Fox // 2011 // 792 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // August 4th, 2012
Summer used to be the black hole of TV -- a wasteland of reruns and burn-offs that we might watch literally just to have something on. About 10 years ago, that began to change. First, it was Survivor and the ensuing glut of reality programming, which was cheap to produce and allowed networks to air something new during the summer months. As TV execs realized that audiences were actually turning their TVs on in the summer, they began to experiment with narrative programming. Not surprisingly, the basic cable networks were ahead of the curve on this: USA with Burn Notice and Psych and TNT with The Closer and, eventually, Leverage.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: in its best moments, Leverage is perfect summer programming. It's light, it's fun. It can be funny. It has a good ensemble of colorful characters who play off one another well. It's the kind of show that doesn't require a huge emotional investment, but rather is something you can drop in on, see what elaborate and entertaining con the team is pulling off this week and then pretty much forget about it. It's the kind of show that is exactly what it intends to be, and there's not always enough of that around in popular entertainment these days.
So for three seasons, I've enjoyed Leverage a whole lot. What is it about Season Four that's different?
Here are the episodes that make up Leverage: The Fourth Season:
* "The Long Way Down Job"
The Leverage team has to help track down a missing mountain climber somewhere in Alaska; a discovery is made that the team is being bugged and spied on by someone.
* "The Ten L'il Grifters Job"
The team takes part in a Murder Mystery dinner, but things change when someone is actually murdered -- and Nate is the chief suspect. Guest starring William Russ (Boy Meets World).
* "The 15 Minutes Job"
Nate and the team go after a crooked PR consultant in the hopes of exposing him and taking him don.
* "The Van Gogh Job"
The team relives a WWII romance while trying to track down a missing Van Gogh painting. Guest starring Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon).
* "The Hot Potato Job"
Sophie goes undercover at an agricultural company to help steal a genetically engineered potato.
* "The Carnival Job"
Eliot goes head to head with an old foe when the team goes undercover at a carnival and their client's daughter is kidnapped.
* "The Grave Danger Job"
The team goes after a funeral home director who is selling the identities of the deceased, but Hardison winds up in desperate need of rescue when he gets too close.
* "The Boiler Room Job"
When the team goes after a group of famous con artists, it becomes easier to just steal from the mark than to pull a scam; Nate learns who has been bugging Leverage.
* "The Cross My Heart Job"
Leverage has to steal an entire airport in order to intercept a heart that's on its way to be transplanted into a sick teenager.
* "The Queen's Gambit Job"
The team is tasked to travel to Dubai and steal a nuclear device during a chess tournament.
* "The Experimental Job"
Hardison and Eliot go undercover when the team infiltrates a university and investigates the experiments taking place in the psychology department.
* "The Office Job"
The team goes undercover as efficiency experts at a greeting card company to take down its CEO, but has to work around a documentary crew filming in the office.
* "The Girls' Night Out Job"
Sophie, Parker and the returning Tara (Jeri Ryan, Star Trek: Voyager) investigate a handsome stranger who might be manipulating a friend.
* "The Boys' Night Out Job"
While the girls are out on the town, Nate, Hardison and Eliot help out an old friend who is caught up with some dangerous drug dealers.
* "The Lonely Hearts Job"
The team brushes up on their charm and dating skills when they go undercover at a ritzy East Coast charity auction; things heat up with Latimer (Leon Rippy, Kuffs).
* "The Gold Job"
Hardison steps up and takes charge of the team during a scam to take down some gold dealers.
* "The Radio Job"
Nate's father, Jimmy Ford (Tom Skerrit, Poltergeist III) returns on a job commissioned by Latimer, but it appears to be a set up.
* "The Last Dam Job"
Nate puts it all on the line in a last stand with Latimer that may end with one or both of them dead.
See, it's not that I don't enjoy Leverage anymore -- I do -- but some of its charms are beginning to dissipate. The show itself is trying to evolve and become more serialized. Darker. To have more at stake. That's all well and good -- if it were any other show, I would probably be standing up and cheering -- but it's not the kind of thing that Leverage does best. There's a double-edged sword at work with a show like this; as much as you don't want it to just settle into a "job of the week" formula for fear that it will become completely repetitive (and, yes, the show is guilty of that from time to time), it's a formula that works. When season four plays to that formula, it's a great deal of fun. Even some of the character advancement works; Parker and Hardison continue their very sweet, near-unspoken courtship, I'm amazed at the show's willingness to delay gratification on this relationship. Nearly any other show would have made it the focal point by now. Nate Ford continues to be an interesting character, battling alcoholism and a tortured past, and Timothy Hutton seems like he's been waiting years to get a part that suits him so well. But the "big bad" subplot and the team being spied on by Latimer never quite works (though it does represent an improvement over Season Three's story line), and it's reminiscent of Burn Notice in the way that it will tell a perfectly enjoyable "job" show but then feel the need to shoehorn in the larger mythology that serializes the season. Leverage never seems all that interested in such things, either, going through those particular motions because it has to, not wants to. It's much happier when it can pull cons week after week. So am I.
Another of Season Four's weaknesses is that the cons themselves are incredibly uneven. While an episode like "The Van Gogh" job does a nice job of advancing the romance between Hardison and Parker, it's overly sentimental and dramatic to a degree that Leverage is clearly not comfortable. Even the season premiere, "The Long Way Down Job," pulls the team so far out of their element (same goes for "The Queen's Gambit Job") that the characters take a back set to the conceit of the plot. It should be the other way around, as it's the characters that drive the show and make is so much fun. The good news is that there are a lot of really fun episodes this season, too, including the one-two punch of the "Girls' Night Out" and "Boys' Night Out" jobs, in which the series takes some structural chances that pay off nicely. "The Office Job" is incredibly entertaining, too, mostly for the way it goofs on the tropes of a certain other popular network sitcom.
Leverage: The Fourth Season arrives on DVD courtesy of Fox. If you've been collecting the DVDs of past seasons until now, there will be no surprises as far as quality is concerned: the episodes are presented in their 1.78 anamorphic widescreen broadcast ratio, and look generally good. Colors are natural, blacks are consistent and there aren't any visible digital tweaks. The show doesn't look quite as good as it does when it airs on TNT HD, but pretty close. The 5.1 surround audio track handles the dialogue well and gives the rest of the show a bouncy feel that suits it nicely.
The DVDs continue their tradition of providing a commentary track for all 16 episodes of Leverage: The Fourth Season, made up of various cast and crewmembers in different iterations. They alternate between informative and enjoyable, fluffy and self-indulgent. Fans of the show will want to at least check them out, even if they don't get through every single one of them. Also included are a handful of deleted scenes, a decent gag reel, a behind-the-scenes piece and a featurette on the show's writer's room.
I don't think Leverage is the same in quality as it was during its first two seasons, but that may just be because it's lost that element of "pleasant surprise." The show isn't getting tired or stale yet, but it's a little bit in flux right now as it tries to grow up and find itself. Lets just hope it doesn't grow up too much. That's not why we watch Leverage.
Still not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 792 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Official Site