Every now and again, there’s a show that’s so good it just grabs you by the face and says “Love me.” And you do, because how could you not?
I’m so far behind on live TV, because I’ve spent the last month and a half or so binge watching Leverage, which ran from 2008 to 2012 on TNT. It’s got everything! Cons and heists, comedy and drama and one of the best casts I’ve seen in pretty much ever.
I suppose calling Leverage a modern day Robin Hood is sort of accurate. The team spends most of their episodes knocking down corporate bigwigs and other privileged people who are more than happy to exploit and endanger the common citizenry. But it’s so much more than that, to me.
Sure, it has a definite formula that becomes pretty obvious, pretty early on, but if the whole series were 77 episodes of “Oh, look, here’s a fat cat trampling on the little guy! Let’s take him down!” it would have gotten very boring, very fast. What keeps it feeling fresh are the characters, their chemistry, and their growth through the seasons.
There’s Nate (Timothy Hutton), the former white knight insurance investigator tortured by the death of his son and who spends his early days in a sea of booze while throwing himself into leading his team of thieves; Sophie (Gina Bellman), the grifter who soon finds she’s lost herself in all the roles she plays; Eliot (Christian Kane), the enforcer haunted by his past as a mercenary; Hardison (Aldis Hodge), the hacker with a heart of gold, and Parker (Beth Riesgraf), the thief with no fear but also no social graces and a fundamental lack of understanding of…all people, really.
The interesting thing is that, while the show certainly relies on archetypes, it turns a lot of stereotypes on their ear. Characters like Alec “Age of the geek, baby!” Hardison aren’t roles that movies and television frequently give to black actors — and if you stumble upon a black geek in media, it seems like 90 percent of the time they’re the scrawny hapless nerd type. So, in a way, Hardison busts two stereotypes at once. There’s also a little bit of that in Eliot, who is certainly more than a hitter.
But the real crown-jewel character is Parker. Because, yeah. She’s weird. And that’s okay. The team certainly acknowledges her weirdness from time to time, but they accept her for it, too. They don’t try to change her to be “normal.” And sure, Parker grows tremendously as the series progresses, but she does it on her terms, in her time, and it’s probably one of — if not the — most rewarding series-long arcs this show does.
If I have to find fault with Leverage, it would probably be that — while it handles character arcs well — sometimes it sets up big season long plot arcs that end up getting lost amid a bunch of largely stand-alone episodes, only to appear again as the season draws to a close. That’s a little anticlimactic, and there were moments in the later seasons when it began to feel like Leverage was running out of steam (just in time for it to end, so talk about going out ahead of the game), but watching all these characters go from coworkers to friends to family more than makes up for it.
All told, there are maybe three episodes I wouldn’t care to watch again. Three. Out of 77. And I’m about one paycheck away from beginning a slow-buy of the series so I can watch it again with all the commentaries and any special features not on YouTube.
That should say something.
But Leverage isn’t all I burned through in 2015. Other Old TV shows streamed or watched on DVD include:
Star Trek: The Next Generation (seasons 1-4): I made it through season one, liked two through four, but ended up having to work myself up for season five, which I’m only a few episodes into. Star Trek, while great, just isn’t as good for binge-watching, I don’t think.
The Americans (Season 1): So, I got in a mood to watch this (I stopped somewhere around season two of its live run), and burned through the first season in about a week. Then I forced myself to slow down – put a season of something else in between – so I wouldn’t finish the first two seasons well before the third came available, and then just didn’t come back. (Mostly because I was watching Leverage. If you take nothing else from this post, let it be that you should watch Leverage.)
Criminal Minds (seasons 3-4): I’m inching forward and have made it through the Boston Reaper episodes, which I really liked. I’m only a handful of episodes away from finishing season five, after which, everything will be new to me. That’s like, half the series still to go. More, once the current season ends. I wouldn’t have thought a show about serial killers would be so compelling, and yet. It is.
Teen Wolf (seasons 1-2): I wanted to start over and see if watching straight through would make season four (and thereby season five) any better. But I don’t actually have season three, and can’t quite work up the enthusiasm to buy it, even though it’s probably the second best season so far. Plus, I was watching Heroes.
Heroes (COMPLETE seasons 1-4): I pretty extensively documented my watching of Heroes in preparation of Heroes Reborn. The short version is that binge watching really helped, and I definitely finished this time. Nothing about it was really bad, but I was still awfully conflicted about a lot of things.
So there you have it. 18 seasons of television crammed into the 12 months of 2015. No wonder my other lists are so sparse. Stay tuned for those.
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