Judge Patrick Bromley just pulled the lever.
Our reviews of Leverage: The Second Season (published May 25th, 2010), Leverage: The First Season (published July 13th, 2009), and Leverage: The Fourth Season (published August 4th, 2012) are also available.
The art of the con.
It must be summer. Leverage is back.
Facts of the Case
By now, you know the score: the Leverage team is a collection of former criminals who have come together for a Robin Hood act—they pull off elaborate cons to rip off the rich and powerful and defend the interest of the Little Guy. Leading the team is mastermind Nate Ford (Timothy Hutton, Serious Moonlight), and he's joined by grifter Sophie (Gina Bellman, Coupling), thief Parker (Beth Riesgraf, Alvin and the Chipmunks), hacker Hardison (Aldis Hodge, Red Sands) and muscle Eliot (Christian Kane, The Donner Party).
Here the 16 episodes that make up Leverage: The Third Season (assume that SPOILERS for Season Two may follow):
• "The Jailhouse Job"
• "The Reunion Job"
• "The Inside Job"
• "The Scheherazade Job"
• "The Double-Blind Job"
• "The Studio Job"
• "The Gone-Fishin' Job"
• "The Boost Job"
• "The Three-Card Monte Job"
• "The Underground Job"
• "The Rashomon Job"
• "The King George Job"
• "The Morning After Job"
• "The Ho, Ho, Ho Job"
• "The Big Bang Job"
• "The San Lorenzo Job"
Summer is a strange time for entertainment. Audiences, looking to turn off their brains for three months and simply be entertained by spectacle, are treated to week after week of big-budget Hollywood fare, most of it sequels and franchises and, nowadays, much of it inspired by comic books. Television, taking a cue from the movie industry, is more and more following suit; with the seasons of their regular series coming to a close in May, networks are now loading up the summer months with generic reality series and game shows—nothing we have to keep up with or think about. It's all becoming more and more disposable, perhaps to get us all that much more hungry with stuff with substance begins rearing its head again in September or October.
This, of course, is not entirely true of all networks. HBO continues to air quality programming even in the summer, though even their offerings consist of True Blood and Entourage, shows more concerned with being entertaining than lasting. AMC has Breaking Bad, one of the best shows currently on television. TNT, of course, has Leverage, which is hardly up to the quality of a Breaking Bad or a True Blood (depending on your feelings for True Blood) but which, for a summer series, is a whole lot of fun and one of the better shows the network has to offer.
I first came to Leverage when reviewing the second season for DVD Verdict, and, much to my surprise, I really liked what I saw. It wasn't the kind of show I would be trying to turn others on to, but it was engaging and fun and utterly watchable the way some of the best pop TV can be. I became a fan pretty quickly, and made it a point to watch Season Three when it aired on TNT last summer. At the time, I felt a little let down by the show—it wasn't exactly the fast and fun series I had encountered on DVD. I thought for sure there had been some dip in quality.
Rewatching Leverage: The Third Season on DVD, I can now say that I don't think the show has changed. It was all in the way I watched it. The more shows I see on DVD, the more it's becoming apparent to me that it's often the only way to watch a show (not everything, of course; as much as it pains me to wait a week for a new Game of Thrones, the anticipation has now become part of the fun). Someone needs to come up with a name for this phenomenon, in which the ability to consume large amounts of a series at a time actually improves the experience instead of watering it down. It's particularly helpful for a show like Leverage, which is ephemeral enough that it can float away in the seven days between airings on TNT, but which on DVD makes for a really fun afternoon spent with a group of characters with whom it's fun to hang out.
The weakest stuff in The Third Season deals with the Big Bad (to borrow a term from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Damon Moreau, and the Italian woman who blackmails Ford into tracking him down. The storyline is never particularly compelling and Moreau fails to become a presence, even after he's introduced. Plus, the writers are only interested in this larger arc when it suits them; it will be forgotten for shows at a time, then awkwardly re-introduced in the attempt to create a more cohesive season. The season reminded me a little of Burn Notice (another disposable show I like) that way, in which week after week we would get an hour of cool spy stuff and then a tacked-on scene at the end in which Michael Westin suddenly remembers he wants to find the guy who burned him. I'm all for creating a universe that's consistent from week to week, but not every show has to build a season-length narrative. It just doesn't really suit a series like Leverage, which is more a procedural built around elaborate cons.
Therein lies the show's second greatest strength (its greatest is the ensemble cast, particularly Riesgraf and Hodge—which could easily be the name of another show on TNT), as well as its biggest weakness: the repetitive, one town/one con structure. On one hand, an argument could be made that Leverage has nowhere else to go and could easily pack it in after the next season. At the same time, the formula of the show is such that it could go on for years; like some of the best shows of the 1980s (I'm looking at you, Moonlighting), it's not really serialized or attempting to construct a larger mythology the way so many contemporary shows do. Each episode pretty much stands on its own, meaning as long as the characters remain likable and the cons clever, Leverage can go on for another decade. I don't expect that it will, of course. I'm just saying.
The 16 episodes that make up Leverage: The Third Season come spread out over four discs in a single, standard-size keepcase courtesy of Paramount. All of the shows are presented in the original 1.78:1 broadcast aspect ratio, enhanced for 16x9 playback, and look good. Skin tones are natural and consistent, black levels are strong and there don't appear to be a whole lot of artificial enhancements. Though not as cinematic as a lot of other shows on cable, Leverage looks just as intended. The 5.1 audio track does a nice job of balancing the dialogue with the bouncy music and occasional action effects, and though the inclusion of English SDH subtitles would have been nice there's nothing to complain about, technically speaking.
Every one of the 16 episodes comes with a commentary track from a revolving door of participants, including creators Dean Devlin and John Rogers (the latter of whom is present on every track), stars Aldis Hodge, Christian Kane and Beth Riesgraf, director Jonathan Frakes and new writers John Aboud and Michael Colton. The tracks can be fun and enthusiastic, but overcrowded—there are often too many voices speaking at once, and potentially good information (or, more importantly, jokes) are drowned out amidst the noise. Additionally, there's a collection of decent featurettes covering different aspects of the show's production: the first, "On Set with Michael Colton and John Aboud," profiles the new writers (who some may recognize as the former publishers of Modern Humorist and commentators on VH1's Best Week Ever). The pair are responsible for some of the seasons goofier, lighter offerings (including "The Reunion Job," one of Season Three's best), and I hope their voice is heard more in seasons to come. Leverage could use the levity.
The mercifully brief "What Does a Producer Do?" is exactly what it sounds like; same for "Inside the Leverage Writers' Room, which could have been better if it was longer and allowed to go more in depth into the process of scripting the series. The final featurette focuses on two of the effects sequences from "The Big Bang Job," and is basically just a making-of piece. Four unnecessary deleted scenes and a gag reel round out the bonus features.
Leverage: The Third Season arrives just in time for Season Four to kick off on TNT, and while it's always best to start a series from the beginning, Leverage isn't really the kind of show that requires detailed knowledge of its history. It's easy to jump right in and enjoy its goofy charm. It's not great TV (so little in the summer is, unless it's Breaking Bad), but it's fun and very entertaining. Since that's all we seem to expect from our movies in the summer, shouldn't we start applying the same standards to our TV watching? As long as your expectations are appropriately managed, Leverage is a blast.
Not guilty. It's the summer.
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