Hog heaven, brother, is what I'm wallowing in. Loving con artist stories like I do, LEVERAGE: THE FIRST SEASON is like unwrapping a crazy awesome present. If you dig stuff like [[ASIN:B0009X766Y The Sting (Universal Legacy Series)]], [[ASIN:B000P0J0BK Ocean's Eleven (Widescreen Edition)]], or even [[ASIN:B00009RDGA Paper Moon]], then LEVERAGE falls right in your wheelhouse. It's slick and smart and funny, and the key characters, initially cut from that predictable mold, quickly grow on you. TNT rolled out thirteen episodes of television goodness, except that by the first episode I'd already gotten hooked. Okay, "The Miracle Job" isn't any great shakes, but the rest of the episodes are very good. In fact, the standouts are "The Nigerian Job," "The Mile High Job," "The Stork Job," "The Juror #6 Job," and the two parter season closers "The First David Job" & "The Second David Job."
I don't follow Timothy Hutton too much, but if a guy was ever meant to play a functioning alcoholic mastermind, it's Hutton. Nathan Ford (Hutton) is an ex-insurance investigator who parted ways with his insurance company when it refused to pay for his 8-year-old son's medical treatment. And Nathan's son died. So there's a grudge against corporate entities already set in place when Nathan is approached to lead a "specialized" team in a righteous heist. And that's how the not-quite-legal Leverage Consulting & Associates firm was born (providing "leverage" for the downtrodden).
Thing is, Nathan Ford, all divorced and still grieving for his dead son and bleary eyed from the cups, is still a straight shooter, even though he's now orchestrating heists and stiffing soulless mega-corporations and underhanded governmental agencies who've effed with the helpless common Joes. And, while Nathan hasn't exactly reformed his tiny gang of thieves, hackers, muscle, and flim-flammers (all of whom had, before this, preferred to work solo), he's got them having so much fun doing bad for good causes that it's almost the same thing. I don't know if this is coming out of left field or not, but there's also this A-TEAM vibe permeating the thing, with Timothy Hutton's character just falling short of lighting a stogie and declaring that "I love it when a plan comes together."
The show makes these characters interesting, and respective episodes do fill in some of the gaps in their backgrounds (although there's still a lot about their pasts that we're kept in the dark about). My favorite lawbreaker is Parker, the world's best thief and played with endless quirk, daredevil flair, and antisocial tendencies by Beth Riesgraf. Not to mention, she also provides a huge chunk of the funny. In "The Mile High Job" Parker's less than hostessy demeanor sets back stewardess/passenger relations for years. And in "The Juror #6 Job" I'll only mention that Parker attends jury duty (oh, and that she quiickly sniffs out a rat). Gina Bellman as grifter Sophie Devereaux also rocks it. I like that, when she's not hoodwinking her marks, Sophie sidelines as an actress, except that she's cringingly horrible at acting. But then put her in a scam, and she's flawless with her lines. She's simply hilarious in "The Stork Job," in which the Leverage crew takes over a Belgrade movie set (the movie is "Howl Force," about NATO troops being attacked by werewolves). Bellman and Riesgraf aren't your classic lookers, but there's no denying that Gina Bellman oozes sexy sophistication (and touts a range of convincing accents), and Beth Riesgraf smacks so much of crazy that I find her all kinds of attractive. (Huh. I may be a little disturbed myself.)
The stings usually involve lots of hi-tech stuff, and so it's gratifying to have an episode in which Parker is unexpectedly asked to steal an item and she, on the fly, bypasses an impressive security system using nothing but what's available at hand (bit of make-up, aluminum foil, etc.).
In thirteen episodes set to a jazzy cool musical score, the five-person team inflicts disguises, diversions, smooth con talk, double crosses, variations on classic scams and all around nasty trickeration on crooks big and small but all deserving. Part of the fun is when things don't go according to plan, and they end up having to improvise. The show indulges some in Fool-the-Audience and so part of the fun is also when the episode gets around to revealing what was really going on behind the scenes. And, to add even more flavoring, the show even introduces an element of romance here and there.
If there's a running sub-plot in this season, it's Nathan's worsening alcoholism. This finally forces the crew to do an "intervention," except that their notion of intervention isn't what you or I may come up with. This leads into the two-parter season finale, as the Leverage consulting firm tries to take down the insurance company which so messed up Nathan's life. And we also finally get to check out Nathan's hottie ex-wife. Also featured in the two-parter is recurring slimeball James Sterling, the chief investigator who'd taken over Nathan's position in that very same insurance company. In past episodes Sterling had gotten the better of Nathan. Methinks it's time for a getback.
Four discs in this set, with not too shabby special features: pretty informative producer/director/writer audio commentary on each episode (although one wishes that the cast had also been allowed to provide commentary); deleted scenes on selected episodes; "Leverage: Behind the Scenes" (12:40 minutes); "Anatomy of a Stunt Fight" - Christian Kane ("Eliot") breaks down a fight sequence from the episode "The First David Job"; "The Cameras of LEVERAGE" - um, basically a 2-minute showcase for the different types of cameras used in filming the show (kinda pointless, unless you're a tech freak); "LEVERAGE Gets Renewed" - a cool brief segment in which Dean Devlin gathers his cast & crew (necessitating some video conferencing) for the 2nd season renewal announcement; and Beth Riesgraf's very weird Crazy Actress Spoof.
The closing moments of the season finale attempts to throw some doubt as to whether these guys will stay together or go their separate ways. But no one was fooled. I mean, what beats getting payback for the little guy and being rewarded with an alternative revenue stream? The Leverage Consulting & Associates firm may be peopled with shifty characters, but they're shifty characters with pure hearts. More or less. Man, what a fun show!