Judge Kristin Munson thinks this season of Hustle was a bit of hoax itself.
Some people have more money than sense.
Hustle is like The A-Team for the 21st Century, a team where every member is the Faceman. The convoluted logic of Hustle's many scams works the same way as one of Hannibal's plans. You don't question how the A-Team is able to assemble a functional Panzer tank from six thumb tacks, a Rubik's Cube, and an old tricycle, you just enjoy.
Proving to be a surprise hit for AMC, the channel enticed production across the pond for some American filming in season four, but somewhere along the way the show misplaced both a cast member and its cheeky charm.
Facts of the Case
The continuing adventures of five con artists with a slight case of moral standards, Hustle: The Complete Season Four has six episodes spread across two discs:
It's fitting that this season features a scam based on the Emperor's New Clothes, because this is the season where all Hustle's flaws are laid bare.
It starts with the bizarre decision to elevate the least-experienced, least mature con man to the status of leader. Until now, Danny Blue (Marc Warren, Hogfather) has been the cocky comic relief—a smart-mouthed con who chased anything in a C-cup, and who balanced out Mickey's more anal-retentive swindling style with his brash attitude. With Mickey (Adrian Lester) gone, so is Danny's foil, and so are the series' elaborate, signature cons.
Hustle has always followed a formula, but this time around it's stealing from itself. The team pulled off a wine scheme in season two, and Albert (Robert Vaughn, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) being beaten by a casino boss was the catalyst for a vengeance con in season one. With only 18 other episodes produced, you'd think there'd be more dramatic avenues to explore than retreads of previous cons done in Danny's improvisational style.
Less complex storylines also means more time to notice loose threads. Character development was never the show's strong point, something that had always been disguised by the complicated plotting and fancy filming techniques. The more straightforward con style employed this season means there are no sleights of hand to distract from the lack of substance. This is glaringly obvious in an ill-conceived hour in which the team is held at sword point by a vengeful mark. What aims to be an intense, character-driven episode is undermined by the fact that none of the characters has much underlying character to work with.
New boy Billy (Ashley Walters, Bullet Boy), a pickpocket with no grifting experience who follows Danny around with a misplaced sense of hero worship not seen since Scrappy Doo, seems more like a placeholder to maintain the team's racial makeup than an actual character. His presence only further detracts from the established group dynamic and Stacie's treatment is as irritating as ever. Every year we are told how sharp and clever she is, and every year I wait in vain for a storyline to let that part of her shine. Instead, she cuddles, coos, and kisses her co-conspirators like a teenage girl angling for her daddy's platinum card, and her "brains" are forever in danger of spilling out of a plunging neckline. When she does get to take the lead, it's for the fashion-inspired swindle. That's right, a Barbie con, because she's a girl. Every other woman this season is a bubble-head or a bitch, so she's the most likable female by default.
Speaking of Stacie, I'm starting to suspect Jaime Murray (Dexter) is contractually obligated to appear in a fetish get-up at least once every season. She's already been a stripper, Wonder Woman, and a Bollywood starlet; this time she's a Vegas waitress one powder puff short of Playboy Bunny territory and an equestrienne in high boots and short shorts.
As always, the show is beautifully shot, although this year's switch from film to High-Def has resulted in a less-intense color palette. The transfer is a sharp anamorphic widescreen and audio is a decent Dolby Digital stereo mix. Extras consist of the same cast bios from previous seasons, updated with the newest IMDb listings, and a two-part featurette about filming in America. The piece is informative but lightweight for its nearly 40-minute runtime and has disappointingly few interviews with the cast or creator/writer Tony Jordan.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A bad season of Hustle is still more entertaining than a lot of the shows out there. The scenes between Ash and Albert in the third episode about the hidden costs of being a con artist, and the few times where Danny is allowed to be vulnerable and human, prove the show isn't all superficial gloss. If the actors were given more moments like this to work with, perhaps the season's flaws wouldn't be quite so glaring.
It's unclear whether there's going to be a season five of Hustle, but if the team does return for another go, let's hope everyone involved has a regroup and a rethink. It's going to take graft rather than grift to restore Hustle's lost luster. This season is a fun view, but if you've seen the previous seasons, you've seen it all before and better.
Not Guilty by the skin of its crooked teeth.
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Studio: BBC Video
• "The Hard Way"
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