Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Review: Leverage (Pilot)

There’s nothing more adorable than television crooks, and the new show Leverage has the most adorable crooks I have ever seen. Like Fringe and the US Life on Mars, the available episode of Leverage is a pre-air pilot, presumably released to spark interest. However, where Fringe and Life on Mars have had respectively prompted a mixed reception and an entire remake, Leverage seems to have done what it set out to do.

I’ve been complaining a lot about character development in these new pilots, but Leverage doesn’t have any of the problems that Fringe and Life on Mars exhibited. Instead of fumbling with poor dialogue, the writers of Leverage go (Dean Devlin, John Rogers) directly to the point of the characters, providing a snapshot of a moment that tells you who the person is.

This technique wouldn’t work for every show, but it works for this one because Leverage is a lighthearted, funny show that allows for that kind of thing. However, the characterization doesn’t stop there. The characters act and speak in ways that are consistent with their established personalities, or personalities that become more apparent as the show goes along.

And does it ever go along. If Leverage does have a few weaknesses it gets away with them by being slick, speedy and funny. When we are laughing, we are too delighted with the joke to poke holes in the show. When each scene is just as long as it needs to be, and reasonably fat with content, we are not languishing around, we are on the edge of our seats. A tight show can get away with a few flaws.

All shows have flaws. In Leverage, Beth Riesgraf, playing a character who is supposedly insane, does not quite manage to capture a woman who doesn’t quite have her marbles. She more seems as if she is pretending to be insane to get away with being slightly different. The result is that Riesgraf is almost, but not quite, perfect for the role (there are moments that are great). I feel that if the intention of the writers and directors is to have her be genuinely unhinged, it will not take much to get the actress there.

The other characters, as I mentioned above, are adorable. I’d seen a younger Christian Kane in Angel before, and he was perhaps better in Leverage; his role fit him like a glove. Gina Bellman and Aldis Hodge were great and immediately loveable. Timothy Hutton was immediately charismatic as the ‘Danny Ocean’ character, and when depth was required in an otherwise lighthearted show, depth he had.

My main fear for this show is that it will not manage to keep itself together. I love the lightheartedness of it, and it has great episodic Chuck-like potential, but I’m worried that it will be too happy-go-lucky for its own good. It calls itself a drama, but it was more of a comedy-with-serious-bits. (I forget who said that). Hustle, a great British show which is very, very similar to Leverage (Life on Mars US please take note), also makes good use of the comedy inherent in the situation of criminals, but managed a gravitas that never quite crossed all the way over into heavy drama to lose the show’s greatest strength- the humour. I think Leverage must aim for this same balance between the drama masks or risk becoming all fluff.

Backstory tragedy is not enough. If the final scene of the pilot was an indication, I think the writers might have a chance to go a CSI-style route to emotional growth, exploring the individual characters through their interactions during the episode.

What I want to see is stakes for the characters, even if they are small incremental ones. We already love the characters, now let’s see them get caught, be wrong, and grow while retaining at least some of that adorable glow.

Otherwise, if you’re looking for something with a low emotional commitment to lighten your mood, the pilot of Leverage is an excellent 56-minute ride into the totally unreal, adorable world of television criminals.


Katherine said...

Hi! My name is Katherine. That was a great review! Where abouts did you watch the pilot for this show? Was it screened in America? Because I live in Australia and Beth Riesgraf is one of my favourite actresses so I would very much like to see it. How did you come ascross this pilot?

Teshi said...

Hi Katherine :)

As far as I can tell, it hasn't officially screened on TV anywhere in the world. This show, like most preairs and shows, are available, through various means, over the internet. I'm not sure how it gets there.