Take a walk on the wild side, and Judge Adam Arseneau sings...
The con is on.
From the creators of Spooks (MI-5 in North America) comes Hustle: Complete Season One, a hustler's comedy/drama that plays like a BBC adaptation of Ocean's Eleven: The Series with healthy doses of The Sting and 007 suaveness thrown in for good measure.
Facts of the Case
The con. An invisible crime built on the premise of finding someone who wants something for nothing, and then giving them nothing for something. But nobody plays the long con anymore—too risky, too involved, too difficult. Get in, get the money, and get out is the model of the day.
When Mickey Stone is released from prison (Adrian Lester, The Day After Tomorrow), he decides to put together an old-fashioned crew and play the long con the way it used to be played: choose the mark, play on their desires, set them up, and then reel them in. Never give a sucker an even break.
Mickey, the inside man, gathers a fixer named Ash Morgan (Robert Glenister), a roper named Albert Stroller (the dapper Robert Vaughn, Bullitt, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), and a beautiful pair of legs, Stacie Monroe (the stunning Jaime Murray) as his team. Soon, a novice short con hustler named Danny (Marc Warren, Green Street Hooligans) wants in on the action and tries to master the subtlety needed to play the long con.
All six episodes from Season One are included:
• "Con 1"
• "Con 2"
• "Con 3"
• "Con 4"
• "Con 5"
• "Con 6"
Within the first ten seconds of the debut episode of Hustle, the character gives a knowing smirk directly into the fourth wall. With this, we already know exactly what kind of show this is to be: a sassy one.
Hustle oozes so much style that the DVD is greasy to the touch. Utterly confident in its smarmy attitude, Hustle is, at its core, surprisingly unoriginal. You have the experienced long con man fresh from a stint in prison who wants to pull "that last big job" before retirement, distracted by the love of a beautiful woman. You have the young, blonde-headed inexperienced short con trickster looking to become a master of the long con, the old experienced roper, and the techie. Sound familiar yet? I'm not sure how many Oceans I count, but it's definitely more than ten. This has all been done before, many times over, but Hustle enjoys itself so much that one cannot help being caught up in the excitement.
Yes, there is an element of predictability to the show, since we know the con artists always have one, or two, or three more tricks up their sleeves no matter how bad things seem to be going. The true enjoyment in Hustle is seeing how the devious games of manipulation pan out. For Mickey, the protagonist, the thrill is in the art of the con itself. The money itself is only a fringe benefit, and so it is with the audience: the glory of the show is the con itself, not the outcome. Just try keeping the grin off your face as you watch the deck of cards fall down on the poor, unwitting "marks," executed with diabolical efficiency and impressive foresight.
The con artists in Hustle are not quite villainous; more like right proper scoundrels. They operate by a code of ethics, of a kind, only preying on those wealthy enough and greedy enough to fall for their scams. Swindlers the lot of them, and yet, they are all extremely likable characters. Not necessarily decent characters; after all, the decent thing would be to not grift at all, but this is hardly an alternative for Mickey and his gang. They live for the thrill, for the excitement, and perhaps most importantly, to evade the normality that deadens the souls of modern man. Say what you want about their career path, but for Mickey and company, what they do makes them feel alive.
Executed in a tongue-and-cheek style, Hustle often pauses mid-frame, giving the con artists the opportunity to "move around" the scene, communicating their intentions directly to the audience, like a Shakespearian soliloquy. It is an interesting device that gives the show the freedom to expand the narrative beyond normal realms. These touches of visual flair, fourth-wall breaking, and introspection give the show a quirkiness that matches the devil-may-care attitude of the subject matter well, making Hustle extremely entertaining to watch. The filthy scoundrels! Of course, with the style comes an absence of common sense, as the cons and setups become increasingly elaborate. Hustle seems to want to go bigger and better with each episode, upping the ante in absurd fashion, well beyond the realm of any realistic con - certainly entertaining, but kind of silly.
Then, just like that, it's over. There are only six episodes in Season One, which barely qualifies as a season, if you ask me. More like a "seasonette."
Video quality is a bit hit-and-miss at times, with indoor sequences being noticeably grainy and distorted, exhibiting compression artifacts , ghosting and mediocre black levels. On the other hand, outdoor sequences are reasonably detailed and solid, with saturated colors, clean lines, and respectable black levels. On the whole, it's a solid enough presentation for a television show.
The disc offers a simple stereo presentation that does the job well enough. The best aspect is the soundtrack, a funky fusion of upbeat funk, hip-hop, lounge, and sassy bossa nova that will appeal to fans of the Propellerheads, or Shibuya-kei acts like Pizzicato Five or Fantastic Plastic Machine. The presentation is a bit thin on bass, a bit high on treble, and very dialogue-heavy.
Not much on extras; Disc One contains a thirty-minute featurette with cast and crew on "Assembling the Team," and Disc Two contains the second half of the same feature. This is an excellent featurette, with candid and amusing interviews, but it is too short to be substantial. A cast bio is the only other feature.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Six episodes isn't much material to judge a show on its total worth, but so far, there is no real depth to Hustle beyond the eye candy, charmingly witty characters, and cleverly executed scenarios. Everything works perfectly for the con men, with no genuine sense of dramatic tension, since the outcome is virtually assured from the start. The cons are amusing, but utterly absurd, and the dialogue is fairly mediocre, with some basic level character development, but nothing too profound. Mickey likes to break rules because his father was a straight arrow, and he resented that. Yawn.
To put it succinctly, this is summer popcorn fare compressed into televised form. There's nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but there's a lot more a show like this could have done with the material.
Utterly absurd and unrealistic, Hustle is pure entertainment. If you can mortgage the logic center of your brain out for an hour or two, you will find Hustle: Complete Season One to be extremely enjoyable in small doses. Pour yourself a vodka martini, light up a cigar, sit back, and enjoy the art of the con.
For a debut season, I've seen worse shows. I'd be down for a second.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• "Assembling the Team"
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