In the tradition of light hearted crime dramas like "The Rockford Files" and "Magnum, P.I.,", USA's hit series "Burn Notice" struck a chord with critics and viewers alike last season with it's mix of spy intrigue, sexual tension, male camaraderie, complicated mother/son relationships and, yes, yogurt. Stars Jeffrey Donovan and Bruce Campbell took some time from their busy shooting schedule to talk about the second season, which premieres tonight at 10:00/9:00c on the USA Network.
For those not familiar with the setup for the series, "Burn Notice" follows the quest of Michael Westen (Donovan) to find out who issued him with a 'burn notice,' which means he was kicked out of the CIA, flagged by every government agency, frozen out of his bank accounts and must now fight off all the enemies he made while working with the organization.
Asked about the differences in shooting the series now that it's a critical and audience success, Donovan said, "Well we're in a little bubble down here [in Miami]. I mean, it's a beautiful cosmopolitan city but as far as, you know, comparing it to New York and LA, I mean, it's hard to find a trade magazine. So, even though the show might be considered a success, we don't feel it, so - which is a great thing."
Campbell, who plays Sam, Michael's former spy buddy and partner in crime, finds himself more at ease than in the first season. "I feel the second season has been easier because everybody knows everybody. You know the crew and the guests, who is doing what. You know the writers. They know you. We're not trying to guess if we should do something specific to make this show a success or, you know, there's no more second-guessing. Now, as Jeffrey says, we're just working."
One of the most popular elements of the series as well as something that brings humanity to the character of Michael is his relationship with his overbearing mother, played by Emmy-winner Sharon Gless ("Cagney & Lacey" "Queer as Folk"). Donovan elaborated on how things are going to go deeper with the new season by saying that, "I think you're going to see more of a true mother-son relationship, less antagonistic as you saw in the first season and more of she's becoming a bit of an ally. But I think more as the season goes on, you'll see him actually care more about her and the life that they used to have. I think it's going to get deeper, actually." Donovan also added, with the kind of admiration that was voiced often for all the actors during the interview that, "it's easy to act with Sharon. She's one of the best."
Speaking about the growth of the characters as a whole, Donovan offered up how they balance peeling back the layers of character with the crime drama elements of the series. "I think we fight for that every day. We fight for a balance that you are drawn to maybe the action sequences and the kind of spy stuff, but you get hooked on really becoming involved with Fi and Sam, and Michael and [his] Mom. I mean, you know, if you care about them I think that brings you back. But I think the initial interest might be that you're watching a spy and he gets to, you know, beat up bad guys and stuff like that, and create bombs out of toasters."
Besides his relationship with his mother, Michael's complicated relationship with his violence-loving, weapons expert ex-girlfriend, Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) also continues in the second season. Donovan asked that he be quoted as chuckling loudly when talking about his character and Fiona and added, "that's a crazy relationship that's going to have its ups and downs. And it's going to go left, right and all around, and it'll be exciting."
Michael's on-and-off relationship with Fiona may have some competition in the second season, however, when Tricia Helfer (Sci Fi's "Battlestar Galactica") joins the cast as Carla, the woman who seems to be Michael's only link to the people who burned him. "She's behind a lot of things that held Michael back and you realize she's actually controlling his life." Asked if there will be any romantic sparks between Michael and the beautiful Carla, Donovan laughs. "I hope so. She's hot."
Bruce Campbell voiced his own hope that Sam will find more romance this year, as well. "I think Sam just needs some action. I think it's been really fun working with Audrey Landers [who played love interest Veronica in a few episodes in season one] and we're going to see where that gets taken a little bit in Season Two. We're going to get a little more of that. But then Sam, you know, he may be in a position to bust out again. You never know."
Donovan also credits creator/writer Matt Nix for giving Michael some quirky characteristics that make him more human. For example, what's with yogurt being the only thing found in Michael's refrigerator? "You know, it was just something that was put in my fridge... it's Matt's crazy, insane mind. And for some reason, every time I open the fridge in the script it said all there is yogurt. And then when Sam joins me it's beer. So all I'm living on is yogurt and beer. And that's how I stay so thin."
Riffing off each other like a seasoned comedic duo, Campbell adds, "There are some things that have been added to the fridge. I'm going to say that because Sam hangs out there a lot. So pickles have been added and there may be hard-boiled eggs coming up sometime later this year."
Another character that Donovan and Campbell discussed was that of Miami, the glamorous and sexy city where "Burn Notice" is set. "I think that not only is it important for the show, it's important for Miami," Donovan explained. "We are the only show since "Miami Vice" 30 years ago to have a second season and that's a big deal for the economy down here, especially in this depressed real estate market."
Finally, returning to the topic of the new crop of episodes, Donovan broke down what is going to keep viewers interested in the show this year. "I think that [Michael] will always be saving, you know, the... small guppy in the big pond. He's got to do that because I think that's kind of the heart of the show. And then I think the other plots are always going to be about who was behind the burn notice and what they can do to me. And then what I think... most people are interested in is what goes on between him and his buddy, Sam, and his ex-girlfriend, Fiona. I think those relationships are going to be really integral, at least in Season Two."
Both actors gushed about the quality of the scripts for the second season. Campbell made his own promise in his signature deadpan style. "Ain't going to be no slumpin'. Ain't going to be no sophomore slump, my friend. People are still finding the show and I've had the weirdest batch of emails from people from very odd demographics who are following the show. So, you know, every - there's every reason to believe in my opinion - in my ignorant opinion that we're going to do even better this year."
Find out for yourself when "Burn Notice" returns for the first of sixteen new episodes tonight at 10:00/9:00c on the USA Network.