When we last left our friends from Leverage, the group led by mastermind Nathan Ford (Timothy Hutton) was smarting over the loss of one of their number, Sophie Deveraux (Gina Bellman). Sophie wasn't dead, she was just despondent about her would-be relationship with Ford, and had consequently headed off on something of an extended vacation. True fans of the series will remember that Sophie had brought in a friend of hers, Tara Cole (Jeri Ryan), to fill in for her. Even if you don't remember that from the summer finale, it'll all be made readily apparent when the second half of the second season kicks off on January 13.
The two episodes available for review – the first two of this second half of the season – illustrate exactly why Leverage works as a series. Featuring an Academy Award-winning actor in Hutton, the Dean Devlin executive produced show is a mostly clever, fast-paced crowd pleaser. It is the sort of show where if anyone stops to think too much they'll understand exactly why the plots shouldn't work, but the pace of it all and the great performances turned in by the cast stop any possibility of that happening.
The basic concept of the series is that this group of people, former criminals mostly, have decided to come together in order to con the truly evil out of their money. On a weekly basis, the team goes after someone rich and/or powerful who has done wrong unto others.
While the various cons that the team employs are clever and enjoyable to watch unfold, the true selling point of the series isn't the cons and various weekly plots, but rather the characters themselves. The entire cast, which includes Beth Riesgraf, Aldis Hodge, and Christian Kane in addition to Hutton and Bellman, play the series broadly, mixing laughs with action and heart. The result is a bunch of incredibly likable individuals doing good work in clever ways – a great mix for a television show if ever there was one.
The two episodes from this half of the second season available for review highlight another great aspect of the series – the show's ability to tell both little and big stories. In the first episode back from hiatus, the series ends up doing battle with the Triad in an attempt to make life better for some grossly underpaid garment factory workers. Though the team ends up working under more of a time crunch than they may like in the episode, it is nothing compared to the second episode which features the team doing an entirely spur of the moment con when they realize that the owner of a bar Ford used to frequent is in trouble.
The former story has the sense of something larger at work – not a moral about the Triads being evil, but rather the aspect of poor immigrant garment workers (or any type of factory worker) being forced to work long hours for low wages and not having anyone to whom they can turn. The latter story is, instead, just a good tale, one in which we learn a little bit more about Ford and where he came from. It may have greater implications for the characters as a whole down the line, but by itself is just a single con the team performs because they see a need. Though in the past this reviewer has been concerned about the show's potential preachiness, the producers have managed to mix the reasons for the various cons quite well.
The biggest question fans of Leverage will have going in – and perhaps the biggest potential pitfall the show faces – is the question of bringing Deveraux back to the team. It is foolish to believe that the show will keep her separate from the team in the long term, but managing her return is touchy. The show did a good job crafting the reason for her leaving, but needs to manage the return equally well. Hopefully, before too long we'll see exactly what they have cooked up – and, again hopefully, there will be a good deal more Leverage in the future.
The new half-season of Leverage begins January 13 at 10pm on TNT.