Preview: Leverage

Wacked on Scooby Snacks?

In the US: TNT. Coming in the Fall (no airdate or slot yet)

There are very few films that have essentially relaunched entire genres. Ocean’s 11 is one of those few. It managed to cause an outbreak of ‘cool criminal’ films and TV series, the effect of which is still being felt. Some of these have been successful (Hustle), some unsuccessful (the remake of The Italian Job, Smith).

Leverage is the latest TV series to take the idea of the caper movie and run with it. Starring Oscar winner Timothy Hutton, Angel‘s Christian Kane (without an evil hand) and our very own Gina Bellman (Coupling), it’s actually very good.

Plot (from a press release because I’m lazy)
TNT has given the greenlight to the thrilling, action-packed drama series "Leverage," starring Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People, "Nero Wolfe") and executive-produced by Dean Devlin (Independence Day, TNT’s "The Librarian") and John Rogers ("Cosby").

The series follows a team of thieves, hackers and grifters who act as modern-day Robin Hoods, taking revenge against those who use power and wealth to victimize others. TNT has ordered 13 episodes of "Leverage," which comes to the network from Devlin’s Electric Entertainment. Devlin makes his directorial debut on the pilot, which was written by Rogers (Transformers) and Chris Downey ("The King of Queens"). "Leverage" is slated to premiere on TNT later this year.

"’Leverage’ is great entertainment," said Michael Wright, senior vice president in charge of the content creation group for TNT, TBS and TCM. "It’s fast-paced, smart and just great fun. Dean Devlin directed the pilot to perfection. Timothy Hutton is outstanding, and he and the cast around him have a great chemistry. This is a new genre for us in our series efforts, and it’s great to be able to tackle it with Dean. His ‘Librarian’ movies for TNT have been huge successes. We couldn’t be happier having him and John Rogers bring that same sense of style and storytelling to us in series form."

In "Leverage," Hutton plays former insurance investigator Nate Ford, a once-loyal corporate employee who had recovered millions of dollars in stolen goods for his employer. But when that employer denied his son’s insurance claims and allowed the boy to die, he realized he could no longer work for such an entity.

Out of work and descending into alcoholism, Ford is hired by an aeronautics executive to recover airplane designs the executive claims were stolen by a rival company. Helping him are four highly skilled team members: Parker (Beth Riesgraf, Alvin and the Chipmunks), an expert thief; Alex Hardison (Aldis Hodge, "Friday Night Lights"), a specialist in Internet and computer fraud; Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane, "Into the West"), a high-octane "retrieval specialist" who can take out a gang of henchmen without breaking a sweat; and Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman, "Coupling"), a grifter who could win awards for her acting skills during difficult scams. At first the newly formed team is hesitant to trust each other after so many years working alone but being double-crossed changes the dynamic, ultimately forcing them to unite. They emerge from the job realizing they are far better working together than apart. Once they discover they can trust each other the group targets their cons toward the richest, the greediest and the most unjust.

Is it any good?
I really liked it. I honestly did.

Okay, so it’s not exactly the most original concept in the world (cf Mission: Impossible, any show in which criminals turn straight to stick up for the ‘little man’) and you do wish they could just be bad guys, rather than bad guys turned good. By the standards of Hustle, say, Leverage‘s cons are pretty basic and you’ll see what’s coming a mile off. It’s not stupid, but it’s not as clever as it thinks it is. And if it didn’t just rip off Ocean’s 11‘s soundtrack directly, they certainly borrowed David Holmes for the job to create a near identical replica.

But it’s very well done. What Leverage gets right that The Italian Job and Ocean’s 12, for example, didn’t is that it’s all about the characters. You can have the coolest cons you like, but ultimately, if you don’t give a monkey’s about the characters, it can be a bit tedious and uninvolving. It’s fun, too, which is also where The Italian Job felt apart.

As you might guess from the teaming of an action writer with a comedy writer, Leverage is surprisingly funny, even while it does action. Gina Bellman is obviously a comedy pro and does a good job as a ‘French’ grifter (so French she calls Hutton a wanker at one point) who can’t act when she’s on a stage, but is fabulous in real life. Similarly, Hutton’s deadpan delivery of one-liners is pretty accomplished. However, I didn’t buy the supposed sexual chemistry between the two for a second.

Kane and Aldis Hodge have a nice jock versus geek cameraderie going on with each respecting the other’s skills when they realise what they can get out of them. Kane is both amusing and impressive as a ‘retrieval specialist’ who can take out an entire room of armed thugs with little more than his little finger (and yes, you get to see him do it).

Hodge is just a tad wooden but is likeable, nevertheless. Beth Riesgraf is the least impressive of the cast but there’s an intriguing oddness to her and her character that’s interesting. And the cast work well together.

It’s a little too fluffy and glossy to have a real impact. When it tries to deal with slightly more deeper issues, such as the death of Hutton’s son, it’s completely out of its depth. It is a case of style over true substance here. But it’s fun and entertaining. One to catch – if you can.

Here’s a sneak peek from the TNT web site. Sorry it’s so small. And I hope you can play it.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.