October 6th, 2008 | brainjuice
Full disclosure: the guy behind LEVERAGE, John Rogers, is a good friend of mine who made the pilot for GLOBAL FREQUENCY. However, because he loves his good friends insufficiently, he hasn’t sent me a copy and I therefore had to find the first episode of his new show LEVERAGE on a place for Nefarious Types on The Internets.
LEVERAGE is a Caper Show. The first episode introduces us to The Best Insurance Investigator Ever, who’s now on the skids after the insurance company wouldn’t pay for his dying kid’s treatment. The excellent Saul Rubinek (in, I have to say, a slightly underwritten role) plays an aircraft designer who wants The Best Insurance Investigator Ever to oversee a gang of criminals engaged to steal back his designs from a ruthless competitor. He’s got the thieves, he says: all he needs now is one honest man. And the designer uses the memory of his dead son to emotionally blackmail the last honest man into the gig.
The team are a Web 2.0-age scammer who wants to be cool but is caught using his ill-gotten cash to enact his Slave Girl Leia fantasies, a soft-spoken and bespectacled young guy who is actually The Most Violent Man Ever, and a pretty young thief whose main character trait is that she’s utterly insane. Later on, the wonderful Gina Bellman is introduced as the Queen of the Grifters — there’s a terrific short flashback showing how they first met, possibly the first “meet cute” scene involving the principals shooting each other.
(And the flashback scene introducing Parker, as a child, is funny as hell and reminiscent to me of the flashback-to-childhood scenes I did in NEXTWAVE.)
The trick to this sort of story is in the reversal, which is deceptively hard to write. The first big reversal comes when this team, put together for one night only, is brought back together by the designer, ostensibly to get paid, but in actuality to be killed. And so the one-night-only team has to stick together long enough to get paid and get out from under the police interest put on them when they survived the murder attempt. But that’s barely the first fifteen minutes of the hour-long show, and a clever script keeps them coming, to a climax that is scam, counter-scam and re-scam. The hour sags once at most — in all other respects, the pace is up, the lines are funny and the situations are smart. And Steve Jobs owes them money for the tricks they pull with an iPhone.
It’s all pretty tongue-in-cheek stuff — although I think the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE-inspired theme music is maybe one put-on too far — but it never loses sight of its simple aim, which is to entertain the shit out of you for an hour. It doesn’t sentimentalise, it doesn’t fall into the usual American tv trope of making it all about family, it doesn’t treat you like you’re stupid and it offers you no platitudes. It just asks you to go along with the ride. And the funniest thing, to me, is that the ending sets up the cast as a team of criminal Equalizers. Hence the title. “We provide… leverage.”
It airs on TNT in the US in December, I think. It’s a lot of fun. You should watch it.