Back in October I raved about what I thought was a failed pilot. It was for Leverage, America's latest attempt to capture the success that is Hustle over in England. (And all such shows owe at least a little to It Takes a Thief). I said at the time that I was happy to find that TNT was going to run the series at the end of the year.
And so, how did the series turn out? Was it a latter day Tenspeed and Brownshoe (a famously fabulous pilot that turned into an abysmal show) or was it, in fact, the American response to the Hustle challenge? I am pleased to announce that the show is very much the latter. I couldn't be happier with the show, at all.
Heist caper shows are difficult. If you run them devoid of humour, seeking the all-encompassing 'edgy' atmosphere of some movies, you run the risk of the audience waking up to the fact that they are supposed to be cheering for the bad guys. That's the approach that killed Thief (starring Andre Braugher) and Smith (starring Ray Liotta) in the last couple of years. Contrast Simon Baker in The Mentalist with his performance in Smith. Chuckles count.
The mould these shows SHOULD have been made out of, was Hustle, now finishing its fifth series over on the other side of the ocean. Besides a heaping load of humour, the British series also has the advantage of only trying to run six episodes in any year. That helps a lot. And Leverage is smartly only going 13 episodes rather than the 22 shows a year that is roughly U.S. standard these days.
So far, we've had more than six pretty good shows out of Leverage. Timothy Hutton as the conflicted good guy turned heist gang leader continues to be good. He started the operation as revenge for the handling of a case involving his terminal son. He's been convinced to stay with the rest of his gang, all for the better. Beth Riesgraf, Christian Kane, Gina Bellman and Aldis Hodge make for a varied group with different backgrounds, talents and desires to walk the right side of the straight and narrow. And that's key, since you DO really have to root for them, even when avarice is, in fact, the driving factor.
Leverage works. It's entertaining and brings the grins just enough. Do I prefer it to Hustle? Well, Mickey Stone (played by Adrian Lester) came back for the fifth Hustle series, halting the slide his absence caused in the fourth series. It's close. Too close to call.
I don't think you can go wrong with either show.