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Leverage: The Season Three Job

May 22, 2010

sometimes bad guys make the best good guys.

TNT has been knocking them out of the park with their original programs such as The Closer, Saving Grace and Leverage. Unlike broadcast networks, which tend to cultivate shows on the edgy end of middle of the road, cable channels demonstrate a willingness to take chances with niche content. I also appreciate cable’s tendency to go with shorter seasons. While shorter seasons have their drawbacks – as it relates to syndication deals – namely lower profit margin; striving for quality over quantity should always be encouraged. Longer seasons of even the best shows have a tendency to sag between sweeps periods. Shorter seasons allow for more diverse programing, since one show doesn’t monopolize a time slot for an entire conventional television season.

Created by Dean Devlin, John Rogers and Chris Downey, Leverage, which begins airing its third season on June 20th, is one the best shows I’ve gotten into recently. The show combines elements of Mission Impossible, Ocean’s 11 – particularly its visual aesthetic and musical taste – cheeky narrative structure of the underrated 80s detective show Matt Houston and The Rockford Files.

    “The rich and powerful, they take what they want. We steal it back for you. Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys. We provide… leverage

Nate’s speech at the beginning of each episode after the pilot.

Parker, Nate and Hardison - photo credit: TNT

Leverage centers around a group of artful dodgers – each with their own criminal specialty – who have gone semi-legit in order to play Robin Hood for all us little guys. Heading the crew is Mr. Ordinary People himself, Timothy Hutton, who is surprisingly understated – I suppose it’s hard to go subtle once you’ve tasted Oscar gold – as the bitterlicious, former insurance company fraud investigator Nathan Ford. Ford is basically a decent enough guy who falls into the bell jar after the death of his son, which oddly enough is caused by his insurance company refusing to pay for experimental, but necessary medical treatment.

Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellmam of UK series Coupling) is the expert grifter/marginally talented actress who serves as the den mother of the crew and seems to fall in and out of love with Nate, which I hope written into the series to appease the network more than fans. Despite generally being a ‘shipper, I find the Nate/Sophie sexual tension extraneous. The characters are dependent on each other for survival as well as a sense of connectedness. When Sophie and Nate aren’t getting along the show tends to derail awaiting their resolution. Despite playing a talentless actress with a sublime talent for the grift, Bellam impresses the hell out of me every episode with her stellar command of accents – reminiscent of Cate Blanchett. In the pilot, Bellam’s South African accent blew the cheese off my pizza. I couldn’t believe how precise it was. Heck, I’m not even sure if the accent she uses – as Sophie – on the show is in fact hers!

the crew: Hardison, Parker, Nate, Sophie and Eliot

Beth Riesgraf stars as Parker. Parker took a bit longer to do anything for me because I wasn’t sure if she was being positioned as the requisite “hot crazy chick”. She does have a history, which fits in well with her social awkwardness, difficulties in forming relationships and for the most part it does not feel icky to me as it stands now. Over the course of the two seasons I have become much more fond of Parker, particularly watching her navigate obvious romantic feelings – though she probably wouldn’t frame them as such – for her cohort, Hardison (more on him in a sec). Did I mention that Parker can crack any safe, code or lock and loves daredevil stunts?

Aldis Hodge plays Alec Hardison, but we generally just call him Hardison, who’s a geeky, Dr. Who loving, World of Warcraft playing computer expert who is probably the only character on recent television whose “movie magic” computer geewhizatronics do not make me sass the television. He definitely gets props for coining one of my favorite lines on the show, “You might experience death like symptoms.” Age of the black geek, baby.

eliot looking about as happy as he tends to look.

Last, but not least, Christian Kane as Eliot Spencer. Eliot is the muscle, specializing in something murky called retrieval, which seems to usually involve going into a room filled with gun toting thugs and being the only one to walk away with legs unbroken, eyes ungouged and mellow unharshed. Depending on the episode, Eliot or Hardison is my favorite character. I love them all, but I do have a soft spot of Eliot who’s like the Alex Karev of Leverage. I also enjoy when he snarks on Hardison. He’s a toughie with a heart of gold cliche to be sure, but they haven’t gone as far as to have him pet adorable kitten yet. Maybe during next season’s sweeps.

Besides the cast, the writing of the show is some of the best on television. Leverage finds the enviable sweet spot between comedy and action. It also manages not to be freaking problematic or offensive. -Isms, aren’t “showcased” the way they often are on other shows, but incorporated into the narrative in an authentic manner, providing analysis that is thoughtful, pointed, but avoids preachiness. Sweetness, compassion and freaking acceptance is how these cats roll as advocates for their clients. Sarah Rue guest starred on my favorite episode – The Mile High Job – and I don’t recall a single fat joke or diet suggestion during the entire episode. Leverage eschews trading in stereotypes and cheap humor in favor of cheeky, smart – without being pretentious or too self aware – dialog. This isn’t to suggest the show is inaccessible; it’s not. Leverage tempts the audience with its dazzling cons, witty dialog, engaging characters and deftly executed plots; it’s wildly addictive. Even if you don’t think you’d like a show about a bunch of con artists – you will like Leverage. Even if you’ve think you’ve see all of this done somewhere much better – you will like Leverage. Trust me, nobody does it as well or as fun as Leverage.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2010 12:41 pm

    Great post. I’m so excited for season 3!

    The only thing I can remember going “seriously, guys?” about in terms of stereotypes was the Asian spelling genius girl in “The Fairy Godparents Job.” As you noted, there have been a lot more times where they’ve gotten something right that I feel like other shows would take straight to failytown without thinking about it.

  2. evmaroon permalink
    May 22, 2010 12:59 pm

    I keep meaning to watch this but forgetting. I am a bad pop cult consumer. But as soon as I am able. . . I will go back and check it out. Thanks for this post!

  3. May 22, 2010 4:46 pm

    He’s a toughie with a heart of gold cliche to be sure, but they haven’t gone as far as to have him pet adorable kitten yet.

    If they did, I would still be putty in their hands. Right with you on alternating between loving Elliot and Hardison best, depending on the episode. Cannot wait for season 3.

  4. May 22, 2010 4:57 pm

    @Kate – the kitty thing is a trope I’ve seen done well (and hilariously) only once – Enemy of the State featured the trope to provide an odd bit of humor to one of the more tense scenes between Will Smith’s Bobby Dean and Hackman’s Brill. I nearly peed my pants when Brill tried to leave Dean for the NSA and Dean tapped on the car window and held up Brill’s cat.

    You could hear two sounds afterwards: door unlocking and me laughing. It’s mostly the look on Smith’s face, but the cat totally sells it.

  5. May 23, 2010 7:51 am

    If the show manages to stick with the format of plan and pull off a righteous heist with a minimum of Nate/Sophie chow-chow, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

    Another thing I like about this show is the recurring characters, who are used for effects both dramatic (Nate’s nemesis Sterling) and comedic (bumbling FBI agents Taggert and McSweeten, who still haven’t figured out where their promotions are coming from). And while I liked Jeri Ryan on Voyager, I think she really shines in this show. I hope they bring her back.

  6. May 23, 2010 11:35 am

    This is filmed here in Portland for reasons I don’t entirely understand, but I’m not going to complain because it’s always awesome to catch a glimpse of Timothy Hutton riding around on his bike, or buying apples at the downtown Whole Foods. It can be a little weird to walk around a corner and see 15 Boston PD cars surrounding Nordstroms, but in a surreal, fun sorta way.

    Fun damn show. Excited.

  7. May 23, 2010 11:36 am

    Omg, I am thrilled with the idea of Timmy buying apples!

  8. raymondj permalink
    May 26, 2010 11:54 pm

    so, this made me decide to bump Leverage up my watch queue and I just started the first episode of the first season and it’s set in Chicago, so I’m extra excited. I love seeing the city I walk around in on camera, the novelty never runs off!

  9. May 27, 2010 12:52 am

    It’s all about Eliot. *purrs*

  10. raymondj permalink
    May 27, 2010 1:01 am

    Sophie is up there too (I’m already on episode two). Also, turns out she’s from New Zealand, and you’re right, her accents are impeccable!

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