TV Review: Leverage - Season One.

If you're a long-time follower of this blog, you most likely know how much I enjoy a good heist flick. So when I first heard of a TV show called "Leverage," it immediately caught my interest. Of course, I first heard of it not too long ago, right before the second season premiered on TNT, the channel it airs on. Since I hadn't seen the first season, I couldn't really watch the second, but I did put the first on my Netflix queue. And now, it's finally coming in. And I have to say, I'm loving this show.

As anyone who watches TV knows, there are different kinds of TV shows in how its stories are told. There are the episodic shows, usually 30 minutes long, where very little (if anything) carries over from episode to episode (such as Spongebob Squarepants). Then there are the story-arch shows, usually an hour long, where each episode is just a continuation of the last, a perpetual "To Be Continued" until the season finale (such as Dragonball Z or Heroes). And then there's the mix of the two, where there's a continuing story, but every episode is centered around something different (which is most non-sitcom drama/comedy shows). This one is the latter, though barely. The underlying story isn't with any major heist or anything like that, but with the characters themselves. Although every episode is different from the last, the character development (either with each other or, for instance, the growing alcoholism of one character) is what ties the episodes together. There's also a subplot involving the tragedy of the main character's son, which builds through the season and comes together in the finale.

The show centers around Nathan Ford (Timothy Hutton), a man who used to go around finding criminals and frauds and righting wrongs (he was an insurance investigator) until his son was screwed over by the insurance company Nate worked for and died from lack of payment for surgery. When he's contacted by a man to pull off a heist to steal back information that had apparently been stolen, a crack team is put together to pull it off. This team includes the muscle, Eliot (Christian Kane); the computer whiz, Hardison (Aldis Hodge); and the master thief, Parker (Beth Riesgraf). And eventually, Nate pulls in an old friend, a con artist/actress named Sophie (Gina Bellman). They discover that working together, though frustrating at times, is both fun and rewarding (both intrinsically and extrinsically).

The first episode is the big heist where most of the extrinsic reward comes in (getting a ton of money for themselves). After that, the show shifts gears a bit, and instead of being episode after episode of just robbing people blind for personal gain, it's more Ocean's 11 meets Robin Hood. And of course this makes sense. For a TV series, you can't have everything be personal gain or else you lose sympathy with the characters. When your main characters are anti-heroes, you have to make them sympathetic. Dexter Morgan (of Dexter) is a serial killer who kills serial killers. The men and women of Leverage are thieves who steal from the rich and corrupt and give to those who have been wronged to the point where no judge and jury could help.

And with shows like this, you have to have great characters. And the characters are tons of fun. The characters are usually at their best when they're interacting with each other (especially when they're doing what they do best). But a lot of them are also interesting alone. Ironically, the least interesting character is the main character, Nate. He's the brains of the operation, but in comparison to the others, his personality is a bit dull. When you put an ordinary (albeit highly intelligent) guy amid a bunch of quirky people, the ordinary is gonna stick out. He's not a bad character at all, though. He's saved by his intelligence. He's like Danny Ocean, but with less wit (and no Clooney charm). He grows on you as the show goes on, especially when he's actually in on a con and doing some fun character personas, but outside that, his main story is his alcoholism. 

Out of the others, though, it's hard to pick a favorite. Eliot has the bad boy appeal, like a less abrasive version of Lost's Sawyer. He's where most of the action comes from. But at the same time, he's not a total hard ass like you would expect. He's pretty friendly with everybody, and he's only rough if you get rough with him. It's always fun to see him get dressed up to do a character different from his personality (like a nerd or something).

Then you have the token black guy, Hardison, who's the "cool" nerd of the bunch. He's where a lot of (but not all of) the comedy comes from. And Parker is hot, yet very strange, like there's just a little bit missing up there, if you know what I mean. There's an interesting relationship (like, romantic) that builds between Hardison and Parker, but it isn't fully developed by the end of the first season.

There's some good comedy from her, as well. And then you have Sophie, the token British character, who is interesting, but only a few notches above Nate for me (ironic considering she's his love interest). Her main thing is to act as different characters, which isn't as interesting coming from her as it is with, say, Eliot or Parker (especially Parker, who can't con to save her life, but is an excellent thief). But she can do a ton of different accents, which is really impressive.

The heists are fun, too. With a show like this, you know they're gonna get away with what they're doing, but the fun is in trying to figure out how. And apparently, when the show was aired on TV, they played the episodes out of order, which apparently made for some strange character development scenes between different characters. But upon releasing the DVD, they put the episodes in the order that they were originally meant to be in. Anyway, the show loses a little steam after the first few episodes, but then picks up around halfway in. The reason is that the episodes focus more on straight-up conning rather than heists, and the episodes where they have to pull off a heist are the more interesting ones... at least to me. So really, the best ones are the first few, a few in the middle, and then the last couple episodes. But they're all entertaining and fun.

Overall, the show is witty, charming, funny, and fun. There's good action, thrills, and laughs (again, for those who follow my blog, you might know how difficult it is to get me laughing, and this show constantly had me going). If you're a fan of con or heist films (especially comedy heist films, like the Oceans trilogy), I truly recommend this series. I rarely go out and buy television shows on DVD, because I rarely go back and watch them again, but I actually went out and bought the first season after watching only the first 3 episodes (the first disc from Netflix). And for me to do that says quite a bit. I wouldn't recommend such an extreme for everybody, but at least give it a rent if it's your thing. So... yeah.

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