Since I began to tire of Burn Notice and be disappointed by Person of Interest, I looked around for another series to get my weekly vigilante fix. As usual, I wanted something like the old A-Team, and I had also seen the British series Hustle on my PBS station before it disappeared. The writing on that show was excellent, and I liked the idea of a conman who was specifically targeting other people who prey on ordinary citizens. Mickey Bricks seemed to have a conscience even if he stole from rich people, and his team was mostly likeable.
So, after hearing recommendations that Leverage was an Americanized version of Hustle, I began recording episodes of it from TV. Sadly, it was not as good as Hustle.
Whereas in Hustle, everyone is an experienced grifter who can con a mark, in Leverage, the team is more specialized and divided up. Only one member is a grifter, another's a hitter (beating up people with his nearly superhuman might), another's a computer hacker, and Parker is given the vague term "thief." It seems to mean that she's a pickpocket, jewel thief, safe-cracker, and explosives expert, who enjoys doing daredevil stunts in harnesses. For so much stuff she does, they ought to give her a better job title than mere "thief." Finally there's the mastermind of the operation, their Mickey Bricks; his name is Nathan Ford or Nate. He's apparently a former insurance investigator who became an alcoholic after the death of his son, and so he assembles the team of thieves to get revenge on greedy businesses and ultimately the insurance CEO who refused to approve life-saving treatment for Nate's son.
I haven't seen the pilot yet, but what I can gather from the other episodes is that his team have tons of money, enough to retire, but in order to keep busy and do good, they take on poor clients who've been victimized. Nate devises a con or some other scheme to steal back things or get justice for their clients. Nate does have some moving moments, especially in his protectiveness of his team and his finally admitting in the season 2 finale that he too is a thief just like the rest of his team; he's not an honest citizen merely using them as tools to enact his Robin Hood fantasy. Unfortunately his grief for his son and his alcoholism are treated in a cliche-ridden, heavy-handed way. I was glad when the flashbacks to his son's death stopped. I also did like the insight that Nate's father was a loan shark, and his son learned the way he operated.
Nate's love interest Sophie, the grifter of the team, often tries to use the con jobs as times to inappropriately psychoanalyze Nate. I know she's in love with him, but it gets strange when she's alternately jealous, then suddenly talking him into dating some other woman. She insists that Nate is getting too cocky in his schemes and is obsessed with control. Heal yourself first, lady, before you lecture him.
Sometimes I really like the episodes and other characters, but at other times the formula is grating and I'm distracted by the implausible cons. Unlike in Hustle, when I could believe most of the details took place, Leverage plays fast and loose with reality.
Then there's the blatantly shitty continuity. One episode about a diamond heist, "The Iceman Job", has the stolen diamonds magically appear in an open safe, when the villains were sure it was empty. We assume that Nate's team, specifically Parker, must have planted the diamonds there. But when? Nate's team weren't told which safe they had to open until the very last minute, and Parker didn't have time to crack the box before she hid. Eliot specifically says to Hardison that it's Hardison's fault that Parker never had time to open that box. We are shown that Hardison didn't open the box either before Parker grabbed him to leave. So who the freaking fuck opened the box and planted that evidence? And at the end of the episode, Nate gives the client a briefcase of money, and the only explanation we get is a flashback of Hardison stealing a diamond and replacing it with cubic zirconia. I already guessed that he stole it; I'm not freaking stupid. But when did he or Nate convert that diamond into loads of cash? The entire episode we are told that large-carat diamonds are impossible to sell if you can't get rid of the laser-inscribed ID number. Nate's team don't have a real laser to get rid of the ID number. So how the fuck did they sell that stolen diamond and get cash? As I said, shitty continuity.
Then again, I do like the constant references to real scandals and problems in America such as greedy insurance companies, loan sharks profiting off the fact that banks won't loan money to regular people anymore, and Bernie Madoff-types ripping off investors. I also appreciated seeing Wil Wheaton guest star as a hacker named Chaos or Kobayashi Maru. Great geek humor, and they didn't even over-explain it.
I'll keep watching the show because I still need a weekly fix of amiable vigilantes righting wrongs for deserving victims, but I reserve the right to roll my eyes at the bad parts.