Thursday, February 14, 2013

Leverage Season One

I imagine I'm like a lot of people, in that I first discovered Leverage when it was in repeats on Ion instead of during it's original runs on TNT. Which is a shame, and says something, I think, about how much TNT must have advertised it. So it's a bit of a shame that I'm only getting into the show now that it's been cancelled after five seasons, but I think it's still worth looking at so that people can check out the DVDs.

Which I think is a very good idea, because Leverage is a very good show. I had been watching episodes here and there when they were in repeats, but finally we sat down to start renting the discs in order and watching the show the right way. While it's actually not that hard to catch up and know what's going on in any given episode, the show does benefit from being watched properly.

Which is kind of refreshing actually, American television seems to have gotten itself into this binary where either a show is like a simple sitcom where nothing changes too much and there's no overall continuity between one episode and the next OR it's a Lost-style puzzle where if you miss one episode you've missed out on so much important story that you have no idea what's going on. I miss the in between stuff, and Leverage is perfect for that particular problem of mine.

If you haven't caught the rerunning marathons, the story is basically that a former good guy and insurance investigator has teamed up with a band of professional thieves. He leads them on complicated con jobs and heists, not for money for themselves, but to help people who have no other course of action. His rationalization is he picks up where the law leaves off. How well that rationalization works for him and those around him becomes a pretty good plot point during season one.

Now the one big problem with season one is that the order of the episodes is a mess. I've not seen something this messed up outside of cartoons in a long time. It aired in one order, it was shot in another, it was put on the dvds in a third configuration, and it was intended to be a completely different way. At least that's the best I can glean from Wikipedia, because it becomes glaringly obvious that the episodes on the DVD aren't in the proper order. Character development seems to bounce all over the place, and the relationship between Nate and Sophie especially suffers. In the end, I think the reason I'm not buying into their relationship and their chemistry even as I watch season two is because season one was so messed up on the DVDs. I believed it more when I was watching whatever random episode was on in syndication.

Every episode of the show follows a pretty specific formula, but instead of becoming boring and predictable, this makes the show more fun. You can see some of the plot twists coming, once you know how the story usually goes, but you still enjoy the ride. The con always goes bad, but in a way that the team expected and that was always part of their plan from the beginning, which you find out about in flashbacks at the end when Nate explains to the mark exactly how they got to them.

The first episode, The Nigerian Job, is a great pilot for the series. It sets up the characters, it gives Nate his motivation, it shows you all of their special skills in memorable ways, and it sets up the formula as well. It also sets up something else that's great about Leverage, the talent of the guest stars. It's hard to run a series where every episode has to rely on the talent of the guest stars, and I've seen some really fail on that front, but Leverage doesn't.

Now, one thing you have to do to love this show is let go of a need for realism because there are a few things where you're just going to be too confused to let it go otherwise. Especially The Mile High Job, where the team foils an evil plot while they're all on a plane. Almost nothing about that episode really holds up to much scrutiny (especially the fight in the plane's bathroom, they try to make it look small but yeah right). But you let it go because Hardison is so hilarious that it's okay.

Which is really what the show is about, the characters on the team. To be honest, I find the main protagonist the least interesting of the bunch. His backstory is compelling but the "my fatal flaw is being so depressed I've become an alcoholic" bit doesn't really do anything for me. Parker, Hardison, and Elliot are the stars of the show and their antagonistic friendships and complicated personalities shine from the very beginning. Parker is an especially well done character, because they've managed to take somebody with some large and obvious problems and managed to not just play it for laughs or melodrama, but for a realistic mix of both that fits the tone of the show and still takes her seriously while making you like her.

They play a bit in the first season with an overall bad guy in Nate's former co-worker, Jim Sterling, and he's interesting enough (and played by the always enjoyable Mark Sheppard) but he doesn't really become too strong a plot thread which I'm thankful for. We needed more time to see the team enjoying themselves and getting good at what they do before they're ready for a real nemesis.

The first season obviously ended in a way that shows that the creators weren't sure if they would get picked up for another season, and it's actually pretty touching and a good place to end, if it had to be that way. But I'm glad there's more, because there's too many fun cons for them to pull and too many annoying untouchable bad guys for them too take down.

If you liked the A-Team at all, then you absolutely need to watch Leverage. If you have even a slight interest in heists and complicated con jobs, then it's also your kind of show. But if you just also enjoy shows with good, complicated characters then you really should give it a try. There's five seasons now, so time to get started.