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Reviewed by Will Harris
n 2008, TNT’s track record with dramas could be politely described as more than a little scattershot. With “The Closer,” you had the rare procedural on which both viewers and critics could agree, but beyond that lone success, it was hard to really declare anything else on the network as being a huge out-of-the-box hit. Certainly, single-season series like “Heartland,” “Saved,” and “Wanted” hadn’t impressed viewers very much, and even the renewal of “Saving Grace” for Season Two felt less like the show was a breakout hit and more like the network was giving it a reprieve to see if viewers would catch on. (Obviously, it worked out well for them, as Season Three is currently airing.) TNT wanted very badly to be the next USA Network, but things just didn’t seem to be going their way.
Good thing “Leverage” came around, then, huh?
Executive-produced by Dean Devlin (“Stargate,” “Independence Day”), the series initially looked to be the equivalent of the “Ocean’s” films, taking Nathan Ford (Timothy Hutton), a former insurance fraud investigator, and having him put together a crack team of con-men and criminals in order to get revenge on a shady businessman. There’s Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman), a thespian whose acting abilities are impeccable when she’s perpetuating a con, if not so much when she’s actually on a proper stage; Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane), a martial-arts master; Parker (Beth Riesgraf), one of the best cat burglars in the business; and Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge), a computer genius with a quick wit. After the aforementioned revenge scheme, however, the group realizes that using their abilities on the side of good is actually a pretty decent way to make a living. As a result, the series quickly turns into a cross between “The A-Team” and an American version of “Hustle.”
“Leverage” is definitely one of those series which requires you to turn off the part of your brain that demands rational explanations for the events unfolding before your eyes. If you don’t ask too many questions (like, say, “How are the soldiers at the end of ‘The Homecoming Job’ going to get away with using a literal truckload of money to finance their recovery?”), you’ll enjoy it a lot more. Fortunately, as the season progresses, the series comes to realize its strengths, focusing more on the camaraderie between its cast members and the patter they throw back and forth. The back stories of the team members are fleshed out here and there, but the one that counts the most is that of Nathan; the death of his son is what drives him to do what he does, and it’s also what drives him to alcoholism throughout the course of the season. Granted, it’s a pretty heavy plotline for a show that’s at its best when it’s being light and witty, but you can’t say it doesn’t provide the character with adequate motivation for his actions.
It’s hard to say how long a series like “Leverage” will be able to maintain its enjoyment level, given that there’s already a tendency for the show to fall into formula (get a case, figure out the con, work the con, and show the viewer how it went down), but for now, it’s definitely the kind of fun and action-packed show that will help TNT continue to build its brand as a home for solid original programming.
Special Features: Arguably the most impressive thing about Season One of “Leverage” is the inclusion of audio commentary on every single episode, but the set also includes deleted scenes, several featurettes (“Behind the Scenes,” “Anatomy of a Stunt Fight,” “The Cameras of ‘Leverage’”), a funny spoof by Riesgraf which shows just how awful an actress can be behind the scenes, and “‘Leverage’ Gets Renewed,” where Devlin pulls a con on his cast in order to tell them about the series scoring a second season.