Tired of the glut of police procedural shows clogging our TVs? Hustle has just the relief you need: a witty and amusing trip to the other side of the criminal equation. Instead of figuring out how crimes are committed after the fact, the show focuses on how crimes are planned and executed. The criminals are a likeable group of grifters led by legendary long con man Mickey “Bricks” Stone (Adrian Lester). Each member of the gang brings their own specialty to the group, allowing them to pool their talents to reach their common goal, the big score.
In the premiere episode, we’re introduced to Mickey as he gets his gang back together for one last score before riding off into the sunset. He’s a moral, principled man who doesn’t consider himself to be a thief, just a canny individual who preys on the greed of his marks. He’s been in the game for a long time and is considered to be the very best, but he’s wise enough to know that he needs the rest of his team to guarantee his success. His aging mentor, Albert Stroller (Robert Vaughn), is along for the ride, as well as the lovely Stacie Monroe (Jaime Murray) and handy Ash Morgan (Robert Glenister). As they set up their last score, a young, small-time short con man named Danny Blue (Marc Warren) gets wind of the plan and manages to weasel his way into the group. This new blood changes the dynamic of the group and leads to their eventual decision to stick together and continue their criminal reign.
The group has been described by the show’s director as a family unit, with Albert as the grandfather, Mickey the father, and Danny the son, with Stacie as the wife and Ash as the uncle. So, we have three pseudo-generations of a criminal family that works and learns together, passing along and adding to their grifting expertise from one generation to the next. Hints of romance appear as well, with a clear triangle quickly forming between Danny’s lust for Stacie and Stacie’s long-standing fondness for Mickey. The show doesn’t devote much time to developing these relationships due to its primary focus on the hustle, but there’s more than enough character development to make them worth caring about. It’s especially rewarding to see veteran Robert Vaughn (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) back in action on a regular basis as he gleefully hams it up, and Adrian Lester completely owns the series as its suave, charming star.
Each episode follows the gang as they identify their next target, then set up their elaborate web of deceit to entice the mark before dropping the hammer and making off with the loot. Instead of using the serious, heavy-handed dramatic approach followed by the similarly-themed and short-lived FX series Thief, Hustle follows the breezy, winking approach of the Ocean’s Eleven films.
It actually takes the lighthearted approach even further, showing the characters literally winking at the camera when they do something particularly clever. They also incorporate a flashy little technique in each episode where they temporarily stop the action and step outside of it, addressing the camera as an aside or performing a dance routine or some other unexpected flight of fancy. It’s an added touch that helps to set it apart from the norm, giving it something akin to a Moonlighting feel in the process. It’s gimmicky and could be distracting if used to excess, but the balance is right throughout the first season.
The show was created by the same team that launched the long-running British spy series MI-5 (aka Spooks) and carries the same impeccably high production qualities. The DVD set skimps on the frills, with only a short feature on the creation of the show and no subtitles for the hearing (or linguistically) impaired. Still, the real reason for purchase is the episodic content, and all six episodes in the first season deliver grandly on the show’s premise. The series has completed three seasons so far back home in the UK, so hopefully it will continue hustling on US DVD for many seasons to come.
Written by Caballero Oscuro