I was very skeptical about TNT‘s new effort, Leverage, despite the fact that TNT believes something to do with Oscar is part of Timothy Hutton‘s name. I’m something of a Timothy Hutton fan actually, but he’s very hit or miss for me. Moreover, the theory of the show has, more or less, been tried before without wonderful results.
The show has really grown on me though, and now that it has been renewed for a second season, it might be time to check it out if it has eluded you so far.
The first episode of the series assembled our team in rather traditional fashion, with Nathan Ford (Hutton) as the lead criminal working for good. He used to work for an insurance company, recovering stolen items, until that same company refused to pay for his son’s medical care. Called upon to right a certain wrong with the aid of a team of specialists, Ford soon finds himself the head of a company called Leverage. Leverage, theoretically, provides leverage against the big companies, or otherwise people who have all the power. The little guy gets pushed around, largely because he just doesn’t have the resources to do anything about whatever problem he may have.
The team portfolio goes something like this:
Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge) – computer expert and general technology wizard. Alec is in charge of all things spytech and gadgety.
Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane) – his title on paper says “retrieval specialist” and he’s basially the brawn of the outfit. Though he isn’t an overly big fellow, he knows how to fight, and apparently by way of an overload of experience.
Parker (Beth Riesgraf) -Parker’s is the offical thief of the group, and she has a fondness for walking off with the odd painting. She’s also socially inept to a degree that borders on being offensive to the socially inept. She’s a daredevil with no ability to relate to other people whatsoever.
Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman – Yes, from Coupling!) – Sophie is the Grifter of the group, and her specialty seems to be matching marks to cons instead of the other way around. Something very handy for being in a group that shuffles from assignment to assignment, but a rare breed in reality (or so I’m led to believe).
So far, the show really has three things going for it, which might lead to long-term success.
1) The characters, rather than some super troop of brilliance and perfection, are all a bit goofy. Reminiscent of Sneakers, our band of outlaws are also a gaggle of misfits. They may be geniuses in their particular specialty, but they fall short of the mark in more general terms. There is a somewhat interesting play that develops on a general “criminal” theme, because really, what else would these people do?
2) The episode structure is thus far a good mix of plans coming together and plans being blown apart by unforseen circumstances. It’s great when plans work out, but too perfect is boring, and the flying-by-the-seat-of mad dashes work well with this group. On the other hand, throwing some wrench in the works just for the sake of doing so would get old as well. The writing is throwing things along at a good balance so far.
3) The kinds of cases the team undertakes, and how they come to take them, is bobbing around in a fashion that is entertaining and manageable. The great risk with a show like this is that it will soon devolve into, “Oh yes, another one of these.” The show still needs to keep that risk in mind, but so far it’s doing a fine job of keeping the audience interested in the development of things.
That out of the way, the show has a lot of built-in hurdles it has to get over, even if it has been renewed already. Quirky, goofy characters often devolve into meaningless, shticky characters. Love interest subplots often drag on well beyond the point that anyone can care about them. Heist/Caper television shows in general often lose their footing after about 20 or so episodes, when the ideas just sort of run out, and pretty soon things get a little A-Teamy (especially what with the misfit characters).
Leverage has a shot at becoming a real long-term success, and more importantly one of the more interesting things on television. They’ve already taken on the mob, a big pharmaceutical company who was trying to fix a jury trial, and a wealthy real estate magnate who wanted to tear down a church to build BibleLand (or something); and they’ve done it in solidly entertaining fashion, while giving us characters we can invest in.
It’s not going down in history as one of the greatest shows, but it works a lot of good elements together into something entertaining enough to hook you.
Here are a few clips –
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