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"We provide ... Leverage."


Karen H has been talking about the TV show Leverage for a while; I finally watched an episode while visiting Michael & Lisa last month. It was fun.

That first one I saw was the most recent to be aired, at the midpoint of season 2, but there's little enough necessary backstory that it was easy to dive into it.

The opening credits do a great job of telling you everything you need to know with a few quick images and a few words. In essence, the show's about a team of criminals—labeled in the opening credits as hitter, hacker, grifter, thief, and mastermind—who rob from immoral rich people (who aren't going to be sufficiently punished by the law), and give to deserving poor people, generally the victims of the rich bad guys.

When I got home from Boston, I discovered that TNT is broadcasting all the season 2 episodes, so I've now seen two or three episodes from the beginning of season 2, and enjoyed them as well—one was laugh-out-loud funny, the others were entertainingly fluffy light diversions. The plots are often kinda silly (more so in season 2, from what I've seen) and full of holes, but I'm mostly succeeding in suspending disbelief. The series isn't Deep, but it's fun mind candy. And it has some nice moments of emotional engagement and/or heartstring-tugging, and the characters are largely very likeable.

Now that I'm done watching Gilmore Girls, I wanted another show to half-watch in the background while I perform the semi-mindless task of entering stories into the database. Last night I had about fifty stories to enter, and no new episodes of Leverage to watch on TiVo, so I had the idea of looking up the series on hulu.com and starting to watch from the beginning of season 1.

It turns out that, although it's not easy to find them, the season-1 episodes are listed on Hulu—but they're listed as being on the TNT website. I followed the link for the first episode, "The Nigerian Job"; the TNT website told me that I could only view the episode on a Windows machine.

Nothing daunted, I went upstairs and booted the iMac into Windows. Ha! Take that, evil minions of DRM!

But when I went to the TNT website, they didn't list the season-1 episodes.

So I went back to Hulu, searched again (you have to search for excerpts, then sort by air date, then hover over items until you find the right episodes), found the link, and followed it—and it turns out the season-1 episodes are on the TNT website, they're just not listed on TNT's list.

And then I clicked Play, and discovered I needed to download some kind of upgraded Microsoft DRM thing.

And then I tried watching the first episode—and it was all in shades of blue and green.

After half a dozen attempts to fix that by doing things like relaunching the browser and restarting my computer, I read the TNT FAQ, and followed a link to a MS help page, where it said to try turning off video acceleration. So I did that, and the normal colors came back!

But full-screen mode didn't work.

So I've now watched the first three episodes of season 1 in a medium-sized window in Windows on my iMac, while entering stories into the database on my MacBook.

(Episode 2: The Homecoming Job. Episode 3: The Two Horse Job.)

Not, perhaps, ideal viewing conditions. (I just discovered that the show is available as an instant-watch download from Netflix, so I may watch the rest of it there.) Nonetheless, the show remains entertaining and charming, and I'm liking season 1 better than season 2—so far, the first season seems to be more often funny, and I like the background season-long story arc that I think they're building toward. The episode I watched tonight, episode 3 of season 1, introduced an antagonist, Sterling, who's exactly what the show needs, and I like the actor significantly more in this role than as Romo Lampkin on BSG.

I've always liked heist/con movies. The "elaborate and improbable plan that must be executed perfectly in spite of all kinds of accidents and contingencies"; the things that inevitably go wrong; and then either the grifters have to scramble and improvise to fix things, or it turns out that they were one step ahead of the opposition all along. When it's done well, I find it very appealing, but I rarely see it done well.

And I imagine that the constraints of a weekly TV series make it nearly impossible to construct a completely airtight con plot every week. But I think the Leverage writers do a pretty good job, and the characters and humor are enough to paper over the gaps for me.

(One specific suspension-of-disbelief item: at the end of most episodes, the team gives a whole lot of money to their client. So far, there's been no attempt to address how the client gets away with using all that money without, for example, attracting the attention of the IRS. I'm treating this as a genre convention, which lets me mostly ignore the implausibility of it.)


You might find showrunner/co-creator John Rogers' blog at http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/ of interest. In particular, he'll have an open thread on each episode, then later respond to many of the comments giving some extra info from the writers' perspective.

Leverage is the new A-Team! Amusing, fluffy, and utterly unbelievable plots.

Interesting; I never saw The A-Team. Was it worth watching?

I've been thinking of Leverage as kind of like what Mission: Impossible would have been like if it had been a comedy. Now I see that Wikipedia says the A-Team also drew some of its inspiration from M:I:

Tartikoff pitched the series to Cannell as a cross between The Dirty Dozen, Mission Impossible, Seven Samurai [...], Mad Max and Hill Street Blues, with "Mr. T driving the car."

Jed, I might have mentioned to you that I started watching Leverage so I could understand John Rogers's blog better. Some of the relevant posts are tagged appropriately. Sample.

And the answer on getting victims cash without raising the IRS's eyebrows: "Hardison's primary (if visually uninteresting) skill set is moving money around and working within the confines of the modern financial system. He's got the clients covered in complicated lease-to-own agreements."

Sorry to Tom and Sumana—your comments got tagged for moderation, and I didn't notice ’til now because comments here never get tagged for moderation any more so I never check the queue.

I'm amused that both of you linked to John Rogers's blog, especially because someone did that on Facebook in response to this entry as well. Good blog; thanks for the links!

Sumana: why were you reading his blog before watching Leverage? Were you a fan of his comics, or knew him through geek circles, or ... ?

Re the IRS thing: yeah, I figured Hardison was doing something along those lines (or even just straightforwardly hacking IRS computers), but I think it still requires a fair tad bit of handwaving. Like, in the second episode of season 1, a hospital ends up with a truck full of cash, and a bunch of people see it. I'm not sure how that would be dealt with as a complicated lease-to-own agreement. (Part of the point of the cash was that it was untraceable—but we're talking a hospital here, not a private individual, and it was a very large amount of money.)

Anyway, I'm mostly happy to just write it off as a genre convention; Hardison's leet hacking skills are sometimes indistinguishable from magic anyway.

If I recall correctly, I stumbled upon Rogers's blog back when he was doing more political posts, and then I kept reading, and then he started talking about this Leverage thing, and I found myself thinking, "I'd like to be able to understand all this behind-the-scenes stuff better" and started watching the show.

It is indeed handwaving to say "Hardison's taking care of it," and I think my suspension of disbelief broke at the shipping-container-full-of-currency reveal. I believe the writer's room says wrt such things, "Don't stop the fun train!"

No, I don't think the A-Team is worth watching. At the time it was something, but that time has passed. But the structure is similar: (1) both shows have "bad" guys who are actually good, (2) both teams solve problems for people beyond the help of the law and the normal structures of society, (3) basically no one gets hurt despite the presence of some fighting, (3a) if rule(3) gets broken, it will be one of the series regulars who gets hurt, (4) the leader is deeply flawed as an individual, but a brilliant strategist, and (5) half the time you want to cry out "oh come on!" at the screen. I do that the A-Team plots were tightly worked out and more-or-less good, and that they were to some extent more realistically pitched in their unreality, but the dialogue was not what I would call crisp, while that seems exactly the right word for Leverage. And I do like dialogue.

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