'Leverage' review: It takes a thief

Timothyhutton_leverage_240_2If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire ...

Wait, scratch that. Wrong show. But you'll forgive me for having The A-Team on the brain a little after watching TNT's new series Leverage, in which another band of outlaws sticks up for the little guy by sticking it to the man. And while there are far fewer superfluous explosions in Leverage, the mission of both shows -- entertain without taxing the mind too much -- is pretty similar.

That's not to say, however, that Leverage is just some retro cheesefest. It's a solidly entertaining caper show with a strong ensemble (led by Timothy Hutton), and it's also fortuitously timed: Given the staggeringly bad decisions and colossal hubris that precipitated many of our current economic woes, watching a band of highly competent outsiders take down arrogant hedge funders or shady military contractors each week has a little extra appeal.

Hutton, whose last TV work was on NBC's underrated and quickly cancelled Kidnapped, gives a relaxed, almost effortless performance as Nate Ford, a former insurance investigator who left the game after the giant firm he worked for denied his son life-saving experimental medical treatment. In Sunday's (Dec. 7) premiere, we meet him as he's orchestrating some industrial espionage on behalf of aerospace tycoon Victor Dubenich (guest star Saul Rubinek) who says he's been ripped off.

Nate isn't thrilled about working outside the law, nor about the company he's forced to keep: a thief (Beth Riesgraf), a world-class hacker (Aldis Hodge) and a "retrieval expert" (Christian Kane), which is apparently a euphemism for "ass-kicker." Nate, the client says, is the one honest man he needs to make sure the whole operation runs smoothly.

Aldishodge_leverage_240 It does, but Nate and Co. soon discover they've been played -- not a good idea -- and set out to take down Dubenich (that Nate will also take a bite out of his former employer with the scheme doesn't hurt). After recruiting a talented grifter (Gina Bellman, of Coupling fame) -- who's the world's worst actress, except when she's running a con -- and completing the job, they discover that their relationship can be beneficial to all involved. And thus a series is born.

Created by John Rogers and Chris Downey and executive produced by Dean Devlin (who also directed the first episode), Leverage has a breezy tone (underscored by Joseph LoDuca's groovy music) that makes it eminently easy to take. Hutton is clearly having a good time, and Bellman and the hyper-serious Kane play their parts well too. The breakout personalities, though, are Riesgraf, who plays cat burglar Parker as a loopy, slightly disconnected pro and Hodge (best known for a stint on Friday Night Lights), whose cocky, motormouthed character has several fine comedic moments in the first few episodes.

The scams the team runs -- under the guise of a legitimate consulting firm -- aren't quite Ocean's 11-worthy, but superslick action doesn't seem like the goal here (nor, frankly, would it be really feasible on a week-to-week cable-show budget). The pleasures of Leverage lie more in the interplay between the characters and the improvising they're forced to do when a plan goes sideways (the third episode introduces Nate's replacement at the insurance company, played by Mark Sheppard, who should make a good foil for the crew).

Leverage doesn't go too deep -- the death of Nate's son is what drives him, for instance, but it doesn't follow him like a dark cloud. A healthy willingness to suspend disbelief will help too. But there's something satisfying about watching these people give the rich and powerful what's coming to them. There are far worse ways to spend an hour.
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Leverage premieres at 10 p.m. ET Sunday, Dec. 7 on TNT and moves to its regular time period at 10 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 9.

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