it in first run as a summer replacement series broadcast here after it had been canceled in the UK, having previously loved Secret Agent--Showtime offers the British-made Meadowlands. The Prisoner concerned a bunch of political prisoners held in "The Village" on an island (but really filmed in a manicured resort on the English coast of Wales). The prisoners were all electronically monitored 24/7 by technical means that were science fiction in the 1960s, and cannot escape. Meadowlands concerns a bunch of former criminals in a witness relocation program that houses them in a clean manicured suburban English village and who are all electronically monitored 24/7 by the same sorts of means used today to monitor ordinary British citizens. Of the episodes I Tivo'd, I have only watched the premiere, so I cannot be sure where this is going yet and if I will stick with it. I am unsure of the writing and whether the plot will be of lasting interest, but it is very nicely photographed and worth a shot, if only for the sake of old times.

Finally, on FX, the fourth season of Rescue Me-- which for my money ties with The Wire on HBO for best TV drama still in first run--is awesome. Get the DVDs of seasons 1-3 if you have not watched this series from its inception. In season 4, the writing and performances remain superb. VERY highly recommended.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More Good Summer TV:
  2. Good Summer TV:
George Lyon (mail):
I noticed the similarity of Burn Notice and The Equalizer as well. A third show with a similar theme from the Eighties was Stingray.
7.17.2007 9:57am
Mr. Impressive (mail):
I was wondering whether to rent Rescue Me. Based on your recommendation, I will check it out.
7.17.2007 10:03am
matt kelley (mail):
Daniel Craig??? Seriously? That movie was terrible. Can we make a movie with as much running as possible? Oh and lets have the entire thing revolve around a poker tournament so we can have lots of scenes with close-ups of craig,s steely blue eyes. I nearly fell asleep.
7.17.2007 10:03am
blcjr (mail):
I don't know what time of the year it is where you are at, but where I am, the reruns will be July 21, not March 21.
7.17.2007 10:22am
Randy Barnett (mail) (www):
blcjr:

Month corrected. Thanks. Sometimes I wonder where these mental hiccups come from. Maybe its a associated with being old enough to have watched The Prisoner and Star Trek in first run.
7.17.2007 10:30am
Aaron Benedict (mail) (www):
The one thing that Burn Notice has going for it that The Equalizer does not is that Bruce Campbell is one of the supporting actors. Never a bad performance from Bruce imo
7.17.2007 10:36am
WTK:
Casino Royale was excellent. Although I haven't read the novels, I've been a bond fan for years. My favorites are From Russia with Love, On Her Majesty's Secret Service and The Spy Who Loved Me. In a sense, Casino Royale is a remake of OHMSS. Never cared for Pierce Brosnan--he's a pale imitation.
7.17.2007 10:38am
Randy Barnett (mail) (www):
Thanks for the support, WTK. Casino Royale is actually a faithful remake of the first Bond novel, Casino Royale. What I would like now, but surely won't see, is faithfully remakes of all the Bond novels in order. (The World is Not Enough was a remake of the original Moonraker.) Here is the slim intelligence on the next Bond pic:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0830515/
If anyone knows more about this, please post links.
7.17.2007 10:43am
mobathome:
Your IMDB reference to The Prisoner unfortunately links to an earlier televised play about an inquisition starring Patrick McGoohan instead of the TV series called The Prisoner.
7.17.2007 10:54am
Randy Barnett (mail) (www):
Link to Prisoner fixed. Thanks mobathome. In finding links I discovered this precursor of Danger Man in which Drake is apparently an American!!:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053496/
I wish we could watch all these.
7.17.2007 10:58am
ak47pundit (www):
I'll second the recommendation for Rescue Me. The show is a perfect mix of comedy, drama and action and Dennis Leary has really hit his stride in this show.

Certainly worth watching.
7.17.2007 11:08am
SocratesAbroad (mail):
Just a minor correction. In Burn Notice, the pilot explains how Micheal Weston doesn't actually work for the CIA directly but a subcontractor.

Didn't make the Stingray connection, but come to think of it both The Equalizer and Stingray do share similarities with BN. I do, however, like BN's novel premise not of a disaffected former agent but of a blacklisted covert operative having to look for a regular job (reminds me of getting out of the service when I found my infantry/weapons skills had zero real world value).

I'll second kudos for The Prisoner ("You are Number 6." "I am not a number, I am a free man."). Though the special effects (giant white weather ballons, anyone?!?) must seem especially dated today, the constant deception and intrigue are sure to be a bit more timeless.

I'll beg to disagree on Daniel Craig, though. He seems a bit too rough and tumble in my view, more suited to a henchman than a leading man. Mind you, though, anything is better than the campy Bond a la Roger Moore.

That aside, Dame Judi Dench has proven a very welcome addition (Admiral Roebuck: "With all due respect, M, I think you don't have the balls for this job." M: Maybe. But the advantage is, I don't have to think with them all the time.").

One personal aside: having lived in Asia for the last 10 years and being functional in Chinese and Japanese, I'd like to see how Bond's supposed ability in both languages pans out (in You Only Live Twice, he claims a first in Oriental languages from Cambridge while in Tomorrow Never Dies he's flummoxed by a kanji keyboard). It undoubtedly can't be any worse than the total crap (pardon the wording, but it is appropriate) Japanese spoken briefly by Cameron Diaz and Luke Wilson [I'm fighting the urge to pound my head against the keyboard just thinking about it].
7.17.2007 11:20am
Randy Barnett (mail) (www):
Thanks SocratesAbroad:
In the novels Bond is VERY rough and tumble and tends to overcome the super-villians with a combination of tenacity and ability to withstand excruciating pain. The super suave Bond is more a creature of the films. Connery was better at capturing Bond's physicality. With Roger Moore, who is older than Connery, the series went to [snip]. Brosnan tried to bring it back and succeeded to s small degree but his films were encumbered by the obligatory Bond trademarks, now knowingly ditched in Casino Royale. (Barman: "Shaken not stirred?" Bond: "Do I look like I give a damn") If one does not like Casino Royale, it is because one does not like the Fleming novels or have not read them.
7.17.2007 11:26am
SocratesAbroad (mail):
Sorry, the previous should read:
"spoken briefly by Cameron Diaz and Luke Wilson [I'm fighting the urge to pound my head against the keyboard just thinking about it] in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle"

Yes, preview is my friend but even friends forget sometimes...
7.17.2007 11:28am
Colin (mail):
Casino Royale is actually a faithful remake of the first Bond novel, Casino Royale.

I haven't read the novels, but I was under the impression that Baccarat was Bond's original game. (Not that that's a huge change, of course.) Slate, I think, or maybe NPR, hosted a fun podcast of a poker expert dissecting the movie's creative abuse of the game.
7.17.2007 12:05pm
Seamus (mail):
Oh and lets have the entire thing revolve around a poker tournament so we can have lots of scenes with close-ups of craig,s steely blue eyes. I nearly fell asleep.

Well, the movie was a big improvement on the book, in which Fleming overindulged his penchant for taking pages upon pages to describe the course of a game of baccarat in mind-numbing detail. (Those passages, in Casino Royale and other Bond novels, are as boring as the accounts of cricket matches in early P.G. Wodehouse.)
7.17.2007 12:06pm
Andy Freeman (mail):
> Can we make a movie with as much running as possible?

He had to run - Craig can't drive a stick.
7.17.2007 12:49pm
Cold Warrior:
The Prisoner -- at least the first 8 or so episodes -- is some of the best television ever produced, cleverly mixing Cold War-style espionage with science fiction and the great dystopian novels. And all done with a bit of a smirk.

The last half dozen or so episodes of The Prisoner are a different story. Very spotty, with some episodes showing a painful 1960s damage. That's what happens when a series is extended simply because the first season was a hit.
One picky, picky point: they used Portmeirion, Wales (not England) as the set. You will upset all the Welshmen and women of the world if you dare say England.

I'm looking forward to checking out Meadowlands. I hope the writing stands up.
7.17.2007 2:09pm
Jason F:
If you like The Equalizer, check out Callan, a series that aired on ITV from 1967 until 1972 and starred Edward Woodward as an assassin in the employ of the British government. It has been suggested that David Callan, Woodward's eponymous character, changed his name to Robert McCall and moved to New York when he left "the Section."

Some episodes of Callan are available on Region 2 DVD.
7.17.2007 4:01pm
Randy Barnett (mail) (www):
Revonna:

Well she hasn't inhaled yet that I could see so I'll bet former smoker. And I have far from retired from the law. I just turned on a 1100+ page manuscript for a new solo-authored con law casebook and am sliding in a little R&R in between writing clerkship letters and turning around edits of law review articles. A prof's work is NEVER done. Besides I have TV and Movie blogged in here from the beginning.

Jason:
I read about Callan in Wikipedia and would really like to see it. The first season is apparently not available. And I have been just too darned busy with the law to track down and watch the DVDs that are (see above).
7.17.2007 4:48pm
Jason F:
If I'm not mistaken, the first two seasons of Callan are pretty much gone forever -- back then, nobody ever thought that anyone would ever want to go back and watch old TV shows, so tapes were reused or otherwise destroyed.
7.17.2007 5:55pm
Joshua:
Count me as another fan of Daniel Craig and the return of the old-school James Bond. I do have a small disagreement here though:

But more importantly, Casino Royale abandons most all of the Bond films' insufferable cliches, and returns the series, not to the Sean Connery films, but to the Ian Fleming novel.

Actually I got the impression that Craig was channeling Connery throughout the film, particularly in the way he delivered his lines. I thought a younger Connery would have fit into this movie just fine, even with the stuff they updated for the 2000s, like the poker game instead of baccarat.
7.17.2007 9:19pm
Randy Barnett (mail) (www):
There is no question that Connery, the ultimate Bond, COULD have fit the film. After all, like Craig, Connery is a real first rate actor. One can just easily imagine him as Craig saying, "Well at least I know where you keep your gun. I suppose that's something." But my point is that Craig was not returning to Connery's Bond, but making Fleming's Bond his own. And I do not think he was channeling Connery.

And the updating does not bother me a bit. It is essence of the novels to which the film returned, albeit not perfectly. What is most important is that the tradition of "the James Bond Movie" was blown up, hopefully for good.

BTW, Craig had a nice line in the extended features interview, which I can only paraphrase. When asked if he had always wanted to play James Bond, he replied "no I had never wanted to play James Bond before being approached for the film. Of course as a kid, I wanted to BE James Bond, but that's another matter (or that is just a fantasy)." Yes, being James Bond is not the same as portraying him, and I think Craig was able to achieve the former, something only Connery had previously been able to attain.
7.17.2007 9:37pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Randy: I second your recommendation of Burn Notice, and must admit that I did not pick up on the similarity to the The Equalizer, but you are right, it is similar. I enjoyed that series, also, and especially the Prisoner, which was one of the finest shows on TV (I liked the fact that everything --all twenty something episodes---was plotted out before the first episode was shot).
7.17.2007 11:45pm
AyaK:
and especially the Prisoner, which was one of the finest shows on TV (I liked the fact that everything --all twenty something episodes---was plotted out before the first episode was shot).


Unfortunately, that isn't true, which accounts for some of the variablity in quality in the series. The first episode is necessarily "Arrival," but the next four episodes ("Checkmate", "The Chimes of Big Ben," "Dance of the Dead" and "Free For All") were all written to be episode #2. And when co-creator/script editor George Markstein quit after his falling-out with Patrick McGoohan, the last three episodes of the 17 (including the unfortunate ending, "Fall Out") were thrown together to wrap the show up. One of those episodes ("The Girl Who Was Death") was an unused script from "Danger Man".
7.18.2007 9:21pm
Brendon Carr (www):
Burn Notice is surprisingly enjoyable, but I'm also surprised nobody has mentioned The Closer on TNT. That show is the best police procedural on TV (maybe that's why). The fourth episode this season, "Ruby", was one of the most gripping hours of television I've seen since Homicide went off the air.
7.18.2007 10:31pm