Leverage: Season 3

This isn’t exactly what I’d describe as “appointment television”, I don’t seek it out week by week; but when the summer television drought rolls around, it’s one of the shows that I catch up on. It started out as a pretty shameless US version of the BBC series Hustle, which I lost interest in after a couple of seasons and unfortunately it seems like Leverage might be going the same way.

One of the problems that Leverage has in common with Hustle is that each episode is predictably unpredictable. Sooner or later in an episode, usually timed neatly for a dramatic cut to adverts, the gang’s plan will go awry; although sometimes this awryness is actually part of the plan, which is later over-explained in flashbacks. But if you know there’s a twist coming, it’s not really much of a twist; and if you act all smug about the twist when your audience actually saw it coming, then you just look like an idiot.

The bigger problem however is that the show has had to make a decision about what to do with its characters. They initially, for the sake of simplicity I figured, started out as very simple stereotypes – the cat burglar, the hacker, the hitter, the con artist and the brains. On top of that, almost like a game of top-trumps each character had an issue – socially dysfunctional, overconfidence, drink problems, trust issues, sudden flashes of conscience… all pretty basic stuff. This season it felt like there was an opportunity to pick a direction, whether to make the characters grow, fleshing out back story and making them more rounded or to make them more caricature than ever. Unfortunately the writers chose the latter and too often this pushed characters like Parker outside the realms of believability.

Overall Leverage is still an entertaining show, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed with this season. In a show where the plots are all about people not being what they seem and playing on people’s pre-conceptions, it would have been really nice if that were also true of the show itself. Instead, it really is “what you see is what you get”, and while what you see is entertaining, I can’t help but think they’ve missed an opportunity to be something special.

Leverage: Season 2

A slightly disappointing second season for the American Hustle, although that slight disappointment says more about the extremely high standards the first season set than it does about the solid but unspectacularness of the second.

On the plus side, Sophie was missing from most of the season, appearing only via webcam to annoy me. I’ve never liked her character as much as the others, but it wasn’t until she was absent and replaced that I realised how irritating she was. Like everyone else on the team, she’s very good at what she does, but unlike everyone else she doesn’t just get on with it, she makes a fuss and whines and flaps. Her little paddy at the start of the season about “knowing who she really is” was extraordinarily irritating and I was happy to see her and the weird relationship she has with Nate fall into the background for a while.

The team without her worked perfectly nicely, Jeri Ryan (of Seven-of-Nine fame) made a nice addition to the cast to take over Sophie’s grifting role and the way she bonded (or not) with the team was entertaining to watch. All the relationships between the team members are still fun, although another irritation of the season was the lack of character development that was slowly revealed in the first season. The return of some familiar faces was very welcome, the always wonderful Mark Sheppard stealing scenes as per usual.

I enjoy the show – it’s never dull, the dialogue is snappy and the characters unique. Many of the episodes are pretty forgettable, but even those are entertaining for the 45 minutes they’re on. A few of the episodes really stand out, whether for a clever plot twist, or more often some great guest stars (Luke Perry, Wil Wheaton, Richard Kind). At 15 episodes long the season burns through surprisingly quickly and left me wanting more.

Season 1 is available from Amazon for 18 quid,
season 2 is currently showing on Bravo and season 3 recently finished in the US.

Leverage: Season 1

I very much enjoyed this series, it’s slick, smart and bucket loads of fun. It’s clearly very heavily inspired by the BBC series Hustle, both in content and style, but as with most things American it does it with more money and noise.

Leverage differs from Hustle in that its characters are clearly and deliberately breaking the law for the good of the little people; proper Robin Hood stuff. Hustle was always a bit more on the side that they were crooks, mostly taking money from bad people and occasionally sharing the wealth, but still criminals wanted by the police. Leverage’s plots rarely feature the police at all, keeping the moral ambiguities to a minimum, you can happily cheer for the team without feeling bad.

The plots are clever enough to be satisfying while being predictable enough to be comfortable easy watching. The heists and cons are well thought out and there’s a nice balance between things not going to plan and requiring improvisation and things going entirely to plan, just not necessarily the plan that the audience was led to believe. It plays with jumping timelines in the same way that Hustle does, rewinding the episode to see what really happened, although on occasions the explanations are a little unnecessary, a bit too patronising.

The gang of characters is cute and extremely likeable, each very competent in their speciality and pretty clueless about everything else. I particularly enjoyed the team trying to teach cat burglar Parker to be a bit more socially aware over the season, and for the most part completely failing. They’re all pretty unabashed when it comes to their weaknesses, they know what they’re good at and just ignore everything else. Even Nate happily embraces his alcoholism declaring that the keyword in ‘functioning alcoholic’ is ‘functioning’. Watching them bicker but inevitably come together as a team is a lot of fun.

It’s a relatively short season of 13 episodes and they really maintained the pace. The standard American network seasons of 20+ episodes can really drag, but these ‘summer’ shows with shorter runs are really able to focus and produce consistently high quality episodes. I’m really looking forward to the second season.

Links: official site, wikipedia, imdb, tv.com.

Season 1 has just finished showing on Bravo, but there’s no information on when they will reshow that, or show season 2. Season 3 starts on TNT in the US in June.