Next week, July 15 to be exact, TNT will be launching its third wave of summer original programming. This time out it's the premiere of the second season of the Timothy Hutton-starrer, Leverage at 9pm, followed by the series premiere of Dark Blue, executive produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, at 10pm.
At the end of the first season of Leverage, the show appeared to be firing on all cylinders – the stories interesting, the cons fun, and the repartee between the cast members witty. The second season doesn't start out quite as strong.
The finale of season one found the team sacrificing their home base and going their separate ways, which means that a portion of the opening episode of the new season has to be spent putting the band back together. That particular task is actually accomplished quite smoothly, and while the con the team works up is good enough, the problem is the criminal. When the "big reveal" is finally made and the bad guy talks about all his plans, the audience will just be left sitting there in disbelief — the caricature created is foolish in the extreme. It is a case of ripped-from-the-headlines gone horribly awry.
That being said, the stars of the show – Gina Bellman, Christian Kane, Aldis Hodge, Beth Riesgraf, and the aforementioned Timothy Hutton – still seem in top form for the second season and even when the plot is a weak one, the characters help make up the difference. It is Hodge as Alec Hardison who may be the standout, but he may just get the best lines. In truth, Leverage is a fun show, and even though it has serious moments and tries to have a positive message, isn't a show that takes itself all too seriously. Everyone in front of the camera appears to be having fun, and that certainly helps the audience enjoy themselves.
Dark Blue, on the other hand, is a show that takes itself incredibly seriously. Starring Dylan McDermott, the show is about a group of undercover cops in Los Angeles. While there will assuredly be reviews that call Dark Blue "riveting," full of "edge of your seat excitement," "intense," and "powerful," this will not be one of them. I would actually use the terms "clichéd" and "foolish." The first two episodes of the series focus on two different members of Carter Shaw's (McDermott's) team – in the premiere we're led to worry about whether or not Dean (Logan Marshall-Green) has been undercover so long he's flipped sides, and in the next episode Ty (Omari Hardwick) opts to ignore protocol and go back to see his wife while undercover.
The problem isn't so much that every undercover cop/federal agent movie/television show/miniseries/radio drama has used one of these two storylines before, it's much more that the audience has absolutely no investment in the characters at the point at which we begin to question their actions. The stakes are not properly established and one has to question why Shaw would ever have either of these guys as part of his team, and why he would bring in newcomer and liar extraordinaire Jaimie Allen (Nicki Aycox). The audience is left with the impression that Shaw's methods may be unorthodox, but that he gets results (and is therefore given a long leash). I think we've all heard that one before, right?
In its first two episodes, Dark Blue very much feels like it is simply cashing in on the memory we have of a multitude of other shows that have done the undercover-possibly-dirty-cop-thing better than it does. The episodes fail to break any new ground whatsoever, both simply use standard genre tropes as their main plot points. Dylan McDermott may be a talented, intense, actor, but the material as presented is terribly worn.
The undercover cop genre assuredly has a lot of material to focus on, it's a shame that Dark Blue has initially simply opted to cover old ground.