Leverage: The 1st Season
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan C. Stevenson (17th August 2009).
The Show

I’ll be honest, when the previews for "Leverage" began appearing on TNT last year I decided fairly quickly that I’d be skipping it. Sure enough by the time "Leverage" premiered in December 2008 I was steadfast in my commitment to do anything in my power to miss watching the series – this conviction had been born out of my hatred for the fragrant over-promotion TNT was giving this show. No matter the time of day, or the program I’d be watching, Timothy Hutton would eventually saunter onto screen with a LEVERAGE logo and lean up against it, arms crossed, trying to draw my attention towards him.

I wish TNT would stop doing this sort of thing. I cannot be the only one disturbed by these pop-up people who invade my television at least once between commercial breaks. And I cannot be the only one turned off enough by them to actively avoid the programming they advertise, not because the show looks bad, but because of spite; spite that stems from my anger with the network because they ruin my other shows with these annoying snipes and banners. Maybe a bit childish… boycotting a show not because of its message but because I disapprove of the way it was advertised… but, dammit, as a TV watcher I’ve very little power, and deciding what I do and don’t watch, whatever my reasons, is one of the few things I can control. It is because of this choice to abstain from viewing "Leverage" that I had never seen it, nor intended to see it, ever. Then I was given the job to review this DVD set and, after sitting through the 13 episodes of season one (10 of which are good), I kind of wish I’d been watching all along.

The story is most easily described as a modern day Robin Hood with just a tiny bit of "Ocean's 11" (1960 or 2001) thrown in. Nathan Ford (Timothy Hutton), an ex-Insurance Investigator, leads a team of top-notch thieves – now doing some good, rather than harm – as they work together to take from the corrupt ultra-rich and give back to the disenfranchised and poor. The team is comprised of four members besides Ford. Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman), a failed actress who’s honestly no good on stage or in front of the camera, is at her prime when and only when she’s playing the part of a con. She uses her feminine ways to trick marks. Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane) – an ex-solider and possible mercenary (his past is a little cloudy) – is the muscle. He hates guns. Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge) is the team’s techno-specialist. He’s an expert hacker who can do pretty much anything with an Internet connection and a computer. Finally, there’s (my personal favorite) Parker (Beth Riesgraf). She’s a bit socially awkward but can crack any safe, pick any lock and has an almost compulsive need to steal.

"Leverage" harkens back to the TV of yesteryear: to a time when the little guy could take on the system and win. In an early episode of the series, a doctor who has just been given millions of dollars by our team (they stole it from an evil death merchant) says, “The world [just] doesn’t work this way.” And she’s right – in reality, a place where Bernie Madoff ruins peoples lives, steals billions upon billions of dollars, and only receives a sentence of life in prison (rightfully so; but also far from complete justice), the actions of the "Leverage" team wouldn’t fly – they’d be in prison along side Madoff even though they were trying to correct a wrong (there is also the point that in reality, people like Nathan Ford and his team don’t really exist). But, the brilliance of all of this is that "Leverage" doesn’t take place in our world. It is a work of fiction and because of that reason it can operate in whichever dimension it wants too. It doesn’t have to be overly realistic and it’s kind of part of the fun knowing that the show isn’t steeped in tons of reality. In a way, the series is a lot like "The A-Team" (1983-1987) or "Knight Rider" (1982-1986) or any other show with similar themes from the late 70's and 80's – this team of do-gooders fights wrong and protects those who can’t do so themselves: the towns people, the struggling mother, the widow, the helpless farmer, the hospital and patients about to be displaced, the parish. Episode plots are sometimes very much in line with those older shows – in "The Bank Shot Job" our team takes on a Judge that rules his Podunk town with an iron fist. The writers are conscious of this, of course. In said episode one of the characters remarks that the events have laid out in front of them like something from "The Dukes of Hazzard" (1979-1985). But episodes can be a bit more contemporary, too – "The Homecoming Job" has our team taking down a Blackwater-esque organization and deals with soldiers [casualties] of the Iraq War.

"Leverage" certainly isn’t the best program ever created – it’s not the most original, its episodic structure is both a blessing and curse (viewers may find it entertaining, even refreshing, at first, but, mature TV watchers have come to expect multi-episode arcs today; something "Leverage" lacks on a large level) and by the end of first season it’s concept is already wearing a little thin on me. I’m not entirely convinced "Leverage" has the legs to be a long running, 5+ season show: but, hey, maybe I’m wrong. (Look at how long "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (2000-Present) has lasted and it’s entirely formulaic and respective.) In the end though, "Leverage" has got two things going for it that many other shows do not: at the end of the day its highly entertaining and the characters (even the flawed ones) are extremely likable. This is a strong debut season of a show I really kind of like. Who knows how "Leverage" will turn out in later seasons – but as of now, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

All 13 episodes of the series’ first season are included in their original production order (certain episodes aired out of sequence on TNT). An extended version of the pilot that aired as a commercial free premiere on TNT is offered as the only option for that particular episode: the shorter version, edited down to approximately 43 minutes (the shows average allotted time, given commercials) is not included. Episodes appear in the following order:

- "The Nigerian Job" (a.k.a. Pilot)
- "The Homecoming Job"
- "The Wedding Job"
- "The Snow Job"
- "The Mile High Job"
- "The Miracle Job"
- "The Two-Horse Job"
- "The Bank Shot Job"
- "The Stork Job"
- "The Juror # 6 Job" (Side Note: this is my personal favorite; directed by Jonathan Frakes (a.k.a. Cmdr. William T. Riker of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (1987-1994)), guest-starring Brent Spiner (a.k.a. Lt. Cmdr Data of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (1987-1994)), and featuring a humor-based, Parker-heavy storyline, its by far the funniest episode on the season and highly entertaining).
- "The 12-Step Job"
- "The First David Job"
- "The Second David Job"

Video

Shot digitally with The RED One camera, "Leverage" looks just about as you would expect it to. Presented in the native 1.78:1 widescreen window, the DVD is enhanced for 16x9 displays. The show is crisp, clear and clean. It looks good for DVD, thanks largely to the slick high def source this is a down-conversion of. Dark scenes show some signs of noise and artifacts but this is otherwise an acceptable modern TV presentation.

Audio

An English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is the only option and it sounds good – not extraordinary, but good. Dialog is front-focused, mostly coming directly from the center, and clear. Surround channels are used intelligently – not extensively, but there to add depth when needed. The shows score is probably the most noticeable aspect, providing nice variance and range to an otherwise above average but by-the-book soundtrack.
There are no subtitles.

Extras

"Leverage: The 1st Season" has an above average assortment of supplements spanning 4 discs with 13 audio commentaries, 5 featurettes, multiple deleted scenes and bonus trailers (although only one is related to the show). Most of the material (trailers excluded) are presented with 16x9 enhancement.

DISC ONE:

Audio commentaries on all episodes: all 13 episodes of the first season have commentary from the series’ writers, producers and directors. The participants are very well spoken and these tracks are full of interesting discussion on each episode, offering loads of production info including shooting locations and scripts. Commentaries on disc one include:

- "The Nigerian Job" featuring episode writer/executive producer Chris Downey, episode writer/executive producer John Rogers and episode director/executive producer Dean Devlin.
- "The Homecoming Job" featuring executive producer Chris Downey, episode writer/executive producer John Rogers and episode director/executive producer Dean Devlin.
- "The Wedding Job" with executive producers Dean Devlin, Chris Downey, John Rogers and episode director Jonathan Frakes.

There are 11 deleted scenes on disc one. Cuts from "The Nigerian Job", "The Homecoming Job" and "The Wedding Job" include:

- Nathan arrives drunk to a job interview and uncovers a robbery in progress. 1 minute 42 seconds.
- A flashback of Parker doing a ‘wink and shimmy.’ 48 seconds.
- A flashback of Nathan’s son dying runs 40 seconds.
- Victor Dubenich (Saul Rubinek) explains how he’s figured out our team and their con. 1 minute 3 seconds.
- An alternate take of our team in transit to take down Dubenich. 57 seconds.
- An extended version of Sophie’s soap commercial audition. 1 minute 30 seconds.
- Hardison wants to know why the group of Castleman Security agents is so angry. 1 minute 38 seconds.
- Another take on the scene above. 1 minute 20 seconds.
- And yet another take on the scene. 57 seconds.
- And still another take. 56 seconds.
- Nathan and Hardison bicker in the car about malfunctioning earpieces. 15 seconds.

Pre-menu bonus trailers (also appear in the menu under previews) for:

- "Leverage" TNT promo runs for 32 seconds.
- "Paramount/CBS TV on DVD" promo runs for 2 minute 8 seconds.
- "Echelon Conspiracy" runs for 2 minutes 13 seconds.

DISC TWO:

Audio commentaries on all episodes: all 13 episodes of the first season have commentary from the series writers, producers and directors. Everyone is very well spoken and these tracks are full of interesting discussion on each episode. The participants dissect loads of production info including shooting locations and scripts. Commentaries on disc two include:

- "The Snow Job" with executive producers Dean Devlin, Chris Downey, John Rogers, episode writer Albert Kim and episode director Tony Bill.
- "The Mile High Job" with executive producers John Rogers and Chris Downey, episode writer Amy Berg and episode director Rob Minkoff.
- "The Miracle Job" featuring executive producers Chris Downey and John Rogers, episode writer Christine Boylan and episode director Arvin Brown.

There are 7 deleted scenes on disc two. Cuts from "The Snow Job", "The Mile High Job" and "The Miracle Job" include:

- An extended scene; as Sophie charms the more business savvy of two brothers, Parker wonders aloud how she’s able to do it. Eliot asks Parker questioningly, “what, you’ve never given anyone the wink and shimmy?” – the deleted flashback of Parker’s aborted attempt is inter cut. 1 minute 27 seconds.
- An extended take on the “Glen Gary, Glen Death” pitch. 1 minute.
- An extended scene of the Retzing family finding out that they’ve just been conned; before the bombardment of phone calls, father Henry asks his two boys if they should go camping. 20 seconds.
- An unnamed man in a neck brace (Jonathan Frakes) can’t help but listen to Nathan’s one-sided argument with himself (of course, Nathan is really arguing with his team through his earpiece). 33 seconds.
- The Frakes scene from an alternate angle. This one also is sort of an outtake as at the end both Timothy Hutton and Jonathan Frakes burst out laughing. 38 seconds.
- A throwaway scene of Hardison walking to the elevator. 24 seconds.
- An extended take on Hardison’s line, “I never do anything my Nana said, ‘don’t do.’” In a flashback we learn that apparently his Nana never said there was anything wrong with hacking and defrauding banks. 46 seconds.

DISC THREE:

Audio commentaries on all episodes: all 13 episodes of the first season have commentary from the series writers, directors and producers. Everyone is very well spoken and these tracks are full of interesting discussion on each episode. The participants dissect loads of production info including shooting locations and scripts. Commentaries on disc three include:

- "The Two-Horse Job" with series creators/executive producers John Rogers and Chris Downey, episode writers Melissa Glenn and Jessica Rieder and episode director Craig R. Baxley.
- "The Bank Shot Job" with writer and producer Amy Berg, executive producer/creator John Rogers and director Dean Devlin.
- "The Stork Job" with Chris Downey, John Rogers, episode writer Albert Kim and episode director Marc Roskin.
- "The Juror #6 Job" with creators John Rogers and Chris Downey, episode writer Rebecca Kirsch and director Jonathan Frakes.

There are 4 deleted scenes on disc three. Cuts from "The Two-Horse Job" and "The Bank Short Job" include:

- An extended scene of the poker game. 4 minutes.
- An extended take on Sterling’s (Mark Sheppard) interrogation of Nathan. 2 minutes 31 seconds.
- The Two-Horse Job’s big reveal is extended. 1 minute 29 seconds.
- A slightly altered version of the scene in which our faux FBI agents (Hardison and Parker) quickly vacate the crime as two real agents show up. 1 minute 22 seconds.

DISC THREE:

Audio commentaries on all episodes: all 13 episodes of the first season have commentary from the series writers and producers. Everyone is very well spoken and these tracks are full of interesting discussion on each episode. The participants dissect loads of production info including shooting locations and scripts. Commentaries on disc four include:

- "The 12-Step Job" with executive producers Dean Devlin, writer/executive producer Chris Downey, executive producer John Rogers, writer/producer Amy Berg and episode director Rod Hardy.
- "The First David Job" featuring episode writer/executive producer John Rogers and director Dean Devlin.
- "The Second David Job" with writers/producers Chris Downey, John Rogers and episode director Dean Devlin.

"Leverage”: Behind the Scenes" is an EPK making-of featurette. At 12 minutes 38 seconds this is a bit grating – and nothing that you won’t learn via the far better commentaries is discussed here.

"Anatomy of a Stunt Fight", running 3 minutes 23 seconds, is a brief but informative featurette that focuses on a particularly impressive fight in the series.

"The Cameras of Leverage" featurette, running 2 minutes 14 seconds, is a short look at the different cameras used to shoot the series. The RED One, the shows primary camera and a 4K Digital device, is shown, as are a few of the other HD machines that do double duty. This featurette would have been better, in my opinion, had it included commentary from the series’ cinematographers and directors giving thoughts on working with these machines.

"Beth Riesgraf’s Crazy Actress Spoof" is a featurette containing a skit with the actress as she pretends to be a diva-like star, barking orders during a writer’s session. This runs 5 minutes 1 second.

"Leverage Gets Renewed" this last featurette has executive producer Dean Devlin informing the cast and crew that the series has been picked up for a 15-episode second season. 2 minutes 52 seconds.

There are 5 deleted scenes on disc four. Cuts from "The 12-Step Job" and "The Second David Job" include:

- Nate takes the mark (Drew Powell) out for tacos. 59 seconds.
- Testimonials that prove Jack (Drew Powell) may not be all that bad. 54 seconds.
- Sophie gives Jack and Parker the task of writing out a list of those they’ve wronged. 49 seconds.
- Jack tells Nathan that he doesn’t care if he lives or dies: in fact, he muses that his death may be better for everyone. 46 seconds.
- Parker does the ol’ switch-a-roo with some medication while a pharmacist is distracted on the phone. 30 seconds.

Packaging

Packaged in a 4-disc amaray case with a cardboard slip-cover.

Overall

The Show: B Video: B Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B

 


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