Showing posts with label Leverage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leverage. Show all posts

6/14/13

Last Chance to See


"Thieves find entrances, but grifters... we make them." 
Sophie Devereaux (The Inside Job)
Keith R.A. DeCandido's The Zoo Job (2013) is the second tie-in novel to the Leverage TV-show, a resumption of the series in book form after TNT pulled the plug after its fifth season, and continuity is the (unofficial) theme of the story.

The Zoo Job takes place during the fourth season of the television series, somewhere between The Queen's Gambit Job and The Radio Job, and centers on Brillinger Zoo that has been in the hands of the same family since the 1800s, but the place is off the tourist track and falling on hard times. Marney Billinger wants to shake up business with the exhibit of two black rhinos, which she managed to secure through a Malani priest, but the animals never arrive and are now obliged to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the priest – who needs the money to run a struggling medical clinic in a poor country under a dictatorial regime.

One of Brillinger Zoo's younger, but regular, attendees, Zoë Kerrigan, who appeared in The Beantown Bailout Job, nudges her in the direction of the men who helped save the lives of her father and herself, Nathan Ford ("The Mastermind") and his crew.

The only problem is that they're not exactly sure who their mark is. So they do what Fred would've done, if this had been a Scooby Doo episode, and split up the gang. While Parker ("The Thief") and Alec Hardison ("The Hacker") bore themselves with surveillance work of the zoo's board members, Sophie Devereaux ("The Grifter") and Elliot Spencer ("The Hitter") infiltrate the Malani clinic. Malani was a former Portuguese colony and an independent West African kingdom, under King Lionel's rule, until he was over thrown by General Polonia – and third season ties with his corrupt minister of finance sort of makes this book an aftermath of the Damien Moreau-arc.

DeCandido covers nearly every major event from the show, ties-in background stories and name dropped pretty much all of the side characters, which sometimes made the story feel like a companion guide to the TV-series. But is a respect-and artful treatment of the source material really a draw back in a tie-in novel? Not for me, but if you're unfamiliar with the original incarnation of Leverage, you might want to sit through a few episodes before digging into this book. But one thing's for sure, The Zoo Job has more continuity than Burke's Peerage.

If there was one drawback, it was the lack of a clear and proper villain for the crew to target, and as a result, we were deprived of a long con full of fun, but dangerous, pitfalls – which were represented here by Interpol's James Sterling ("The Antagonist") and Malani's finance minister, Aloysius Mbenga, with his armed goons. They've to figure out whom to zoom in on and what the game of their opponent is, before they can put a stop it. And that full picture doesn't emerge until quite late into the book. Leverage was known for trying different approaches of telling the story, but there was always a mark or goal (e.g. beating an unbeatable security system) and it felt a little bit like watching Columbo stumbling around without knowing himself who he's suppose to be hounding.

But that's a minor, fan boyish complaint on an excellent job at translating the characters and atmosphere of the show to paper and weaving a good story around it. I hope these novels do well enough that they commission more of them and perhaps open a new avenue to re-launch the TV series. Here's hoping! 

My review of Matt Forbeck's The Con Job (2012). 

Note of interest for this blog: one of the characters was reading Rex Stout's Murder by the Book (1951).

4/10/13

Avengers Initiative


"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."
- Michael Corleone (The Godfather III, 1990) 
TNT may have canned Leverage after a run of five seasons, but the creative force behind the series are exploring new avenues to pull Nathan Ford and his crew back into the game, which is possible because the show was produced independently, and a movie is a popular rumor at the moment.

In the meantime, they'll keep us fans hooked with a series of paperback tie-ins they've commissioned and the first one in line, The Con Job (2012), proved to be a lot more fun than the bland title would have you believe. Matt Forbeck penned the first novelisation and I think it's a worthy addition to the canon, which also added to it, but the best part is that it still felt like Leverage – and that we can tag along with them again.

The Con Job takes place between The Gold Job and The Radio Job, episodes 16 and 17 of the third season, and Alec Hardison, hacker extraordinaire and resident geek, has found themselves a target: a disreputable dealer, Lorenzo Patronus, whose been filching rare comic-books and valuable cover art from their old creators. These were works from poor, freelance artists who hung on to them as an alternative retirement plan. Well, that pissed off a genius hacker/geek, who has a little Justice League of his own, and they're off to Comic-Con – where their mark intends to sell off the stolen goods.

As to be expected, the plot is littered with pop-culture references, ranging from Star Wars to Spider-Man, cameos from Stan Lee and Patrick Stewart, and even a sub-plot involving the manga publishing industry and a few "play-fights" that the combat hardened Eliot had to participate in – enough material for some of that Leverage humor. The con they play is basically a "Devil's Contract" that could fulfill Patronus' boyhood dream, becoming a recognized comic book artist, which is a cue for Sophie Devereaux's character, talent agent Jess Drew, to discover an unrecognized talent. But there's more than meets the eye (pop-cult reference!), when an old nemesis turns up, the less-than-scrupulous and source of general annoyance Cha0s (Hardison's rival), which is not a weird thing in itself considering that they're at Comic-Con, but when Hardison goes missing – they know that a third party is involved.

However, it's the crew that, as to be expected, stole the show in The Con Job and that’s immediately my only quibble: my favorite character, "The Mastermind," Nathan Ford was pushed into the background and gave Hardison the lead. His reluctance to enter Comic-Con is one of those things that added to the character, but I preferred to have had him a bit more in the front. That aside, I tremendously enjoyed tailing Eliot, Parker and Sophie around the stands and watch them off-page deal with the amount of unusual trouble you'd expect from Leverage. Heck, Eliot and Parker cosplaying as a Stormtrooper and Princess Leia, as they struggle through a crowd, should be the end all argument to bring the series back on the air and kick-off the new season with an adaptation of this book.

Anyhow, what matters are that Leverage is back and Forbeck penned a story that's very much in the spirit of the show. It's just unpretentious fun on an exciting and dangerous job. Far more than I expected from a TV tie-in novel and I'm looking forward to the next one, The Zoo Job (2013), which I probably will get to next month. A warning to the reader: avoid the reading the synopsis on the backcover of The Con Job, it gives away too much.

And to my fellow Leverage fans, if you enjoyed The Con Job for more than just a continuation of your favorite series, than I would like to draw your attention to Mack Reynolds' The Case of the Little Green Men (1951) – a comedic private-eye novel set in the world of SF-and Fantasy fans and features a loveable loser detective. He’s hired to by a bunch of oddball SF-fans investigate alien life on Earth, who have been taking potshots at them with ray guns or dropping them from flying saucers and the investigation takes him to an early SF/F con. It has been reprinted and I think if you liked The Con Job, you’ll love this one as well.

Yes. The blog-to-blog mystery evangelist never lets an opportunity slip through his fingers to harvest a soul or two.

1/12/13

Leverage: The Long Con Before Saying Goodbye


"To say goodbye is to die a little."
- Philip Marlowe (The Long Goodbye, 1953)

In season finale of the fourth season of Leverage, we were left with the promise that more laws would be broken in the course of justice in the fifth, and final, run of the series and The (Very) Big Bird Job has the team squiring off against a crooked airline executive whose Achilles' heel is technical masterpiece from a previous era – Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose. The Spruce Goose is one of the largest airplanes ever build, flown only once on November 2, 1942, and Nate Ford and his crew have to find a way to get that machine back in the air in order to take their mark down. Not one of the cleverest (or believable?) episodes, but therefore not any less enjoyable. 

They walk the mean streets of Spade and Marlowe

The Blue Line Job has a son putting the life of his father, an "enforcer" of a minor league hockey team, in the hands of the Leverage team and their opponent is the hockey team's owner – who turned the game into street fight on the ice and even paid players from rival teams to go after his enforcer. But there's one problem. Craig Marko, the enforcer, is literary beaten up to the point that the next bump he takes to the head might kill him, and if that one doesn’t finish him, the one after that may do the job. Enter Elliot Spencer, "The Hitter," who becomes one of the players to prevent this from happening until they can put the team's owner out of the game and the ending shows Nate being very in his role of evil, but just, avenger (c.f. the ending of The Cross My Heart Job). He's like a mask-less and cape-less crusader, but he did have (briefly) a Bat Cave (of sorts) in The Last Dam Job!

In The First Contact Job, a low-grade, but loaded, scientist uses his personal wealth to attract truly talented scientists, pinch their ideas, and claiming them as his own – burying his victims in legal papers in the process. Well, he finally gets the opportunity to make the greatest scientific discovery in history, all on his own, establishing contact with an intelligent alien life form. But remember the rules of the con: when something is too good to be true, it usually is. The French Connection Job takes place at a culinary art school, run by a man who taught Eliot that a knife can do more than just stab people, but the restaurateur has turned the place in the base of operations for an unusual smuggling ring. This premise is also used to build up the characters of Eliot and Parker.

The Gimme a K Street Job has Nate and his Merry Men staring down one of their toughest opponents: politicians! A cheerleader gets seriously injured due to corporate negligence, because cheerleading isn't considered a legitimate sport and therefore doesn't have to comply with safety regulations, and they have to overthrow the unscrupulous owner of the cheerleading squad as well as getting a bill passed through Congress. But as Sophie remarked, after spending a day peddling between Congressmen, "I don't know how anything gets done around here. You have to be a grifter to run government."

FBI uniforms: One Size Fits All (from a first season episode)
Their next con harks back to The Van Gogh Job, in which two stories, from past and present, are told that tie-in, character or plot-wise, towards the end – and the characters from the past are played by the members of the Leverage crew. And there's a clue in there, if you're alert enough, in The D.B. Cooper Job. FBI Agent McSweeten, who still believes Parker and Hardison's cover stories are legit, asks them to take a look at the unsolved 1971 plane hijacking by the legendary D.B. Cooper – who disappeared without a trace after bailing from the plane. McSweeten's dying father was put in charge of the case and never stopped looking for Cooper. I have only one thing to say about this episode: Continuity! (Boom)

The Broken Wing Job is a Parker, "The Thief," of the group, orientated episode, in which the high-flyer is grounded with a broken leg, and bored out of her mind, begins to watch the surveillance cameras of their restaurant, doubling as their hideout, when she notices two shady guys plotting at a table. One of them carrying a gun. Parker has to work as an armchair detective to figure out who they are, what they are planning and how to stop them. We also learn a little bit more of the ongoing storyline, which began in The (Very) Big Bird Job, when the viewer learned that Nate and Hardison are sharing a secret.

The Rundown Job and The Frame Up Job share the same set-up as The Girls' Night Out Job and The Boys' Night Out Job, from the previous season, in which the teams split and have separate jobs to take care off. Eliot, Parker and Hardison are wrapping up business in Washington, when Eliot receives a phone call from the past, asking him to do a hit on someone. Elliot turns down the offer, but he knows if he doesn't take the job, someone else will and attempt to try to stop an assassination – and hit upon on a conspiracy. The Frame Up Job has Nate Ford and Sophie Devereaux, officially an item by this time, playing the bantering, mystery solving couple that were all the rage back in the 1940s and they do it with the same joie de vivre as the Troys and the Browns. Heck. Even the setting and multi-layered plot were very reminiscent of the detective stories usually discussed on this blog. 

James Sterling: "The Antagonist"

Sophie tries to ditch Nate one day with a ticket to a Noir Mystery Movie fest, but traces her steps back to the estate of a recently deceased art collector, where the first painting of a modern master, never before put on display, will be unveiled to the public for the very first time – and Sophie has a personal connection to the painting. Of course, when the vault door swings open, there’s nothing in there to be seen, and as the only infamous (ex) art thief/grifter on the premise, Sophie has a lot to explain when Sterling shows up. The plot twists and turns from an art theft to a murder investigation to forgery, but the best part of the story was seeing Nate and Sophie as detectives/criminals (e.g. John Kendrick Bangs' Raffles Holmes and Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr), and how the characters played off each other, because the plot was predictable. I recognized most of the plot devices and anticipated nearly every twist. A good try and tremendous fun to watch, but for the seasoned mystery fan, it's a walk in the park. The Rashomon Job, from the third season, was perhaps the best plotted episode from the series, in which five separate stories of the same event dovetail into one with the fifth telling and much more reminiscent of Agatha Christie than The Ten Lil' Grifters Job.

In The White Rabbit Job, they receive an unusual request that consists of not taking down a company owner, hell-bent on destroying the company his grandfather build up and the town it supports, but to safe and restore him to his old self again. They decide to give the rarely attempted "White Rabbit" con a go, in which they drug the mark and put him through a series of dream sequences that Hardison conjures up from his computer, but this also poses a plethora of moral objections. Interesting premise, descent episode. The Toy Job opens with a whistleblower warning the team that a company wants to bring a dangerous toy on the market, ready to be released before Christmas, and they rummage around for a rejected/failed toy to re-brand and create a craze to overshadow their mark’s toy. But why pick a doll that looks like Chucky's deformed cousin, who appeared to have been brought into this world with the assistance of a rusty coat hanger?

I think this a good point to mention that I have not yet seen The Low Low Price Job and The Corkscrew Job, and can't remember much of The Real Fake Car Job, which is why they are missing from this overview.

Finally, The Long Goodbye Job has the team making an attempt at obtaining a secret file, known as the Black Book, consisting of all the dodgy transactions made during economical collapse of 2007-08 and the names of people who created the crisis, and use it as a hit list. But when the episode opens, we learn that something has gone horribly wrong and Nate has to relate story of how his team perished during a pursuit for those secret files. I can't tell no more without spoiling anything, but the second half of the episode was almost too light to follow up the high-strung drama of the first part. But not a bad way to bow out. Not bad at all. And note the similarities between the main set-up of The Long Goodbye Job and The Con is Off, the final one for their BBC counterpart Hustle.  

Yes. I had not forgotten about me compulsively obsessing over a Hustle/Leverage crossover that's now never going to happen. Why would anyone cancel a series that can balance between dark/gritty and light/comical and oozes viewer entertainment? Oh well, I can always re-watch Hustle

The next post will be a proper review of a classic whodunit. 

1/5/13

Leverage: Five Little Grifters



"I'm not the law, but I represent justice so far as my feeble powers go."
- Sherlock Holmes.

I cherished the hope that with the passing of another year, and the beginning of a new one, I could accelerate my reading pace, which has slowed considerably over the past month, but the first week of 2013 almost draws to a close – and I haven't even reached the halfway mark of the New Year mystery I have been reading. So, in lieu of a proper review, I have compiled a rundown of the fourth season of Leverage.

The fourth season successfully maintains the quality of the previous batch of episodes, and even ups their game, beginning in The Long Way Down Job when the team scourers an Alaskan mountain top for a missing climber and the evidence he was carrying to bring down a shady financier. We're also getting a glimpse of the main storyline that runs through all these episodes when they discover that their office has been bugged. Next up is an homage to the classics of yesteryear, The Ten Lil' Grifters Job, in which they infiltrate a detective-themed costume party at an cut-off, island mansion and Nathan (Timothy Hutton), dressed up as Ellery Queen as a nod to his father, Jim Hutton, who played the role in the 1970s television series, becomes the prime suspect when their mark is murdered during a black out. 


Sophie as Irene Adler & Nate as Ellery Queen


Without question one of the most enjoyable episodes, but also disappointing in a way, because it just goes through the motions of the preconceived image people have of a classic whodunit and they missed a few opportunities (besides an actual clever plot a la Ellery Queen). While their hitter and retrieval specialist, Eliot Spencer, mingles with the guests hunting for leads, Nate is upstairs getting comfortable in his role as armchair detective, however, there's not a single allusion to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin – in spite of the fact that Hutton played Archie in what's perhaps one of the best adaptations of a detective series that ever graced the small screen. And how neat would it have been if Nate or Sophie had said the following lines into Eliot's earpiece, "where force fails, craft succeeds." Kudo's to anyone who gets that reference!

Character-wise, the most interesting episode of this season was perhaps The Van Gogh Job, in which the stories of Hardison and Parker run parallel with that of their client and involves a lost Van Gogh that was smuggled into the country after the war. The Massive Lady would have probably described this one as a love story with criminal interruptions. The Grave Danger Job continues to develop the relationship between Hardison and Parker when the former ends up being buried alive during a con on a family of undertakers, who swindle their clients and sell the identities of the deceased to a drug cartel, and they have to race against time to find him – as well as finishing what they started! The Boiler Room is another fun one, in which their mark is a third generation conman whose family invented half of the tricks in the book and how do you con a man who was brought up by the men who invented the game? Well, you play a game that he isn't familiar with and we learn the identity of the man who's being spying on them.
 

The Cross My Heart Job has the team opposing a wealthy, but terminally ill, man who stole a heart that was donated to an ill 15-year-old boy and Nate, who lost his own son at a young age, takes this job personal – very, very personal. At the end, we get a peek of evil Nate. Evil Nate is fun. Mischievous, but fun. The Queen's Gambit Job is a bit lighter in tone, in spite of the job that consists of stealing a nuclear centrifuge calibration weight from a highly secured skyscraper in Dubai, during an international chess tournament, which they do as a favor to Sterling. As to be expected from his involvement, there will be double-dealings and crosses adding to the overall fun. Nate and Sophie are also developing a relationship, and from what I have seen of the next season, they're turing into one of those flirtious, comical husband-and-wife sleuthing teams. Except that they grift and steal things. 


The Girls' Night Out Job and The Boys' Night Out Job take place on the same evening when the girls (in the company of grifster Tara from the second season) and boys take an evening off to relax and enjoy themselves, but the girls end up tailing a good looking, internationally wanted man into an embassy and the boys have to try to keep a former mark they helped from getting killed by drug dealers. I think the night out with the boys was more fun and exciting. I mean, how could the other episode beat dropping Nate in the middle of an AA meeting? You simply can't!

In a previous episode, Hardison expressed his desire to run his own crew one day and began to notice that he was slowly growing into the Danny Blue of the group. The Gold Job is the next stage in becoming the next big con artist when he leads a job against a pair of lecherous gold dealers and plans to write a new page in the playbook of the modern conman. Luckily, his team has his back on his first outing as the leader of a pack. By the way, how awesome would it be if they put together a new team consisting of Hardison, Danny, Stacie, Parker and Eliot under the title Leverage International. Or Hustling for Leverage, if you want both shows in the title. It would also be a perfect vehicle to bring Nathan Ford and Michael "Mickie Bricks" Stone together. It would be like Lt. Columbo meeting Adrian Monk! Now, that's not too much to ask, is it? 

Yes. Every time I devote a post to either Leverage or Hustle, I'll mourn the fact that a crossover will never breach the boundaries of fantasy. Deal with it.

The Radio Job and The Last Dam Job make up the final, two-part episodes of the season and has the team up against the man who bugged their office and an old enemy from the past – who wants to extract his own kind of justice on them for putting him away and bringing down his company. In The Radio Job, another familiar face pops-up, Jimmy Ford, who attempts to steal a document from the patent office, but things go array when law enforcement encircles the building. Nate pulls off an impressive con to get them out of there, but his old man has a trick up his sleeve and gets away with the patents – and he isn't getting much in return for his trouble. 

SPOILERS (select text to read): I know this is suppose to be his send-off, but if the series wasn't cancelled, we would've seen Jimmy Ford rise from the dead. Remember, Jimmy Ford is an old-time grifter and fixer who runs with what he's got (as witnessed by his crafty, but simple, escape from the patent office), and he has good reasons for wanting people to believe that he's dead (see: The Three-Card Monte Job). And what we hear doesn't always align with what we see.

The Last Dam Job tips it hat to the final confrontation between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, as the team has to recruit allies to mislead the one adversary who knows all their tricks, and thus we get the return of the master-thief Archie Leach, Parker's "father" and mentor, and the hacker "Chaos," but you guess what I was thinking when these characters were re-introduced. Yes. What a great way it would've been to bring in the Hustle crew.

Anyway, there is a final, well-played confrontation at a dam that is very reminiscent of the scene at Reichenbach Falls (despite the modern scenery) and we have Ford holding his opponents at gunpoint (with his father's revolver) on the edge of the proverbial cliff. The main point of suspense is how he's going to deal with these powerful, relentless opponents and if he will go over the cliff himself by becoming a murderer.

I know I skipped a few episodes, like the wonderful The Hot Potato Job, but it has become a lengthy post as it's and I think these snippets did a sufficient job at conveying my enjoyment over the sustained quality of the stories and characters that have really grown on me. When I first blogged about this series, I thought it was a cut below Hustle, but Leverage upped its game, and now I think they bowed out on equal footing. 

One more season left to go!

12/28/12

Leverage: Let's Go Steal a Show!



"Grifting is the aristocracy of crime."
- Albert Stroller (Hustle)


Back in August of 2011, I was already a fan of the BBC series Hustle when I learned that there was an American counterpart (of sorts) to the series, entitled Leverage, which followed the same basic format – except that everything was done bigger and faster. 


Sometimes bad guys are the only good guys you get

Leverage, for those unfamiliar with the series, follows the exploits of a group of criminals, each a specialist in their own particular field (grifting, hacking, retrieval, etc.), who turned on the lowest of their own kind to provide leverage to their victims. I noticed in the previous post that I made on this series that my main objective, when comparing it to their overseas colleagues, was the lazy plotting – when they're faced with a hurdle, Hardison strokes his keyboard and problem solved! This was hardly a problem in the third season. They were even working long cons in a more traditional way. 

The Jailhouse Job has the brains of the outfit, Nathan Ford, locked up in a privately owned, maximum secured prison that functions as a cover for a money making scheme and they've decide to take down the corrupt warden as they pull Ford from prison. Hacking into the facility won't cut it and we even get to see them map out the prison the old-fashioned way. As a classicist, I could not but recall The Thinking Machine's prison caper in Jacques Futrelle's "The Problem of Cell 13" (1905). You can put a great mind behind bars, but that won't always lull them into inactivity. 

In The Reunion Job, they work what is perhaps a bit of an overly ingenious and emotionally deep con to pry loose a password from a powerful software mogul, but in order to do so, they have to "hack" and "take over" his personality. The Inside Job puts Parker in a tough spot when she botches a solo job and is trapped inside a building with an intelligent security system. They have to con their way in to get Parker out, before the system finds her. The Boost Job and The Ho-Ho-Ho Job featured a high-tech gizmo that briefly brought back that one annoyance from the first season. That said, it was interestingly used in The Boost Job, but too SciFi for my taste.

My favorite episodes of the third season were definitely The Three-Card Monte Job and The Rashomon Job, in which the teams' adversaries are respectively Nate's father, Jimmy Ford, and themselves!

Jimmy Ford is an old-school crook, who did time for one of the families as a favor and wants to get back in the game as a fixer for the big guys. There's just one problem: his son is sitting on his spot and one of them has to go. Nate not only has to go up against the man from whom he got his intellect, but also a hardened criminal who got experience on his side. It's episodes like these that show that the otherwise playful characters have their darker sides and their fair share of emotional baggage. The Inside Job did the same with Parker, perhaps the most popular character of show, reminding the reader that her funny quirks and anti-social behavior have a serious origin. But we also have comedic capers, like The Rashomon Job, in which the team are sharing memories of past jobs and discover that they all tried to steal the same artifact on the same night – five years before they officially met in The Nigerian Job. Their vague memories of that night and their perception of each other, especially Sophie's fake accent (Elliot's version was hilarious), were often very funny.

I thought these episodes were better than the final two-parter, The Big-Bang Job and The San Lorenzo Job, which began at the end of The Jailhouse Job when they were blackmailed by an Italian woman in taking down Damien Moreau, an untouchable crime lord, and most of the jobs they took in this third season was in order to get closer to Moreau (have the writers been reading Detective Conan?). They were not episodes, but the combination of a mob boss and a rogue president of small country didn't felt like the threat it should've been. Like Sterling was in the first two seasons.

That being said, it was a pretty solid season with overall better stories, character development that added to the stories instead of intruding on them and recurring characters (like Agent McSweeten and a rival hacker) that gave the series that real world feel – which is one of the things I love about Detective Conan and the Wolfe Corpus.

 I noticed something of interest: In the third episode, The Inside Job, Richard Chamberlain plays Archie Leach, a legendary thief, which happens to be a very similar role he played in a third season (and also the third) episode of Hustle. A mere coincidence or a cleverly hidden nod to that crew on the other side of the pond? Pity that they'll never meet, now that both series are taken off the air. Ah, the road not taken.

Well, I still have two seasons left to go, but first, I have to get back on track with these regular reviews.

8/11/11

Leverage: First Impressions

"Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys."
Last week, I posted a brief synopsis of the BBC series Hustle, in which a team of conmen take on the undesirable elements of society who abuse their wealth and power – and separate these unquenchable Scrooges from a considerable amount of dough. Overall, it's a superb series with fun characters, cleverly constructed, multi-layered plots and a brisk tong-in-cheek style. So when I read there was an American counterpart to this series, entitled Leverage, I perked up and immediately placed an order for the first season box-set. The first disc just stopped spinning and it left me with mixed feelings. 

We provide... leverage
First of all, the series has the same unpretentious, facetious tone (even when there's a darker, more serious edge to a story) and the characters are every bit as much fun as their European brethrens. The main objective of this series evidently lies in filling up nearly an hour with unadulterated amusement, however, it misses the cleverness and labrythine plotting of Hustle.  

But let us begin with lining up the suspects and identifying them: Timothy Hutton assumes the role of the crew's mastermind, Nathan "Nate" Ford, who was an insurance fraud investigator until his employer refused to cough up the cash needed to provide his son with life saving medical treatment – resulting in the kids untimely passing. The aftermath of this domestic tragedy is that Nate not only lost his son, but also his wife and career until a man hires him to lead a crack-team of criminals to do a job that would cost the insurance company who allowed his son to die a lot of money. But when they're double-crossed they band together instead of dissolving and take down their first mark as a team.

The other members of this band of criminals include the reputable grifster, who occasionally nicks valuable paintings and artifacts, Sophie Devereaux; the martial arts, fire-arms and retrieval expert Eliot Spencer; the cat burglar Parker and last, but not least, computer expert and master hacker Alec Hardison. They pool their unique talents and knowledge to provide leverage to those who've been wronged, harassed and bullied by influential individuals and domineering corporations by leveling the playing field for them – and this often includes retrieving what was taken from them or get what their targets morally owe their clients.

This is where the fact that you're watching an American series smacks you in the face. The marks are bigger, richer and wield more power and therefore the stakes and risks are a lot higher – resulting in more action based story lines and less of the Machiavellian scheming I was expecting to find in the only peer Hustle has. The plotting can be downright lazy at time! When they're faced with a hurdle, Alec simply strokes his keyboard and it's solved (because everything is online); where as the other crew work their fingers to the bone when on a long-con and their fixer never solved the really difficult tasks with such ease. Heck, in one of the episodes he was unable to bypass a seemingly perfect security system and they had to cook-up a clever plan to work around it – creating an impossible theft in the process. 

Admittedly, the last two episodes I watched, The Miracle Job and The Bank Shot Job, showed definite improvement over the first three episodes. The first one has them fabricating two miracles, making a statue of St. Nicholas cry and disappear before a full congregation, in order to save a church and the second came closest to matching their overseas counterparts – when Nate and Sophie land smack in the middle of a hostage situation during one of their cons at a small-town bank. Yeah, putting your main characters in a hostage situation is not a very innovative plot idea, but you can churn out something decent if you know how to spin it and that was definitely the case here. And the fact that this is as much a crime fantasy, which refuses to take itself too seriously, as the other series also helped making this plot work and everyone can cheer when the villain-of-the-week received his comeuppance.

Plot-wise, Leverage is just a cut below Hustle, but not any less enjoyable and I'm already foolishly keeping my fingers crossed for a continental crossover project, in which the crews of Nate Ford and Michael Stone chase the same mark. But not something as a trivial as looting a casino or bank. No, no, no! This has to be something on the same scale as Maurice Leblanc's epic 813 (1910).

Oh, one can but dream...