Monday, June 28, 2010

You are watching "Leverage," aren't you?

This is just a quick note about a show you should be watching even though the powers that have the power at TNT have inexplicably moved the show to Sunday evenings: Leverage.

Simply, it’s a heist show. But to be sure no one is corrupting anyone’s morals as we watch these five attractive people break all sorts of laws, Leverage is a Robin Hood kind of heist show. The marks in Leverage are nasty, mean, powerful, and usually rich people who’ve done wrong to real, working people, and so deserve their comeuppance, whatever it takes. Who are these dastardly villains? Insurance executives who deny medical coverage that might save a child’s life. Traffickers in children. Phony psychics and other con men who prey on the vulnerable of all ages. People the law cannot or will not touch. We love watching the mighty fall, especially when they are felled with wit and humor and verve.

Leverage offers us a team of four career criminals and the mastermind, a formerly straight-and-narrow insurance investigator who’d chased them all in years past – Nate Ford, cleverly and sweetly played by Timothy Hutton. His four misfits are:

The Thief – the quirky, rather asocial Parker. We enjoy her gymnastics even if they’re performed by a fabulous stuntwoman, and definitely adore Beth Riesgraf’s verbal and facial gymnastics as this unusual character.

The GrifterGina Bellman as Sophie Devereaux is a reason for many men to watch this series. Sophie’s a terrible actress when she’s on stage (her true love), but when she’s on a con, she’s stellar. Not to mention lovely and smart, when she disappeared for half a season some of us were panic-stricken. Happily she returned.

The Hitter Eliot Spencer abjures guns, but he does seem to like hitting people. Christian Kane – I’m sure you remember him as “Lindsey” the slimy singing lawyer in Joss Whedon’s Angel – is the gruff muscle of the team, and anyone would be glad to have him backing them up.

The Hacker – is Hardison, a genius computer nerd, among other things, played by the charming Aldis Hodge. No longer able to hide behind computer screens, his other talents are displayed episode by episode.

These characters don costumes, accents, and personas each week to the detriment of villains and delight of their audience.

There’s even a great recurring nemesis, “Sterling,” an insurance guy from Nate’s old company. The whole team disdains him, and when he’s used in a plot, he notices that they rely on him being “a self-serving utter bastard.” And he is. Sterling is smarmily and brilliantly played by Mark Sheppard, whom I’ll watch in anything (he was “Romo Lampkin” the defense attorney for Gaius Baltar in Battlestar Galactica, “Badger” in Firefly, and happily brightens many, many other television programs).

The show started out with four very separate misfits and one disillusioned, bitter, and occasionally drunken man who’d always been part of the establishment. Although useful to Nate as a team, none of the criminals played well with others, or trusted one another. Trust and betrayal are recurring themes in this show, with its shifting loyalties and alliances. Of course, the moment an external threat like Mark Sheppard’s Jim Sterling appears, they close ranks like any other family.

Once the disparate members of the team coalesced into a family, internecine sparring and jealousies throw them all off balance. In many a heist show, all the terrific chemistry between the characters and actors might take focus and sacrifice story. Happily we can rely on Leverage’s multiple writers (series creators Chris Downey and John Rogers, among others) to wittily finish what they start – fell the mighty, provide justice if possible, closure if that’s the only thing available.

The team will knock the rich, powerful, and uncaring off their pedestals, out of their towers, and hoist those people on their own petards – and show us in flashbacks what was really going on all the while we were misled by misdirection. It’s delightful.

The new season has introduced a new recurring villainess, presumably inserted to ratchet up the tension between Hutton and Bellman. I haven’t yet decided how I feel about this character or actor (Elisabetta Canalis).

With brisk writing and sharp direction, Leverage is altogether a treasure, a show to look forward to all week. And now that the show’s on Sunday nights, look at it as a way to push back those Monday morning blues.

~ Molly Matera, signing off. Time to re-view last night's episode!

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