It’s not easy to explain just what made the drama Leverage so charming and addictive during its original run. While the series, which ran originally on TNT from 2008 to 2012, was always grown-up enough to be enjoyed by adults, it was also family-friendly in the best ways, and in its first season quickly landed on a tone and ethos which created some deeply enjoyable viewing. Rather than strive for the heights of prestige TV, the series instead delivered sharp fast-paced stories about a crew of extremely talented criminals with unique specialties, who come together to use said special skills to take down injustices on a large and small scale.
A writer should always know their intended audience when they sit down to write. So in the case of this review, know that I am writing about Leverage: Redemption very specifically for people like myself, who very much enjoyed the show in its original run but (thanks to a very healthy fear of change for which I definitely don’t need therapy) might be wary of what this new iteration might offer, especially given the big cast changes being made. The good news here is that after some necessary table-setting occurs to explain what happened in the eightish years since the original series created by John Rogers and Chris Downey ended, composer Joseph LoDuca‘s familiar score kicks in, and the con is on.
Of course, those doing the conning look a little different. With the exception of Season 2 (during which Gina Bellman was on maternity leave, her place in the crew filled by a new character played by Jeri Ryan), Leverage has been driven by its core ensemble. But that gets a major shake-up in Redemption: Bellman, Beth Riesgraf, and Christian Kane are back as their original characters, but Timothy Hutton does not return as mastermind Nathan Ford — his absence explained immediately by the first episode — and Aldis Hodge‘s commitments to other projects mean that Hardison’s on part-time duty this season.
One pleasant aspect of the new cast makeup is that the action is a lot more female-driven than the original series, with Bellman stepping into the number one slot with confidence and grace while new co-star Noah Wyle slips so naturally into a supporting member of the ensemble that it’s hard to remember him not being there before. (It probably helps that Wyle had previously starred in The Librarians, a series produced by the same company as Leverage, also shot in Portland, and also co-starring Kane — Leverage has a very particular and hard to define vibe, but it’s very similar to The Librarians and Wyle makes it work.) While Wyle’s performance doesn’t dig too deeply into the nuances of his character, there’s also not a ton of nuance to explore there yet beyond Harry’s deeply held guilt about the corporate malfeasance he helped enable as a brilliant lawyer who knew all the loopholes. Still, it adds a fresh perspective to the mix while also helping to balance the team.
Also called upon to help with that issue of balance is Aleyse Shannon as Breanna, Hardison’s foster sister who brings a whole new generation of technology experience to the proceedings. Breanna’s inexperience and youth sometimes gets more play than necessary as a story element (especially since much of the appeal of a good con story is watching skilled con artists at work). But not much of an adjustment period is needed to accept her as a member of the crew, and Shannon is game to play in this sandbox.
Then and now, Leverage takes place in the real world but feels very much like a genre show. For one thing, if you’re bingeing your way through a season, do not drink every time a Doctor Who reference is made — your liver will thank you. For another, there’s a classic case-of-the-week format in use, with every episode featuring a new con or heist or very often both, which is a narrative genre which might be done to the point of parody (certainly Rick and Morty recently delivered a savage take on the format) but has innate appeal. The spunky team that you root for even though they might be dancing on the wrong side of the law versus the powerful heavy who needs taking down — it’s a formula that works for a reason.
Leverage getting a new lease on life is hardly a huge shock, as for a while now, the state of pop culture today means that very few projects ever actually truly remain dead. The amount of recognizable IP out there is finite to some degree, which means reboots and revivals like this are impossible to escape. When these projects happen, though, there’s one essential thing they all need, one moment which awakens the nostalgic fondness of the fans — while it’s different every time, I’ve come to think of it as the “Chewy, we’re home” moment.
Readers, I’m happy to report I had that moment while watching these screeners — remarkably early in the first episode, in fact. Now, do I have any sense of why, for me, it was hearing Eliot shout “Damn it, Hardison!”? No, I do not. But it did happen, and it feels like a very safe bet that if you enjoyed the original, you’ll have this moment too. The kinds of corruption that the original series took pleasure in taking down are still more than prevalent in today’s society; as one character remarks in these eight new episodes, things have actually gotten worse, and thus the satisfaction that comes from watching the good guys win endures.
Is Redemption built to welcome in new Leverage fans? (Especially the new fans that might discover the series on its new, free-to-all-with-ads home on IMDB TV?) Honestly, it doesn’t make much of an effort to do so. Instead, it’s like going to a house party where you maybe only know a few people. It might take a little extra effort on your part to learn the new names and figure out all the connections, but once you relax, you’ll have a great time. Sometimes you need TV to challenge and provoke you. And sometimes what you need is a great caper tale that feels like a hug from an old friend — or a new one. Either way, Leverage: Redemption has its arms open wide for you.
Leverage: Redemption premieres July 9 on IMDB TV with eight episodes.
(Not so) gently down the stream.
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