Judge Patrick Bromley wonders why author Lev Grossman isn't in this show. You know, because he has "lev" in his name.
Our reviews of Leverage: The Second Season (published May 25th, 2010), Leverage: The Third Season (published June 7th, 2011), and Leverage: The First Season (published July 13th, 2009) are also available.
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 Ten L'il Grifters Job"
• "The 15 Minutes Job"
• "The Van Gogh Job"
• "The Hot Potato Job"
• "The Carnival Job"
• "The Grave Danger Job"
• "The Boiler Room Job"
• "The Cross My Heart Job"
• "The Queen's Gambit Job"
• "The Experimental Job"
• "The Office Job"
• "The Girls' Night Out Job"
• "The Boys' Night Out Job"
• "The Lonely Hearts Job"
• "The Gold Job"
• "The Radio Job"
• "The Last Dam Job"
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.
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