Heroes in More Ways Than One: LEVERAGE Returns to TNT Tonight

leverage

We’ll admit it–the dismal summer TV offerings are killing us. Killing us. I’m getting a lot more pleasure out of the Tour de France (Tour de Fraaaaaance, if you follow the announcers’ lead), the Sotomayor hearings, and watching people rip out bathrooms on HGTV than I am from the likes of Wipeout or America’s Got Talent (a dubious conclusion). It’s been so bad that I’ve even been driven by this cathode-based pain toward haiku:

HawthoRNe:

A moron could see

That after the commercial

This patient will breathe.

It buuuuurns. It freeeeeezes! Make it stoooooop!

Thank the heavens above, then, for the return of the loopy, lovable Leverage, here to save us at last from the cruel doldrums of summer TV. The adventures of a bunch of con men turned Robin Hood, Leverage might on occasion dance on the edge of depth (such as last season’s offerings questioning whether God would use a bunch of con men to pull off a miracle or suggesting that group father figure Nate [Timothy Hutton] might have a bit of a problem with the drinky-drinky). But for the most part, it’s just juicy fun. The plots are ludicrous, but watching the pieces of the puzzle unfold in closing flashbacks is a hootenanny of intellectual leapfrogging. Perhaps most fun is the chemistry among the characters. It’s no accident Nate is a father figure–this little crew chooses each other as a weird but strangely functional family. Personally, I could use a little less of the will-they-won’t-they flirtation between Daddy and Mommy (frontwoman Sophie, played by Gina Bellman), but the witty interactions among a thief who has honed her craft since elementary school–and who is socially barely beyond that stage (Beth Riesgraf), the computer expert who is by turns slick and geeky (Aldis Hodge), and the muscle with both brains and heart (Christian Kane) will keep us coming back week after week. Welcome back, Leverage–what took you so long to get here?

TNT is using the Leverage premiere to launch Dark Blue, an undercover cop saga starring Dylan McDermott. I don’t much care about the details of this beyond the fact that it allows me to gaze upon Dylan McDermott. I’m not yet convinced Dark Blue, which appears to be, well, dark (imagine that title intoned by the late Don LaFontaine–“Dark. Blue.“), is a great tonal match with the frothy pleasures of Leverage, but we’d like to see McDermott have another success, so here’s hoping. Leverage begins tonight on TNT at 9pm Eastern/Pacific, followed immediately by Dark Blue.

LEVERAGE: Have Hardison Reverse the Polarity

leverage

While Leverage is still more fun than a barrel full of Parkers-on-a-wire, I was ready to slap their hands this week when Hardison was relegated to sillier-than-usual antics on the sidelines so we could focus for the second week in a row on a not particularly scintillating not-romance between Sophie and Nate. It’s particularly galling that Sophie is so whiny and manipulative about their not-relationship–certainly do-gooding and getting really, really rich would leave her life empty if she can’t have the man she might sort of have looooooved from afar lo these many years.

But I just can’t stay mad at this show when it keeps telling Doctor Who jokes. We discovered in “The Bank Shot Job” that Hardison downloads episodes when they run in the UK. This week, we find that the fake IDs the crew uses include Tom Baker (the actor who played the Fourth Doctor), Peter Davison (the actor who played the Fifth Doctor), and Sylvester McCoy (the actor who played the Seventh Doctor). Poor Colin Baker (the Sixth Doctor)–swept under the rug again. And the delicious, corn syrupy icing on this cake? Sophie’s fake ID is Sarah Jane, and anything that brings Elisabeth Sladen to mind makes us happy. Doctor Who jokes buy you a lot of good will in these quarters; if we can just get Hardison to reverse the polarity on the romance that isn’t happening between the leads, we’ll be in good shape.

LEVERAGE “The Two Horse Job”: Was It Just to Watch Him Die?

leverage

While this week’s new Leverage was another knotty, naughty affair–a shell game with horses instead of a ball under the shells–“The Two Horse Job” was the first time we wondered how long this show can keep those kinds of stories coming. It seems awfully early in the game to be revealing big chunks of character background by making the clients important parts of our heroes’ past. (It also seems kind of early to put Christan Kane on a horse with his luxurious locks flowing behind him, but mileage may vary on that point.)

We’re reassured, however, by the weird wit that sets Leverage apart from other puzzle shows. Hardison’s frustration that no one pays enough attention to his PowerPoint presentations on their new cases rings true for any of us who have to make serious business a song and dance. Parker trying to sneak a sick day because of her equinophobia is odd enough, but her claim that the fear engulfs her because she “once saw a horse kill a clown,” complete with flashback to a childhood birthday party with costumed entertainers fighting, makes it art. We’d cheer for her when she sneaks through ductwork to free a horse, overcoming her terror and declaring brightly that “horses are much less murderous” than she’d originially assumed, but we’re too busy laughing. Toss in genre favorite Mark Sheppard (Firefly, The Middleman, Battlestar Galactica24) as the #2 insurance fraud investigator in the world (second only to the disgraced Nathan Ford, of course) as a semi-permanent adversary, and we’re convinced they’re not going to stop the fun train.

TNT’s LEVERAGE Is More Fun Than a Barrel of Thieves

leverage

TNT’s new drama Leverage isn’t likely to win the network any Emmys. It isn’t ground-breaking, or thought-provoking, or even remotely plausible most of the time. But you know what it is? A heck of a lot of fun.

Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton stars as a down-on-his-luck former insurance investigator who teams up with a band of professional thieves, hackers and con artists to pull off a high-tech heist, and ends up forming a modern day Robin Hood and his Merry Men (and Women). That’s right, these career criminals up and decide to start stealing from the rich and greedy and donating their spoils to the Little Guys who’ve been screwed by the Man. Ridiculous? Absolutely. But it may be just the kind of television comfort food audiences are looking for in the current economic climate.

The best thing about Leverage is definitely its ensemble cast, which is pleasingly populated with familiar television faces: Gina Bellman (Coupling, Jekyll) as the chameleon-like grifter, Christian Kane (Angel) as the muscle, Aldis Hodge (Friday Night Lights‘ Ray “Voodoo” Tatum) as the computer geek, and Beth Riesgraf (Jason Lee’s ex-fiancé–probably best known for being mom to the infamously-named Pilot Inspektor) as the skyscraper-scaling thief. They’re all quirky enough and bicker amusingly enough to keep the show smoothly entertaining, despite its flaws.

Ah, the flaws. To start with, Leverage is definitely on the style-over-substance ticket. It wants very badly to be as cool as the Ocean’s movies, to the extent that you might even call it a blatant rip-off. Fine. But you know what? I love the Ocean’s movies. Even the bad ones. Sometimes I’m just in the mood for a little style over substance.

Okay, Leverage‘s plots have more holes than a Dunkin’ Donuts, but the direction is impressively slick and the writing dependably snappy. The double- and triple-crosses are predictable to anyone versed in the caper genre, as are the resolutions (in fact, one of the twists in the pilot is lifted straight out of Ocean’s 11), but somehow that doesn’t make the journey any less intoxicating.

So sit back, suspend your disbelief, and enjoy the ride. Because if you’re someone (like me) who watches a show like Bones for the goofy banter between the ensemble cast, or Burn Notice for the cool-yet-inane subterfuge, then Leverage is for you.

And I’m not just saying that because the nice folks at TNT sent us a Leverage beverage (which, by the way, tasted like rancid Sweet Tarts with an aftertaste of baby aspirin).

Leverage premieres on TNT Sunday, Dec. 7, at 10 p.m. Eastern, before moving to its regular time slot on Tuesdays at 10 p.m.