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Leverage: The 2nd Season

(TNT; US DVD: 25 May 2010)

Leverage takes a team of expert thieves turned-Robin Hood and company and sets them loose. The team spent the first season growing together, with the season finalé seeing them scattered to the four winds. Season two starts with the group trying to get back together, as the four thieves try to convince their mastermind, Nate Ford (Timothy Hutton) to re-start the business. 


Given that season one showed the team developing a rapport and succeeding in progressively more impossible schemes, many of the stories in season one involved finding ways to constrain them in time and space to continue to create a credible challenge. They complete cons by the first few acts that in many shows would take a whole episode, and then the rest of the story is about the con going too well, and that becomes a problem in need of management. 


Season two includes a six-episode guest arc with actress Jeri Ryan as the grifter Tara Cole, who Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman) asks to help out the team in her absence (Bellman’s reduced involvement was necessitated by the actresses’ pregnancy that year). The season shows Nate Ford swapping his desire for alcohol with high doses of caffeine. More compelling than those addictions, though, is his need for vengeance and to outwit the bad guys. That driving needs leads to a catastrophic end of the season two finalé. 


Season two provides two sub-groups of characters within the leverage team, which draw focus on the dynamic between Eliot (Christian Kane) and Sophie as well as showing the sibling-esque relationships between Parker (Beth Riesgraf), Hardison (Aldis Hodge), and Eliot. Mark Sheppard recurs in several episodes as Nate’s former friend and rival, James Sterling.
 
One of the highlights of the season comes in the episode “The Two Live Crew Job”, where the Leverage team goes up against another crew of thieves trying to recover a stolen painting for the descendants of Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. The rival crew includes Geek Icon Will Wheaton as a rival hacker and nemesis of Alec Hardison.  Other strong episodes include “The Bottle Job,” where the team pulls several fast cons to save McRory’s pub from a loan shark, and the two-part finalé “The Three Strikes Job” and “The Maltese Falcon Job”, where they take on a corrupt mayor and get in over their heads, leading to a hostage situation and the return of Sophie Devereaux.


The DVD set includes an impressive complement of special features. There is a creator commentary track for each of the 13 episodes, with Executive Producer John Rodgers and a rotating cast of directors, writers, and producers of the show.  The commentaries extensively discuss the use of Portland as a shooting location, its ability to double for other cities (especially Boston), as well as the warm welcome they received from the city and all of the help they got in filming the season. 


They also discuss guest stars, the production process, location scouting, and a great deal about the character arcs and meta-structure of the show. They discuss the need to find new ways to challenge the team as well as the narrative structure of the show, whereby the villains are un-done by their own flaws and must not only lose, but must suffer, as well.  Where other shows may have storylines of serial killers and bizarre subcultural activity, Leverage takes as its main villains white-collar businessmen and leaders of industry, with many stories reflecting the backlash against the insurance and banking industries.


In addition to the top-notch commentaries, the last disc includes a half-dozen featurettes of varying quality and hilarity. There is a recording of a creator Q&A, a set tour with John Rogers, a behind-the-camera featurette exposing the process behind two of the show’s larger special effects scenes, as well as a short bit about an original song “Not Sure Yet” written by a crew member and used in “The Beantown Job”.  Two of the highlights in the special features were “The Hand Job” – a spoof video where actor Aldis Hodge shows viewers how to apply some of the thief skills in Leverage to real life – of course, he fails horrendously at being smooth and clever, which makes everything more ridiculous and entertaining.  The disc tops off with a Season 2 Gag reel which is hilarious.


Overall, Leverage is a fun show. It doesn’t maintain a dark and gritty tone, but plays in that space between comedy and drama, letting moments breathe and focusing on the relationship between the members of the team, dysfunctional family that they are. There are strong character studies, especially with the slow break-down of Hutton’s Nate Ford, where the once-proud shining do-gooder becomes even more of a control freak, giving to his vengeful streak and placing victory above all else. 


Leverage is a fantastic example of what can be done on cable when a good, creative team is allowed to make the show they want to make and challenge themselves to tell compelling and creative stories. This is a good heist show, appealing to fans of the Mission: Impossible TV series and The Rockford Files. Leverage has been picked up for a third season, which begins in July.

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