Are you watching Burn Notice? You should be. I started watching for my Bruce Campbell fix, and now I consider USA’s spy actioner to be one of the best shows on television right now.


Burn Notice follows super-spy CIA operative Michael Westen (played by man-crush material Jeffrey Donovan) after he finds himself blacklisted and stranded in Miami. The opening credit sequence spells it all out:


When you’re burned, you’ve got nothing – no cash, no credit, no job history. You’re stuck in whatever city they decide to dump you in. You do whatever work comes your way. You rely on anyone who’s still talking to you: A trigger-happy ex-girlfriend (the dangerously sexy Gabrielle Anwar), an old friend (Bruce Campbell as a retired Navy Seal) who’s informing on you to the FBI. Family too, if you’re desperate. Bottom line? Until you figure out who burned you, you’re not going anywhere.


What makes Burn Notice so great? I blame the top-rate cast. Donovan is insanely charismatic, lending a kind of breezy flair to Michael Westen – something that’s not normally seen in your conventional Bond knockoff (which is essentially what he is). In nearly every show, he has to assume some kind of cover, which can be anything from a hardened Brooklynese ex-con to an asthmatic chemical engineer. It’s great to watch him slip in and out of these characters in the same breath, and the gimmick gives the viewers something different to look forward to.


Campbell is sublime as Sam Axe, Michael Westen’s ex-Navy Seal pal from “back in the day”. Campbell brings his Campbell game, and all that it implies. As Sam, he’s a retired badass, but he’s grown kind of soft in his old age.  Still, that soft attracts the ladies (particularly the wealthy ladies), and Sam squeezes everything he can (expensive watches, Cadillacs, pilates classes) out of these usually short-lived affairs. When he’s working with Michael he’s usually the diversion, making an jerk out of himself or playing the stiff in a business suit, but in a fight that Navy Seal training kicks in and you catch a glimpse of the trained killer Sam was in his prime. They never let you see too much though, which means you’re always waiting for the next Same Axe ass-kicking.


And then there’s Anwar, no longer the blind equestrian of her youth, playing Fiona Glennane, Michael Westen’s ex-IRA guerilla assassin ex-girlfriend. As Fiona, Anwar takes up the gung-ho girl mantle once held by the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton. Unlike Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, Fi gets more than a few opportunities to unleash her inner sex-kitten – whether she’s posing as bait for a sting operation or getting all hot and bothered over an FN P90 submachine gun. Donovan may be the “star” of the show, but Anwar definitely brings the cast together with Fi’s tense relationship with Michael, her confidant relationship with Sam, and the mother-daughter relationship between her and Michael’s mother Madeline.


And that’s another thing about Burn Notice – the sense that these people are part of a large, dysfunctional family. Michael may be one of the world’s greatest spies, but get him in the same room with Madeline, or in a relationship discussion with Fi and the chinks in his armor start to show.


There are so many other things to love –  intense action, clever writing, the yogurt gag, the silly premise that Michael Westen can take on just about every criminal organization in Miami and still go undercover with nothing more than a goofy accent and a fake ID. I could ramble on all day, so instead of wasting your time and mine I’ll just point you to the Burn Notice page at where you can start watching all the episodes that have aired thus far for free.


The final three eps of Season 2 start airing on USA on September 11th.