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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.

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More Good Summer TV: I just finished watching the new series Mad Men on AMC — a show about advertising executives on Madison Avenue in 1960. It is well worth trying. Well written, gorgeously photographed, paced and scored in the style of cinema rather than TV. No doubt, the American Movie Channel required this for their first network series. As the description from the website says, it is from the executive producer and writer of The Sopranos and it shows. One more thing. Don't expect pap. It is obviously going to explore the issues of race, sexism, and antisemitism that was simmering just beneath the surface in 1960. I hope the show does not get too preachy — it has that potential, but the first episode at least did not succumb. Oh yes, unlike Sharon Gless in Burn Notice, the whole cast inhales and exhales copious amount of smoke. It is about a subject other than cops and lawyers, and it is going to be very sexy.

Here is the description:
What you are, what you want, what you love doesn't matter. It's all about how you sell it. From AMC and the Emmy® Award-winning executive producer and writer of "The Sopranos" Matthew Weiner, comes MAD MEN, a provocative new primetime drama about how to sell the truth. Set in 1960 New York, the daring new series is about the lives of the ruthlessly competitive men and women of Madison Avenue advertising, an ego-driven world where key players make an art of the sell while their private world gets sold. The 13-episode, one-hour original program produced by Lionsgate premieres Thursday, July 19 at 10 PM | 9C.

Created, executive produced and written by Weiner, the drama series stars Jon Hamm (We Were Soldiers), Elisabeth Moss ("The West Wing"), Vincent Kartheiser ("Angel"), January Jones (We Are Marshall) and Christina Hendricks ("Kevin Hill"), and guest stars John Slattery ("Desperate Housewives"), Rosemarie DeWitt ("Standoff"), Talia Balsam (All the Kings Men) and legendary stage and screen star Robert Morse ("How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"). Michael Gladis ("Third Watch"), Aaron Staton ("The Nanny Diaries"), Rich Sommer ("The Devil Wears Prada"), Maggie Siff ("Michael Clayton") and Bryan Batt ("La Cage Aux Folles") round out the cast.

The Setting: In 1960, advertising agencies were an all-powerful influence on the masses. Personal and professional manipulation and sexual exploits defined the workplace and closed the deals. The high profile Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency created advertising campaigns – from cigarettes to political candidates — better than anyone. It was a time of great ferment. Women had barely begun to come into their own. Librium and birth control were on the move. Ethics in the workplace, smoke-free environments, sexual harassment and ethnic diversity were workshops of the future.

The Premise: The series depicts the sexual exploits and social mores of this most innovative yet ruthless profession, while taking an unflinching look at the ad-men who shaped the hopes and dreams of Americans on a daily basis.

The Players: The series revolves around the conflicted world of Don Draper (Hamm), the biggest ad man (and ladies man) in the business, and his colleagues at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency. As Don makes the plays in the boardroom and the bedroom, he struggles to stay a step ahead of the rapidly changing times and the young executives nipping at his heels. The series also depicts authentically the roles of men and women in this era while exploring the true human nature beneath the guise of 1960 traditional family values.
You can catch the premier episode several times between now and Thursday. Here's the schedule. And you can watch a sneak preview of premier episode here, but it does not convey fully how the show feels as it unfolds.

PS: I am almost caught up with my Tivo'd episodes of Rescue Me. It is off the scale this season. I really don't know how writers can write like that. And it takes real actors to deliver these lines so naturally, like its real. Here's a little treat for fans of the show, which looks like it was made with scenes from season one (but if you have not seen the show, you can't judge it from this video, which selects "action" clips, not the dialog that makes this show great):


Update: Rewatching the video I see scenes from other seasons. And there was just not that amount of fisticuffs in one season.

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