Tuned In: TNT tries to gain "Leverage" with new series

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If twisty, complex serialized dramas make your head hurt and you're looking for something simple and formulaic, now there's "Leverage," a reverse-engineered crime drama. Instead of cheering on the cops, viewers are encouraged to support a modern-day Robin Hood and his merry band of thieves, who take from the rich and corrupt and give to the innocent and damaged.

But viewers who value character development, logic and plot consistency will be disappointed by this series that's sloppy when it comes to all three. It's often more concerned with looking cool and fun than making sense.

Viewers meet "retrieval specialist" Eliot (Christian Kane, "Angel") and see a flashback of him in a bar with 50 guys with guns. The scene cuts to the bar exterior, guns blare and when we go back inside, Eliot's adversaries are lying in a heap on the floor while he's still standing. Huh? Later, computer expert Alec (Aldis Hodge, the most charming thief) drops a duffel bag and before it can hit the floor in slow-motion, Eliot has disabled a bunch of security guards in a scene more fitting for a cartoon than a show rooted in some semblance of reality.

The Robin Hood of this gang is Nathan Ford (Timothy Hutton), an ex-insurance fraud investigator who got burned by an insurance company that refused to treat his child. The boy died. Now Nathan seeks to assuage the pain of others by any means necessary. In tonight's premiere, that involves a double-cross. In Tuesday's episode (at 10 p.m., the show's regular time slot), he aids a soldier shot by private security contractors in Iraq.

Nathan is aided in his exploits by Eliot and Alec, who don't always get along, and professional thief Parker (Beth Riesgraf) and grifter Sophie (Gina Bellman).

Viewers have rejected recent shows about thieves (notably FX's "Thief" and CBS's "Smith"), so it's not surprising that the thievery on display in "Leverage" is more altruistic.

"Corporations have all the money, all the power and they use it to make people like you go away," Nathan says, beginning what amounts to a mission statement. "Right now you're suffering under an enormous weight. We provide ... leverage."

The series is executive produced by Dean Devlin ("Independence Day"), who directed the pilot, and John Rogers and Chris Downey, who wrote tonight's premiere. Devlin said the show fits as a companion to TNT's other law-and-order-themed series.

"All of those shows are about a quest for justice," Devlin said in July at a TNT press conference in Beverly Hills, Calif. "People who are too big, too important, too connected, too rich for the heroes of the other shows to catch, sometimes you need bad guys to go after them. So at the core of it, even though we have some [irregular] heroes, it's still about justice."

But every episode won't be about corporate greed.

"The theme is basically much more power," Devlin said. "We have one where a pharmaceutical company was responsible for a wrongful death of a teenage girl because they covered up research. ... We've got one where we go up against the mob."

That seems tiresome without much character growth, and Devlin said season one won't have much of a serialized story beyond the team ultimately confronting Nathan over drinking to excess.

"We're big believers in first season you want it to be easy enough for people who hear about a great show and drop in around episode four or five and not feel like they missed a whole lot, but there is definitely a growth arc," he said. "One of the unspoken reasons these people come together is not just the fun, but they're all broken and they've found this kind of weird ramshackle family. The growth of that family over the course of the season definitely pays off."

Maybe it'll pay off for those who stick with "Leverage," but it's difficult to imagine many viewers continuing to tune in when there's so little to recommend about this show that threatens to become unbearably repetitive.

Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv Timothy Hutton plays Nathan Ford in "Leverage."


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