TV on DVD: “Leverage”

leverage-aLeverage: The 1st Season (2009, Paramount)
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Not since the late ’60s Robert Wagner series, It Takes a Thief, has a television show about thieves been so much fun. Combining elements from that great show and the very successful Ocean’s Eleven films, TNT’s Leverage has all of the makings of a long running show. The first season has just been released on DVD, and I highly recommend it as a good way to sit back and be thoroughly entertained.

After years of sub-par movies and tiny supporting roles, Timothy Hutton landed a role that does his talent proud. He stars as Nate Ford, a former insurance fraud investigator whose son died while he stood helpless as doctors tried to save the boy. Denied the right to a lifesaving procedure by the insurance company he works for, Nate is bitter, divorced, and has turned to the bottle to help him get through his pain. Nate gets lured into overseeing an operation to recover stolen plans for a devious corporate executive (guest star Saul Rubinek). He agrees to manage a three-person team of thieves: Eliot Spence (Christian Kane) a highly skilled fighter and weapons expert; Parker (Beth Riesgarf) an expert thief; and Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge) a computer whiz and expert hacker. After successfully completing their mission, the team is double crossed and nearly killed. Nate puts together a plan for their subsequent retaliation. He brings into the fold a fourth member, lovely grifter Sophie (Gina Bellman) with whom he has a complicated relationship dating back to his days in te insurance business. After completing this revenge mission and making enough money to retire, Nate convinces his group of con artists that they could actually go on doing what they did, but helping people who have been ripped off by greedy corporations or all around nasty people.

Leverage has a winning formula for success. Each episode has its own standalone story: The Leverage team finds some unlucky soul and helps them out of a jam. At the same time, each episode continues the arc of Nate’s story. Will he get revenge on his old bosses? Will the team get caught by his old rival, James Sterling (Mark A. Sheppard)? Plus there are romantic overtures between Nate and Sophie and Hardison and Parker that add sparks.

In addition to the setup for each week, the show succeeds on several other levels, starting with its wonderful cast. Bellman is sly and sexy, exhibiting much of the comic timing she had on the hit British sitcom, Coupling. Hardison is the perfect foil for Hutton. He is quick with the one-liners, confident, but not cocky, and truly appears to be having a good time on camera. Hardison is the breakout star here; his energy is infectious. Riesgarf took some time to grow on me. Her character has been drawn as the quirky one and I felt it took until the fourth episode until she seemed to settle in to the character. Kane is the soft-spoken, gravelly-voiced action hero of the show and he pulls it off with ease. If the worst you can say about a guy’s performance is that his hair annoys you, you know he’s doing good work.

But this show revolves around Hutton and his ability to maintain your attention for 60 minutes each week. Nate’s excessive drinking is an issue throughout the season, at times jeopardizing the missions and the rest of the team. Despite Nate’s many flaws (he can be a real jerk and selfish), Hutton is able to maintain a liability to the character. We forgive him because of the palpable pain he has for the loss of his beloved son and the concern he exhibits for the people he’s trying to help. As the “moral” center of the team, executive producers Dean Devlin, Chris Downey and John Rogers (Downey and Rogers are also the creators) picked the right man in Hutton to anchor this show.

Technically speaking, the scripts are fun and tightly paced. The dialogue is lively with the back and forth between the characters a joy to listen to. My favorite episodes included “The Bank Shot Job,” in which Sophie and Nate get caught in a bank robbery hostage situation while trying to bring down a corrupt county court judge, “The Snow Job,” and the season-ending two-parter The First David Job” and “The Second David Job” in which Nate finally has the opportunity to take down his old boss (guest star Kevin Tighe). The production uses the digital Red One Camera to shoot in high resolution offering a crisp, slick look. The use of the steadicam keeps the viewers in the action at all times and the writers take great pains to reveal the con at the end of every episode.

The DVD extras include deleted scenes, a behind the scene featurette, a breakdown of stunt fights and a look at the high tech cameras used in making the show. Overall, this collection of the first season of Leverage is a great addition to anyone looking for great escapism with plenty of charm and humor mixed with action and some dramatic pull.