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TV Waffle - Leverage (2008-2012)

A look at the show which followed the exploits of a team of high-tech crooks.

'Leverage' was a series produced for Turner Network Television (TNT), a cable channel in the United States. The series premiered on December 7th, 2008 and ran for five seasons, ending on Christmas day of 2012. The series is fairly unique in that it doesn’t fit easily into any standard television format and the only other series I know of comparable to it is the British series 'Hustle'. 'Leverage' is about a crew of criminals, who have since decided to become a bunch of modern day Robin Hoods, under the leadership of a former insurance investigator named Nate Ford. Perhaps the best description of the series is the tag line used in the credits “The rich and powerful, they take what they want. We steal it back for you.”
The heart of the show is the characters themselves. The team leader and mastermind is Nate Ford (Timothy Hutton).He was an insurance investigator who quit his job when the company he worked for refused to approve a medical treatment for his son that ultimately cost the child his life. Nate was apparently very good at his job as all of the other members of the crew knew who he was before they first worked together. Eric Hardison (Aldis Hodge) is a hacker extraordinaire. If you don’t want to risk him tampering with your computer, don’t connect it to the internet. Elliot (Christian Kane) is the team’s hitter who, as he says on a regular basis, doesn’t like guns. This may seem like a bit of a limitation for an enforcer but he demonstrates repeatedly that this is not the case for him. Then there is the team’s thief Parker (Beth Riesgraf).Parker had an “interesting” childhood as shown through a number of flashbacks throughout the series. Elliot is fond of saying to her “There’s something wrong with you”, and he could very well be right, as the question of her mental stability is never really answered. Last, and most certainly not least, is the grifter Sophie (not her real name), played very ably by Gina Bellman. While Sophie is a horrible actress on stage, this talent completely reverses when she is pulling a con, which Nate likes to describe as her “true stage”. While these characters are pulled together for a job which they all agree will be a one time affair, the reward to their collective egos for doing what they know to be the right thing proves too alluring and they end up forming a more permanent arrangement to continue with these sorts of jobs. The fact that they end up filthy stinking rich at the end of the pilot does little to hinder that decision either.
'Leverage' is a largely episodic program with the standard continuing character development happening throughout the series. In the third and fourth season, they do introduce a season spanning story arc but there are still stand alone episodes in each season as well. This makes the series more accessible than the increasingly common full story arc seasons we get in other series. It also makes the series easy to revisit as you can pretty much throw on any episode without having to worry about having to remember where you are in a major story line.
Each episode starts with the crew being approached by an individual who has been wronged in some way. This can range from something as simple as a church being threatened by an unscrupulous land developer to something as big as a corrupt congressman.At this point the crew will dig into information on their target and decides what sort of scam they are going to use to help their client which often, but not always, equals money. While the formula is the same the series regularly finds ways to turn the dynamic on its head. There are enough twist episodes, or twists within episodes, to keep you guessing and, as a result, you are always guaranteed a pretty wild ride along the way.
One of the other features I love about 'Leverage' is the in-jokes for fans of genre television. These usually involve 'Doctor Who' but have also covered 'Star Trek' and 'Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy' at times. In one season, a 'Warehouse 13' reference was not only thrown in but also provided a bit of foreshadowing with regard to that season’s finale. You don’t lose anything from the story if you miss these throw away references but the extra effort to put them there in the first place demonstrates how much the show goes that extra little bit for its audience.
The series ran for five seasons of varying lengths but averaged around 15 episodes per season. This variability in the length of each season hints at the somewhat dismissive attitude TNT seemed to have regarding 'Leverage'. Being a TNT original series, one would think that, like most cable channels with original series, they would put a good deal of effort into ensuring their series success. This seemed to not be the case with 'Leverage' from the beginning as TNT decided to air the episodes out of their intended order. If you buy or rent the DVD set for season one, just watch them in the order on the discs but, if you look at the dates of broadcast given in the index, or consult IMDB, you will notice that they were shown in a completely different order. Due to the more episodic nature of the series this was not a deal breaker but it did lead to some weird out-of-sequence moments, especially with Elliot’s personal history. I’m also wondering how aggressively TNT advertised the series as I didn’t even know it existed until I saw an advertisement for season four at a movie theater, and I can safely state that I was probably a member of the show’s target audience. To its credit, the series managed to still find enough of an audience to make five seasons and those audience members that I do meet tend to speak as highly of the series as I do. Even though the show was cancelled somewhat unexpectedly, the final episode is an actual series finale. Shown on Christmas Day of 2012, I found it to be a perfect holiday gift for the loyal fans of the series.
In short, if, like most people, you have never heard of 'Leverage' before, it is definitely worth your time to check it out. I’ll warn you in advance though, that you may very well find yourself with a five season time commitment, so plan accordingly. 'Leverage' is one of those rare shows for me that I like to describe as a “comfort show”. This is a show that I will just put in the DVD player when I find myself in need of some pure, unbridled entertainment and relaxation. It is my sincere hope that anyone who tries 'Leverage' has the same reaction to this amazingly fun series.

Nick Sauer
For more from Nick, visit his site 'Fantastic Television'.