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Catching Up on Leverage
February 2, 2009

The problem, for me, with good stuff is that I put it off until I have time to enjoy it. (Mediocre stuff, that’s easy to buzz through without having to pay full attention.) Soon, I’m several weeks/issues/episodes behind. On the plus side, that means I can give myself a mini-marathon. That’s how I found myself watching four episodes of Leverage and looking forward to more.

The Stork Job

A couple is trying to adopt a baby in Serbia, only to be fleeced. I thought this ran the risk of being sappy, especially when it started triggering crazy thief Parker (Beth Riesgraf)’s orphanage memories, but it soon got terrific, with a con involving an overseas low-budget movie production. Hardison (Aldis Hodge) does a great job of balancing out Parker’s crazy by providing balance and sympathy to her sometimes one-note character.

Leverage Stork Job

That setup allowed the crew to take on ridiculous personalities, with Nate (Timothy Hutton) as the overbearing director, Eliot (Christian Kane) as the bankrolling cowboy, and Sophie (Gina Bellman) as actress, of course. It’s the throwaway dialogue bits that I enjoy most. When discussing tracking someone who was a former French fashion model, several of the group turn out to be nostalgic Emmanuelle fans. It’s familiar hearing phrases like “that’s when they rebooted the franchise”, although I wonder when that becamse common enough language to use on a TV show.

The Wedding Job

Leverage Wedding Job 2

Leverage Wedding Job

A more humorous premise this time, as the gang sets themselves up as wedding planners for a mobster’s daughter’s ceremony in order to steal money the crook owes a patsy’s family. Parker and Hardison again set up as a pair of FBI agents, which works well, since they’re both capable of saying almost anything with a poker face, and they’re both the most honest and direct about their thefts, which makes for tasty contrast.

Hardison has become my favorite character. Later, he and tough-guy Eliot are talking about past heartbreak:

Eliot: “She married somebody else.”
Hardison: “Damn, what did you do?”
Eliot: “What did I do? I liberated Croatia.”
Hardison: “Well, see, now, me, I’d’ve just got fat and started up a comic book shop.”

This episode wasn’t as twisty as some of the others, unfortunately, and it succumbs to some obvious jokes — like a ridiculously atrocious bridesmaid dress — but still entertaining. Nicole Sullivan (MadTV) does a good job as the crazy mob wife.

The Mile-High Job

A little sanctimonious, which is the show’s biggest flaw. They’ve helped orphans and wounded war veterans and priests already, for goodness’ sake. Here, they have to find a “smoking gun” document to prove an evil company knew their pesticide caused a little girl’s death. It’s all just setup to get them onto a plane quickly for a locked-room-style episode in a limited setting. I don’t mind — I think constraints of that sort show the characters off well. “The Bank Shot Job” was similar, where Nate and Sophie were taken hostage in a bank robbery along with their mark.

Leverage Mile High Job

Then Sara Rue (Popular, The Big Bang Theory) showed up, as a nervous passenger. She’s a very talented comedian, but Hardison, left on the ground, once again steals the show as a BS-ing management consultant type. Favorite geek moment: Nate’s aliases are all actors who’ve played Doctor Who.

The Snow Job

It’s another timely economic villain: a greedy contractor taking advantage of a hard-working man whose house was foreclosed on. The contractor, played by Sam Anderson, previously worked with Christian Kane on Angel, by the way, while one of the sons is Danny Strong (Jonathan from Buffy). A few too many characters for a clever triple cross; instead, the con’s just about getting the marks to trust them until necessary.

Upcoming

Tuesday night has “The 12-Step Job”, about a swindled charity (timely!) and a broker in rehab. Then, the week after (February 10), comes a nerd-fest: guest stars include Star Trekkers Brent Spiner and Armin Shimmerman (as well as Lauren Holly), and the episode was directed by Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker).

Leverage Juror Job

I’m kind of surprised I’m still enjoying this series, but for every bum episode, there’s a better one. I would gladly buy a DVD set with some juicy extras.

If I’m watching a bunch of TV vigilantes with amazing powers work outside the law to bring justice to those who can’t achieve it on their own, then no wonder I don’t feel like reading many superhero comics any more. This is more rewarding, and even if they don’t have costumes (only disguises), they’re still a great adventure team with interesting personalities and quirks.

14 Responses  
Beau Smith writes:  

LEVERAGE is such a needed TV show in the 10 PM slot. It’s nice to end the evening on a smile instead of the creepy feeling that shows like Law And Order and Criminal Minds leave you with.

Thanks for keeping the word out on LEVERAGE.

Beau

 
David Oakes writes:  

I only wish it was the 10pm slot, which would be 9pm here in the west. But it’s syndicated, so I get it in the 11pm slot.

There is something to be said about begining your day on an up note, but it doesn;t work when that up note comes at 12:01 am…

 
Johanna writes:  

Syndicated? It runs on TNT. That’s not syndicated.

Didn’t you have some thoughts on Tim Hutton’s character as Batman, David? I wish you’d share them.

 
Tommy Raiko writes:  

“…and ["The 12-Step Job"] episode was directed by Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker).”

Frakes also directed the wedding episode, and even made a cameo in an earlier episode–might’ve been “The Snow Job”–as a guy sitting next to Timothy Hutton in a waiting room noticing Hutton’s apparent talking to himself (as he was issuing orders to the team through their communication system.) Frakes didn’t have any lines, but did the confused/annoyed expression real well.

I’m enjoying LEVERAGE quite a bit. There’s a lot of good stuff in each episode, but not every episode manages to pull all its good elements together to make a perfect show. But there’s a lot of good stuff in the mix. Plus, TNT has pretty clearly been airing episodes out of order, which isn’t doing the show any favors as some character arcs (particularly the Nate/Sophie relationship) are a little wonky.

Still, it’s a good, fun caper show at a time where we all need a good, fun caper, so I’ll keep tuning in!

 
Graeme McMillan writes:  

To be really geeky, when Nate’s aliases are all Doctor Who actors, Sophie’s alias is another Who shout-out; she’s called Sarah Jane.

And, as much as I love Leverage – it’s the A-Team all over again! – I have to admit: If they got rid of all the other characters and retitled it “The Hardison And Elliott Hour,” I’d love it even more.

 
Tim O'Shea writes:  

I really hope they get a second season and that Rogers is able to get James Garner to guest star. I love the Rockford Files vibe to the show.

 
Beau Smith writes:  

Leverage has been upped for another season. Good news all the way around. I’d love to see James Garner on an episode.

BEAU

 
David Oakes writes:  

[Reposted from e-mail, because Twitter is too small.]

See, this is what I mean. The question “Is ‘Leverage’ a superhero story?” may seem like a Twitter to you, but by asking the question there you limit the pool of responses.

We have a man who was driven by the loss of his family to bring justice through extra-legal means to those who cannot get it any other way. He has collected around him the world’s greatest hacker, acrobat, and fighter. And he loves a woman who wants to do good things, but whose only real talent lies in a less savory path. The only thing that keeps Leverage from being a Bat-morphism is that Hutton has feet of clay, as evidenced by his drinking. (He is ultimately the hero, and will rise to the challenge, but rarely does Batman mope. And when he does, he’s not Batman.)

But ultimately I have to disagree that Leverage is a Superhero story. Yes, vigilante activities towards pro-social ends. Yes, abilities far beyond those of normal men, if only normal abilities taken to cartoonish extremes. Yes, disguises. But it’s that last one that does it. They may put on a disguise, but they do not live on. They do not compartmentalize the person who exists in society with the person who acts outside of it. Admittedly it’s only because – as far as we see – they live outside of society as well. Perhaps if in the second season they move to the suburbs and take on “secret identities” that they have to hide from their neighbors, it would become a Superhero story, like Chuck.

As it stands, Leverage is a Robin Hood story: A good man is taken out of society through no act of his own, and rather than become a criminal he uses his outlaw status to bring order and justice to the society that rejected him.

Put that in your Twitter and smoke it.

 
Johanna writes:  

So in your opinion, superheroes have to have secret identities? I’ve never liked that concept very much. While it’s potent, it has all kinds of unsavory connotations about lying to people, which conflicts with the traditional definition of hero. Taken to its extreme, your criteria seems to mean that superheroes must be split personalities.

 
David Oakes writes:  

The Secret Identity is the defining exemplar of what is most traditionally understood as “The Superhero”. Most people focus on the name, insisting that they have to have “Powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men” (throwing out ovious superheroes like Batman) or that they must act as Heroes and nothing but (throwing out most of Marvel and all modern superheroes). But while the Argonauts and others fit these ad hoc definitions, few would truly feel they are Superheroes.

The watershed moment for Superheroes in the public consciousness was Superman. But it was not the fact that he had super powers that did this. (Though it undoubtedly helped.) Rather it was the fact that people thought Clark Kent didn’t. On the surface he appeared just like everyone else, perhaps less so. But deep down inside he had the power to do anything he wanted. The opinions of other people did not define him, because he knew the truth about himself.

It is that “Hero within”, the goal of the “Hero’s Journey” to overuse the phrase, that is the “Superhero”. The hero who could be you, the hero you could be.

 
David Oakes writes:  

[Continued for brevity]

Does the Secret Identity mean that the idea of a Superhero is built on a lie?

Well, yes.

The Superhero “hides his light under a bushel” and does not show the world his true face. Perhaps they do it out of fear of reprisal, going back to the Pimpernel. Perhaps they do it for a sense of privacy, a place where they can go and not have to be “on” all the time, like Superman. And yes, perhaps they do it to protect themselves from the consequences of their actions, as is often assumed about every “masked vigilante”. If the stories of Superheroes are “Myths of Power”, it is probably a good thing that they don;t have easy answers, that some of the consequences make us feel uncomfortable, so that we will keep striving to improve. (It torture OK as long as it is “for a good cause”? And as long as it is “Jack Bauer” that does it, not us?)

But ultimately it is about fear and loss. Finding the “Hero Within” is hard enough. Being willing to present that innermost self to the world at large is even harder. And what happens when we do reach that hidden potential, and take hold of our power? Nietzche’s Ubermensch was not the super-fascist of popular culture, but rather a Man that had “Gone Over”, had trancended the world of ordinary mean for something greater. But beyond being “Beyond Good and Evil”, the key was that the Over-Man no longer concerned himself with the lives of ordinary men, he was above that.

How many of us would want to be Superman if it meant being the only person like us? If it meant giving up everything you have now, all your friends and family, to dive into a brave new world with none of our security blankets intact? It is a leap of faith larger than the tallest building.

Is the Hollywood Celebrity who puts on a wig and glasses to go shopping at the corner store “lying”? Or the King who dresses like a peasant so that he can walk amongst his subjects without preconception? Sure they are! But can you blame them? Ultimately the “wish fulfillment” of the Superhero is not having the power to do anything you want, but also the power to have a normal life at the same time.

 
Johanna writes:  

I always thought that the archetype, Superman, wasn’t about valuing the normal life, but about “if she only knew the REAL me, she’d love me.” It’s about pretending to yourself to be more than you are — instead of the geeky nobody, you can change the world. In that way, Superman has more in common with Walter Mitty than a celebrity hiding from paparazzi.

 
David Oakes writes:  

But unlike Walter Mitty, Clark Kent’s daydreams are real. He could escape into being the brave ship captain, the champion boxer, the Superman 24/7. He could drop the charade of Clark Kent and have Lois in an instant. But like an heiress in a Screwball Comedy who pretends to be a poor waitress or maid, Kal-L wants to be loved for being the person Clark Kent and not just for the “wealth” of being Superman.

 
Leverage: The First Season » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] The Wedding Job — A more light-hearted take, where the gang pretend to be wedding planners to steal money [...]

 

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