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TV Review: Leverage

Watch enough television or go to enough movies and you get an affection for various actors, actresses, directors, etc.  One of the actors I've come to really enjoy watching through the years is Timothy Hutton.  Hutton originally came to prominence almost 30 years ago for his portrayal of Conrad Jarrett in Robert Redford's Ordinary People.  The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards and took home four, including one for Hutton as Best Actor in a Supporting Role.  Since then, Hutton has worked steadily in both film and television.  His latest role is as Nathan Ford, the lead character, in TNT's newest original drama series Leverage.

Premiering Sunday December 7 at 10pm, Leverage is the story of a good guy, Ford, who has spent much his career working for an insurance company, solving thefts and thereby saving the company millions of dollars.  However, prior to the start of this series, that job has ended, the insurance company refused to pay for Ford's son's medical treatment, causing Ford to lose his family.  He is, understandably, angry, upset, and in a bad place. 

Enter Victor Dubenich (Saul Rubinek).  Dubenich is a high-powered executive at an airplane manufacturer and is desperate to recover plans for a plane from a competitor.  He convinces Ford to lead a team of thieves in the recovery of the plans (which will have the added effect of hurting the insurance company Ford worked for).  Initially apprehensive, Ford is convinced that by doing something illegal he'll actually be doing something good and takes the job.

Working with Ford is a motley crew of thieves, all known for working solo missions.  Ford's got a tech expert and resident comedian, Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge); a thief who not only doesn't play by societal conventions but seems to wholly not understand them, Parker (Beth Riesgraf); muscle with a softer side, Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane); and an actress who can only act while committing a crime, Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman).  Each of them have their own personality quirks and their brief introductions in the premiere are one of the best bits of the show.  In the series it falls to Ford, as the planner, to control the disparate elements of the team, a job he handles with ease (but one could see that going downhill in the future).

Essentially, Leverage is a heist show, with the twist being that they're pulling heists to try and help people.  They still manage to squirrel away more than a little bit of cash for themselves, or, as they explain it when finding clients, they work on an "alternative revenue stream."  The group is a modern day Robin Hood-style gang, if Robin Hood's gang had put away millions for themselves.

While the first two episodes of the series are indeed fun, there is little in them that the audience won't have seen before.  The humor may be a bit more wry, and the technology slightly more updated than in other shows, the plot twists and reversals are all wholly expected.  Some of the elements are definitely clever but the "been there done that" aspect is a little disappointing.

What the show does have is an exceedingly fun cast, even discounting my personal like of Hutton.  Bellman, Kane, Riesgraf, and Hodge all make the most of their parts, moving between funny and deadly serious with ease.  Their disparate personalities and skills make for a good team, and the show is even able to put together relatively plausible reasoning for them to continue working together (well, as plausible as the idea behind the show is to begin with). 

The second episode of the series, "The Homecoming Job," which airs in the show's regularly scheduled timeslot of Tuesdays at 10, is moderately more moralistic in tone.  The episode opts to take shots both at politicians and private security contractors in the Middle East.  It remains to be if the series will be taking stances on the various issues of the day in the future.  Even though the stance that the show took wasn't terribly controversial the episode still felt slightly preachy.

The first two episodes of Leverage definitely show some promise for the series, but are not, in and of themselves, outstanding.  A lot of the reason for this is that, as stated above, the "twists" are all less than twisty.  The cast's amusingness does, to some extent make up for what the first two plots may lack, but not quite enough to fully offset the deficiencies. 

There is a lot to like in Leverage, hopefully as the season progresses the storylines will improve without losing some of the more fun aspects of the show.  The series begins Sunday December 7 at 10pm (following the third installment in The Librarian series) and thereafter will air Tuesdays at 10pm.

About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.

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