First, there was Mission: Impossible with a government-run team of "specialists:" the brainy one, the femme fatale, etc. Then came Hustle, the BBC series featuring a gang of ne'er do wells - each with their own specialty - ripping off those who deserved it. In between came Ocean's 11, 12 and 13, featuring Danny Ocean and his crew of conmen, dupes, and sharpies.
Mix well and stir and you have the basic ingredients of TNT's new hit (and Timothy Hutton's return ticket to stardom) Leverage, Yes Stars Action's enjoyable new Thursday night entry. Mixing a bit of comedy in with the caper story at the center of each episode, TNT just renewed this series for another season.
Hutton, who won the academy award for his role in Ordinary People way back when, gives a good performance here as Nathan Ford, a former insurance fraud investigator who's not completely above the law. When an airplane magnate approaches him to steal some plans, we learn two things about Nathan: an insurance company allowed his son to die and, as he puts it to his prospective client, "I am not a thief."
Well, not exactly.
He's certainly not against the idea of making some money. And with a team of specialists - computer, muscle, and feminine guile - handpicked by the client and already waiting, it's hard for Ford to say no.
"Thieves I've got," says the client, "What I need is an honest man to watch them."
In an entertaining introduction, we meet Alec Hardison, the computer geek (Aldis Hodge of Friday Night Lights), who once managed to get a suite at a fancy New York hotel by using Mick Jagger's credit card. Hardison's the wisecracking fool who believes it's, "The age of the geek. We run the whole world."
Next in line is Elliot Spencer (Christian Kane of Angel), billed as a "retrieval specialist," meaning the muscle. Equally adept at martial arts or guns, he's shown in a flashback wiping out a bunch of baddies to collect an overdue rare baseball card.
Parker "is insane," and the break-in and explosives expert, played beautifully by newcomer Beth Riesgraf. As a kid, she blew up her own house when her father took away her favorite stuffed bunny. Lesson learned: if she was going to steal things, she's "become a better thief." So she did, with a vengeance.
The last piece of the puzzle is femme fatale Sophie, Nathan's former flame. Awful on the real stage, "but the finest actress you've ever seen - when she's breaking the law," Nathan notes.
With his team assembled, it's not long before Nathan realizes they've been double-crossed by the client. Seeking revenge, he comes up with a simple plan, "I'm thinking Nigerians. Nigerians will do nicely."
With the four former solo players now working under him as a team, Nathan runs a perfect con, a la The Sting or Hustle, leaving his client-turned-foe in the hands of the FBI. The team splits up the money that computer genius Alec has accrued by tampering with the plane firm's stock price.
"A one-time deal," says one of the crew as they prepare to split up, their work done. But we all know they're not going to give it up. "I've never had that cool a time on a job," Elliot says. Parker's looking to expand her horizons.
A team - and a series - is born.
But Nathan's team doesn't go after just anybody. "You find us the bad guys," says Sophie, and so he does. The pilot concludes with Nathan telling a family whose daughter was mistreated by a big corporation, "Right now, you're suffering under an enormous weight. We provideâ€¦ leverage."
Leverage airs Thursday nights on YES Stars Action at 10:30 p.m. and 1:50 a.m.