A group of high-tech Robin Hoods take to the airwaves when TNT’s Leverage premieres tonight at 10 PM ET (on Tuesday, December 9, it sneaks into its regular 10:00 time slot). Leverage is part Ocean’s Eleven and part It Takes a Thief, the Robert Wagner series that aired in the ’60s. In Leverage a gang of thieves team up to help out people who’ve been cheated or done wrong. The team is led by Nate Ford, played by Timothy Hutton. The Academy Award winner (for his heartbreaking performance in 1980’s Ordinary People) is really in his element on this show. As he displayed a couple years ago on the ill-fated NBC serial Kidnapped, television is a medium that suits him well, especially characters who aren’t squeaky clean. Nate is a former insurance investigator who made his company millions, but was betrayed when that same company denied him medical coverage for his gravely ill son. The boy died, and Nate has been a bitter wreck ever since. That’s all we know about him — just enough to get us interested, just enough to keep us watching to find out the rest of his tragic history.
In the pilot episode Nate is hired by an aeronautics executive, played with slimy panache by Saul Rubinek, to recover airplane designs he claims were stolen by a rival. Rubinek brings together a group of highly skilled thieves to steal the plans back; Nate’s job is to get them to act as a team. This group consists of Parker (Beth Riesgraf), an expert thief and resident loose cannon; Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge), a specialist in Internet and computer fraud who has a quick wit and an ample supply of one-liners; and Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane), a gravelly-voiced â€œretrieval specialistâ€ who can take out a gang of henchmen without breaking a sweat. The four of them get the plans back and are promptly double-crossed by Rubinek. (You knew that was coming.) Naturally, Nate decides to even the score.
To complete his plan, he recruits one more member to the team: Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman), a gorgeous grifter who can mimic any accent. Nate has a history with Sophie, dating back to some art scams she once pulled. Her presence adds much-needed sexual tension to Leverage, hinting that something may develop down the road between her and Nate. By the end of the pilot, the team decides to use their skills for good.
Since each episode’s plot has to feature a con, the writing has to be strong.From what I’ve seen, the writers have been smart and clever, only revealing how the con was pulled after the fact (the Ocean’s Eleven influence). As with Nate, small aspects of the characters’ lives are slowly being revealed in each episode, keeping our interest piqued while we go along for the ride, and each actor is game — by the third episode Riesgraf has dialed down her wackiness, and Kane shows more humanity than his one-dimensional role indicated in the pilot. Bellman has a knack for slipping into the various characters she’s required to become in each episode, and she displays great chemistry with Hutton. However, the one cast member with true star potential is Hodge, last seen on Friday Night Lights; Alec is portrayed as smart and thoughtful, a funny, likable guy who isn’t overly cocky.Â In particular, Hodge’s scenes with Hutton have an easygoing rapport, as if these guys have known each other for years.
Of course, Leverage wouldn’t work if Hutton wasn’t fully invested. Throughout the ’80s he was cast as the lead in numerous movies, many of them not worth remembering (for every The Falcon and the Snowman there was a Turk 182!), but he’s always been stronger in ensemble casts, like in 1996’s Beautiful Girls or the aforementioned Kidnapped, where he doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting all by himself. Hutton’s experience really lends itself to the part of Nate Ford, and what’s really nice about his approach is that he’s not afraid to explore the dark areas of his characters. Nate has an alcohol problem and some other skeletons in his closet, as do all of the characters, that I hope will play out for seasons to come.
You have to give TNT credit for continuing to produce decent shows while the four major networks struggle to find audiences. Instead of trying to replicate the edginess of HBO and Showtime, they take tried-and-true formulas and update them for new eras. Their shows aren’t always a success, but with Leverage, it feels like they may have another winner.