Burning for you

As the new fall series begin drifting over the air like so many autumn leaves, it's time to bid farewell to the shows of summer, including the one that currently ranks as my Must-See-Can't-Miss-Favorite-TV-Program-of-the-Moment. (Yes, television critics are allowed to feel unabashed love for one show over all others; we just don't talk about it. We have a code we live by.)

If you visit this space often, you may recall me raving about Burn Notice, the sleek and stylish USA original series that returns at 10 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday, Sept. 11) after a break for the cable network's coverage of U.S. Open tennis to air the first of its two remaining new episodes of the year. Wrapping its second season, this spy-who's-thrown-out-in-the-cold action hour has everything a series needs to be a hit. (Or at least, if it's missing something, I haven't spotted it yet.)

It's got sexy, charismatic leads; Jeffrey Donovan, who stars as blacklisted secret agent Michael Westen, exudes star quality with just a dash of smartass, and Gabrielle Anwar as his ex-girlfriend and former IRA operative Fiona leaves a trail of smoke on the screen. It's got the glittering, seductive backdrop of Miami. The smart, brisk writing of creator Matt Nix that has made the show's second season even better than the first, featuring the best off-screen narration on television. Unusually high production values for episodic TV (at least twice a week, something blows up in spectacular fashion). For the video nostalgists among us, it's even got the Cagney & Lacey flashback of Sharon Gless as Westen's chain-smoking, meddlesome mom. What's not to like?

What's more, it's got that always-appealing local connection. Royal Oak's favorite son, cult-movie hero Bruce Campbell, has a co-starring role in Burn Notice as Sam Axe, Westen's wingman and only friend, described on the show's website as "a washed-up military intelligence contact who is keeping an eye on Michael for the feds." Hey, what are friends for?

Campbell has the steely-eyed, lantern-jawed look of a leading man and has been just that for most of his career. He's starred in his own television series, FOX's fondly remembered attempt at a Western, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., and, more recently, the comedy adventure Jack of All Trades. I've been dying to ask him what went into his decision to take a supporting part, but he's spending his hiatus touring the country with his new movie, My Name Is Bruce. (A Detroit stop probably will be announced first on his website, bruce-campbell.com.)

So he suggested we let our e-mails do the talking. Works like this: I send him questions, he sends back answers.

Here goes:

METRO TIMES: Bruce, how's your hamstring? I hear you injured yourself on set and you're sitting down in most of these last two episodes. You wanted to make sure everybody knew what you meant when you said you were going "for rehab."

BRUCE CAMPBELL: Yeah, I informed the crew that it's called "physical therapy." I blew the hamstring fighting a stunt guy. I asked the doctor if I could play lacrosse after the accident and he said, "Sure." I said, "That's great, because I couldn't before."

MT: You've starred in your own series, headlined major motion pictures. What went into your decision to take on a supporting role on a TV series?

CAMPBELL: I have always been attracted to humor and offbeat roles. I also like flawed characters, and Sam has plenty of flaws. His gallows humor and irreverence are really what attracted me to the role.

It's great fun being the sidekick. I don't have to carry the show, or put in the horrendous hours that Jeffrey Donovan does. I think he's doing a great job, and I'm enjoying my "supporting" role.

MT: It almost looks too glorious and beautiful to be real. What are the advantages and disadvantages to shooting in Miami?

CAMPBELL: Well, movies and TV can make anything look like anything. Miami is very exotic, very international, very hot and very humid. Oh, and did I mention that it rains all summer?

MT: It must be pretty gratifying for you to be a part of all the positive reviews and audience ratings this show is receiving, especially given some of your past experiences with television. Why do you think Burn Notice is a hit?

CAMPBELL: I like the show because it's fresh. It's not a cop show, a doctor show or a lawyer show. Plus, Burn Notice is character-based, not just plot-based. It's gratifying to know our efforts are actually being seen by a healthy audience. That makes doing TV all the more worth it.

MT: Does Detroit still influence your work in any way?

CAMPBELL: Detroit made me a non-B.S. actor. I like acting, but not all the Hollywood crap that goes with it. So I'm thankful to Detroit for helping me keep my head on fairly straight.

Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]