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Stream It Or Nah: 'Leverage: Redemption' Is A Warm Hug For Fans Of The Original (Just Watch Your Wallet!)

By Claude Weaver III | TV | August 2, 2021 |

By Claude Weaver III | TV | August 2, 2021 |


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Hitter.
Hacker.
Grifter.
Thief.
Mastermind.

Four expert criminals, brought together by the man who once hunted them for one last job. Erstwhile loners all, they realize they enjoy working together and, due to a code of only attacking the powerful and corrupt, also discover that they enjoy using their skills for a nobler purpose.

Nate Ford: “The rich and powerful take what they want; we steal it back for you. Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys. We provide… Leverage.”

But nowadays, things seem worse than before. The bad guys don’t skirt the law; they work within it. They don’t cheat the system, they rewrite it so they aren’t considered “cheating”. Use the law as another weapon against the innocent and less powerful. So that team returns, to do what they do best. Now with new schemes, new technologies, and new faces, simply settling for the arrest of a bad guy is no longer enough. Maybe not the “good” fight, but the only fight they know.

For some, it’s a return to the good old days. But for others, it’s another step towards… Redemption.

TNT’s Leverage was created by executive producer/director Dean Devlin (Independence Day, GEOSTOOOOOOORM!) and writer/producers John Rogers (Jackie Chan Adventures, the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle, Dungeons & Dragons) and Chris Downey (What About Joan, The King of Queens, Pearson). Devlin stated he wanted a throwback to shows like Mission: Impossible and The Rockford Files to counteract the dark and gritty television that was becoming popular at the time. Debuting in 2008, Leverage was made in that same era of shows like USA’s “Characters Welcome” period (touched on recently) and FOX’s Human Target, where the plot and emotional drama often came second to cast chemistry and cheesy action-adventure fun. It lasted five seasons and even got popular enough to inspire a roleplaying game (fitting, considering Rogers’ work), post-cancellation tie-in novels, and even a Korean adaptation in 2019 (which I really have to check out sometime).

So, of course, an attempt at a revival series was sure to get attention from the fanbase (I included, natch). Leverage: Redemption is the second of IMDb TV’s original series, the first being Alex Rider, although Redemption was announced first. Originally set to be 13 episodes, but it was later extended to 16, with the first 8 episodes (or Season 1A) scheduled to premiere July 9th but “accidentally” released a day early (damn it, Hardison!).

The revival brings back almost all of the original Leverage cast, as well as Devlin as showrunner and director of several episodes, and both Rogers and Downey as writers and consulting producers. Gina Bellman (Coupling), as original “Grifter” Sophie Devereux, takes over leadership duties for the team. Beth Riesgraf (My Name is Earl, Caper, 68 Whiskey) is back as “Thief” Parker (no first name) with a lot more experience with people (and a lot of therapy, thanks to a child psychologist they helped) under her belt. Christian Kane (Angel, Secondhand Lions) is once again repentant “Hitter” Elliot Spencer, turning his love of cooking into a series of food trucks (that can double as mini-versions of the team’s beloved van/mobile base Lucille). Aldis Hodge (Straight Outta Compton, One Night in Miami) does show up as “Hacker” Alec Hardison, but as a special guest role due to basically blowing up big after the original ended. There are two new additions to the team: Noah Wyle (ER, Falling Skies) rejoins his fellow Librarians alums as “Fixer” Harry Wilson, a shady lawyer/corporate fixer seeking redemption (title drop!) after even the smallest attempts at assuaging his guilt fail. And Aleyse Shannon (Charmed 2018, Black Christmas 2019) is “Maker” Breanna Casey, Hardison’s sister and a tech geek who joins after some of her own extralegal activities come to her front door.

Much like how the original series was shaped by the 2007-2008 financial crisis, Redemption makes a point of showing it’s aware of how bad things are, even if it doesn’t get into real-world specifics. Even though the pandemic isn’t directly referenced (although check my miscellaneous notes), it does wear its “ripped from the headlines” nature on its sleeve with its takes on infamous assholes and their scandals. Of course, the increased topicality can unintentionally backfire. Episode 4, “The Tower Job” opens with a developer who ignored warnings in his building… right before it collapses due to compromised construction, killing four people. Seeing as how this came out two weeks after the Surfside, Florida condo collapse, it’s understandable that a disclaimer was put on this particular episode.

The first two episodes (“The Too Many Rembrandts Job” and “The Panamanian Monkey Job”, which really feel like a two-part pilot) are pretty much built around the “getting the band back together” concept, and for this old fan, it works. Even before the first instance of Elliot growling “Damn it, Hardison!”, I was in. Everyone slid into their roles like well-worn slippers, picking up right where they left off. Now based in New Orleans (both in-show and real-life), the team meets Harry as he tried to get revenge on his old client Fletcher Maxwell (Reed Diamond), in an obvious Take That to the Sackler family (owners of Purdue Pharma, patrons of the arts, and considered responsible for exacerbating the opioid crisis).

Before I go further, I have to mention the elephant in the room. For those not familiar with the original series, the team was led by Nate Ford, originally portrayed by Timothy Hutton. In March 2020, Hutton was accused of sexual assault and when the revival was announced, it was made clear that he was not rejoining the cast. Since Nate was the leader and the whole reason the team existed in the first place (not to mention married to Sophie after the series finale), this was a bit of an issue. Having Nate die before the series actually works in its favor, giving everything a sense of pathos. He was always shown as self-destructive for a long time, and even though he had found some peace by the end, the damage was already done. His presence (and lack thereof) shapes the season, and at least one episode deals with it (and Sophie’s feelings about it) directly. As much as I acknowledge the hole left by his absence, I think the characters and show are much stronger with him gone.

Making Sophie the new leader makes sense since she often seconded for Nate and filled in when he was unavailable. The ever radiant Bellman really conveys the weariness and reluctance Sophie has in doing this without Nate, but also the little moments of glee when a plan begins to form. And yes, Sophie’s infamous terrible acting (unless it is part of a con) gets a callback. Riesgraf shines as Parker (full disclosure: my favorite character) who takes on a mentor role for Breanna after Hardison’s departure. She was always good at playing the character’s quirks as realistic without becoming annoying or a caricature, and she skillfully depicts Parker’s maturity and how she’s become notably less stabby.

Hodge’s Hardison is just as smooth as ever (“Age of the geek, baby!”), and while he is only in a few episodes in this half-season, he makes the most of it. One thing they clearly didn’t write around was the fact that Hodge (already one of the tallest members of the cast) is just absolutely jacked now! I mean, this is “Chidi in the wine shirt” levels of barely hidden musculature here. Really, it makes some of his banter with Elliot even more hilarious, when you have Hawkman being called a lightweight. Speaking of, Kane as Elliot still kicks copious amounts of ass and being a fellow The Librarians alum allows him and Wyle to have easygoing chemistry, keeping the new guy from feeling too much like an outsider.

Parker: “I teach every kid I meet how to do crime. Crime is fun!”

One thing I liked about the original is how, whenever any of the core cast was absent, they crafted guest characters who could believably fill the needed spot but also were enough of their own personality to not feel like a carbon copy. This certainly continues with the new characters and Wyle’s Harry Wilson in particular. Harry is an interesting case: Wyle plays him as world-weary and struggling to live with himself and what he did, but still able to scrounge up his charm (which makes him feel worse later). He’s asked to be both a POV for people not familiar with the original series or the team, and also as a fill-in for Nate’s former investigator, using his legal skills to not only explain how the targets are doing their dirt but also allows him to whip up real (or real enough) documentation to help with the schemes. Being the rookie, he makes most of the mistakes the others long ago made, and is often the one making it personal since at least two of the season’s targets are former clients of his.

Honestly, the only one I felt got a bit underserved was Shannon’s Breanna, mainly because she is described as being more of a physical tech and social engineering type to contrast against Hardison’s “script kiddie” (in her words) skills, but except for a few instances, it’s not very apparent. Luckily, they smartly chose to highlight the character through her personality and age, highlighting how a younger Millennial/Gen Z type might see the shape of the world, having grown up during such turbulent times and having a front-row seat to all of it. Those moments are when Breanna is strongest as a character, and I can’t wait to see more. Also, her pratfalls during Parker’s “training” are delightful.

But just because the show is meant to be a fun series of heists and cons, doesn’t mean they don’t hint at the darker side of our protagonists. Back to “The Tower Job” (which is kind of the darkest episode of the show so far), the team basically use said developer’s pretty obvious PTSD from being caught in the previous collapse to make him break down, and even have a moment where it looks like he will jump off the roof. It ends relatively well, but still! It’s even called out in the show as pretty cruel.

Breanna: Hey, look. We’re gonna mess him up pretty hard. Are we the bad guys here? Sophie: Oh, yeah. Never forget that, Breanna. We’re not heroes. We’re just necessary.

It’s a darker spin on the team’s exploits in an episode that already reads a bit darker due to the coincidental context of real-world events. Even seemingly light-hearted fare, like Episode 5 “The Paranormal Hacktivity Job”, dips into another con playing on the psychological trauma of a target. And the subject matter of episodes, such as the increasing surveillance state (highlighting how they also take into account the leaps in technology since the original), the use of “eminent domain” and zoning laws to rip people from their homes, and the opioid crisis certainly lend an urgency to the show that belies its fluffier surface. This isn’t a complaint mind you: like I said, the original did similarly. But just warning those who might be affected by this sort of thing.

I only have two issues with the show at this point. The first is one I am having with several recent streaming series, namely: cutting the “season” in half to extend the shelf life. I get that it’s a compromise between releasing the whole thing at once or going back to a weekly schedule (something that only the most eyeball catching series can do online now). But damn it, I want more now!

Second, probably the weakest episode is the aforementioned Episode 5, which relies on special effects that really highlight the lower budget, and has what appears to be a frankly disappointing story about grifter house flippers getting highjacked by an assassination plot, but both kinda fizzle. The only real upside is that it’s also a feature for the ladies, as Sophie, Parker, and Breanna have to run this one on their own. I wish the villains were more worthy of their efforts, but they still made it enjoyable.

Of course, if you want something meatier, with more stakes or grumpy white men or whatnot, look elsewhere. This is not going to be on the level of a Better Call Saul (glad you’re still kicking, Bob Odenkirk!), even with the increased topicality. It is, first and foremost, a show that considers making jokes about GRRM more important than delving into the darkness in men’s hearts. But it does it well, and I love it for that.

So for fans of the original, I heartily recommend the show. It really is a return to form and I dare you to not crack a single smile as they bicker and take down bad guys. I would say it is welcoming to newcomers not familiar with the original (especially with the inclusion of Harry and Breanna to help facilitate) and while you may miss an inside joke or two, you will get into the groove quickly.

Hardison: My Nana leads a multi-denominational household, so…In the Jewish faith, repentance, redemption, is a process. You can’t make restitution and then promise to change. You have to change first. Do the work, Harry. Then and only then can you begin to ask for forgiveness. [Looking at Eliot] You see that cowboy? Man, for the last 12 years I’ve seen him risk his life to save hundreds of innocent people who will never know his name, all that he still gets up, you know what he says? ‘I still got more to do.’ So this? This isn’t a win. This is the start Harry.

Watch Leverage: Redemption. It has everything:

- A reunion of cast and crew that feels strongly like the original,
- Hardison tricking Elliot into learning Klingon,
- A Martin Shkreli pastiche (who looks more the part than some) being defeated in a Magic The Gathering parody created by French Stewart,
- A Deadmau5 copy called COM4R4T,
- Naïve security guards who make a damn good carrot cake,
- MTV’s Dan Cortese!

(No, really. Actual Dan Cortese)

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Miscellaneous Observations:

* I know, I know, this is almost a month late. But when I really like something, it’s really hard trying not to reach Lord Caselton’s levels of word count with nowhere near his coherence.

* One thing that starts to stick out over the course of the half-season is that they were certainly under some heavy pandemic protocols. There is a clear effort made to keep distance between the cast when possible, and there are very few crowd scenes. This is easy to sell when the episode is set in a small Southern town with not a lot of foot traffic, not so much when it’s supposed to be the New Orleans Halloween Parade or a massive fan convention. But hey, it ultimately adds to the charm.

* Fun fact: Riesgraf is the mother of Celebrity Baby Name Hall of Famer Pilot Inspecktor Lee, with ex Jason Lee.

* Hardison enjoying when Parker does the Picard shirt tug? Right there with ya, brah.

Leverage: Redemption Season 1A is now available free (with ads) on IMDb TV and Amazon Prime Video, and Season 1B is due later this year.

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Image sources (in order of posting): Amazon Studios, IMDb TV