Its endless-summer Miami setting is one with its laid-back tone and pacing, though as regularly happens in those climes, hurricane-like violence blows through, dark, inevitable and fierce. Of course, part of the show's charm is that it avoids such ponderous analogies -- "Burn Notice" does not tease with promises of great portent or social significance. It is exactly what it is, which is why, despite all of the holes one can poke in it, it's really quite wonderful, and built to last better than any show currently on television.
Also in the mix is Michael's chain-smoking hypochondriac mother (Sharon Gless), with whom his relationship is even more complex. These four make for an engaging principal cast (joined by a fifth starting season four, more on whom later), with just the right balance between conflict and inseparability, one paralleled in the show's narrative structure, between the ongoing mystery of who burned Michael and the self-contained stories within almost every episode detailing how Michael initially supports himself, taking on private detective work that makes use of his espionage skills.
While the story itself, with all its tradecraft and subtropical corruption, is perfectly fine, the secret to the success of "Burn Notice" is its execution. The acting is uniformly fine if nothing extraordinary (though Bruce Campbell's je ne sais quoi knows no bounds) and is abetted by sharp writing. Creator Matt Nix and the writing staff have done a splendid job creating characters who can withstand several seasons of development while still remaining compelling. The audience's identification with Michael as a protagonist is amplified by his first-person narration, which serves both the practical end of providing exposition where necessary to speed along the plot, and also the aesthetic one of flattering the audience by letting them in on the thought processes of a spy who, while reasonably self-effacing and pragmatic about it, is still the classic “best of the best of the best” type upon which escapist genre fiction relies.
One key reason why is the show's cinematic style. The bright, sun-drenched color palette trades on the audience's familiarity with other south Florida-set shows. "Burn Notice" borrows the usual tics from recent thriller and action genres -- a judicious, self-consciously hip use of variable shutter speeds, freeze frames and title cards. While mostly empty calorie flash, these things do announce to the audience what kind of show it is, and also make for moments of legitimate brilliance.