On ‘Leverage’: Why A Heist Show Is Exactly What The World Needs Right Now

“The rich and powerful take what they want, we steal it back for you” are the words repeated at the beginning of every episode of cult television show Leverage (2008 – 2012); they are the thesis, the motto, the succinct version of its synopsis. As we watch the main characters Robin Hood their way in and out of millionaires’ lives, stealing their reputation, their business, and always a little bit of their money to give to the people screwed over by the system, we feel vindicated, comforted and hopeful – even if it´s just for a brief moment. All feelings we really need these days. Which makes the fact that this show is getting a reboot even better!

The state of the world right now is incredibly fragile. Every news station, every commercial on television, every sign hung up on supermarkets reminds us how bad we´ve got it. Half the world has lost, or is on the brink of, losing their jobs, the healthcare system is crumbling, and corporations like Amazon – owned by a soon-to-be trillionaire, something that apparently exists now – were asking for donations from its customers not a full two months ago. It all sounds like the beginning of an episode of Leverage, where the bad guys are very close to getting away with it.

The setup of the show is simple; it follows four white-collar criminals – a hacker, a hitter, a grifter, and a thief – who band together with ex-insurance cop Nathan Ford (Timothy Hutton), to steal from the rich and give back to the people in need. They all used to prefer to work alone but have changed their minds through the power of friendship. OK, it´s more like they realise how much better they are when they work together, and they get addicted to how great being the good guy feels.

I re-watched this show and was surprised by the dark elements it possesses. It deals with long-term alcoholism, the death of one of the main character´s son because he was denied health insurance, trauma, self-hatred, identity issues, and many more. It has crime, corruption, disease, and stupid people that can´t come to terms with their feelings and don´t communicate.

It also has it’s lighter side, like the episode in which Elliot Spencer (Christian Kane), the character literally responsible for beating people up, accidentally becomes a country music star. He has fans, that Hardison (Aldis Hodge), the hacker and my personal favourite character, tricks into storming the car of the bad guy of the episode to stall him so that the team can help a musician play a song. And that’s not even the craziest the show gets. They infiltrate an Italian mob boss´ daughter´s wedding, and wind up having to organise it at the same time they try to pull off the crime. Leverage is series of mini heist movies that enjoys the hell out of the opportunity to tell stories that are sometimes painfully realistic, and at other times just delightfully silly. Above all else, it has a lot of fun.

“I need fun. We all need fun. Leverage´s silliness works because it doesn’t lower its standards to make fun of the underdog, and never lets itself fall into a hole of pessimism and unnecessary melodrama.”

Every episode features a similar story structure; good guy tells their story and asks for help, the Leverage team go find information on the bad guy. They infiltrate the wedding, food company, child trafficking cartel, government, etc. They then steal things, sometimes money, but not always. The show has a recurring gag where Nate, the appointed leader and mastermind of the group´s antics, announces they are about to steal the most outlandish thing and walks away. Some honourable mentions are: a movie, a baseball team, a high school reunion and an aeroplane. Then something unexpected goes wrong or their cover gets blown, but they always manage to solve the problem and win in the end. It sounds cliché, and it is, but I see it as a good thing. No matter the terrible and stressful situations they get themselves in, you know that they’ll always find a way out, and that never spoils the fun. If anything, it enhances it. We know where they will end up, but how they will get there? That´s the best part of the experience.

It’s the classic expression, ‘it´s not about the destination but the journey’, and when you can´t leave your house a good journey is exactly the kind of thing you need, even more so when it’s in good company. The show cares deeply about its characters, with showrunner John Rogers never sacrificing their growth in the name of cheap plot points. Parker (Beth Riesgraf) and Hardison’s relationship (one of two main romantic ones on the show) never feels rushed, or plagued by senseless drama. They take a while to get together, yes, but it feels organic and true to who their characters are. Hardison is too immature for a relationship at the beginning, and Parker needs time to become a person that can deal with feelings as well as she deals with tampering with multimillion-dollar security systems.

The creators and original producers John Rogers, Chris Downey and Dean Devlin will be fully involved in the upcoming reboot as producers, which gives me hope the show will remain firmly attached to its roots. Most of the main cast is also set to come back, with a single exception in arguably the show’s lead, Timothy Hutton. No statements have been issued from the executives regarding Hutton’s exclusion, though it’s likely related to the accusation earlier this year that he sexually assaulted a minor in 1983. Noah Wyle, from ER and The Librarians, will fill his gap in the show.

The Leverage reboot will find a world more pessimistic and more lost than it was in 2008. But I fully believe it will rise to the challenge and deliver us positive content, whilst never denying the terrible things that powerful people do at the expense of others. In the meantime, I´ll be re-watching the episode where they infiltrate a mall on Christmas and Elliot has to dress up as Santa.

Words By Gio Chiconelli

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