Successfully managing a “caper-driven” television show is one of the biggest challenges in the industry. Unlike the typical police or medical procedural, a caper show needs to be inventitive. Yet it also has to be believable enough to not seem like a gimmick. It requires the skills of an ensemble who can balance their acting on that fine line between comedy and action. It’s a difficult combination of ingredients, which helps to explain why it has so seldom been successful on television.
TNT’s “Leverage” has been one of the genre’s rare hits, and that success is due in no small part to the nicely crafted writing of the show. Over its two first two seasons, “Leverage” has managed to be clever without being manipulative. The characters have grown and changed, but in ways that seem real and organic to the show.
Season three kicks off on a new night with two back-to-back episodes. While TNT only provided one of the episodes for review, it’s enough to convince me that this is going to be another crackjack season.
At the end of last season Nate Ford (Timothy Hutton) was headed to prison, after he and his group of Robin Hoods in training ran afoul of an undercover FBI operation. Nate sacrificed himself to make sure everyone else stayed free. And as loyal viewers might imagine, they’re not inclined to let him stay in prison for long.
“The Jailhouse Job” begins with a jailhouse visit to Nate. Grifter and actress hopeful Sophie Deveraux (Gina Bellman) informs Nate that they have a plan to free him. But Nate refuses, arguing that he deserves to be there and that they should all move on without him. But it isn’t long before Nate stumbles across a scandal at the prison. And before you can “corrupt warden,” there’s a plan in place to spring Nate, uncover the criminals and punish the wicked.
The escape plan is clever, and while it’s not a surprise that it eventually works, there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot. Including the introduction of an evil bombshell heiress (played by George Clooney’s real-life sweetheart Elisabetta Canalis) who has her own plans for Nate and his crew.
One of the joys of having watched “Leverage” from the beginning is that the various characters have slowly grown and changed over the two seasons. Bellman’s Sophie has grown from a self-centered scam artist to someone who is more comfortable in her own skin. One running joke in the season premiere is that she has revealed her real name to everyone except Nate. She says he hasn’t earned the right to know it, and it’s an indication of the inner strength she’s gathered during her time with Nate.
Another character that has grown impressively during the two season is Beth Resigraf’s Parker. She began as a woman who is great at breaking into places. But has no concept of social cues or the day-to-day friendship. Parker has awkwardly found a home with Nate’s group and there are some hints that a relationship may be brewing between her and the smooth-talking hacker Alec (played by Aldis Hodge).
I could go on about the growth exhibited by Alec and good-looking tough guy Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane). But to save space I’ll just say that there isn’t one weak link in the cast. “Leverage” has one of the best ensemble casts on television and their chemistry has only gotten stronger over the show’s run.
Some TV critics insist on making the cable vs. broadcast comparison. But “Leverage” isn’t just one of the best dramas on cable. It’s one of the best dramas on television.
Welcome back, Nate and crew.
“Leverage” premieres on TNT on Sunday, June 20th, 2010.