Leverage: The 2nd Season
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (6th June 2010).
The Show

The sophomore slump: some shows don’t suffer from it, but most shows do. Unfortunately for me (and other fans of “Leverage”) the highly rated TNT series is definitely of the second camp. This second season is a much less impressive outing overall than the first – and I have to wonder if my love affair with this series has come to an end.

A quick recap from my review of the first season:

The story is most easily described as a modern day Robin Hood with just a tiny bit of “Oceans 11” thrown in. Nathan Ford (Timothy Hutton), an ex-Insurance Investigator, leads a team of top-notch thieves 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.

I was surprised to find the first season of “Leverage”, a show about a group of conmen (and women) who play more like wannabe Robin Hood’s than flat-out crooks, so enjoyable. Previews made it look awful, and subsequent commercials even worse. And yet, when I reviewed the 4-disc DVD set in September of last year, I actually came out liking it quite a bit, and gave the show a very solid, respectable “B.” I may have even given it a higher rating had it not been for the 3 episodes that I absolutely loathed.

Now, “Leverage” is back for it’s second season (actually, it’s third starts in a few weeks; season two is being released on DVD in cross-promotion), and my greatest fear for this show – that it would become repetitive, tiring and cliché – has been realized. The cons have become tiring; it’s no longer enough to just con a corrupt businessman. That’s been done – many times – on this show before. It’s also not enough to keep so much of the series grounded outside of the realm of character development. We still know very little about anyone in the group beyond Ford’s motivation. The writers try to give us some detail on the other team members but it’s never enough, and almost seems like an afterthought, as though they wrote an episode and then thought, “oh, crap, our characters are bland. Lets shoe-horn in a sub plot about [blank’s] past.” It’s mostly sloppy. And don’t even get me started on some of the cons this season. The first series was at least cemented in some sort of the tangible reality close to our own; everything that happened in that season seemed at least plausible. Not so in season two, there’s plenty of outlandish, unrealistic behavior, and far too many cons seem to rely on a gimmick – “The Top-Hat Job” – or currently popular topic – “The Tap-Out Job” – to push the plot along. Again, I imagine they wrote “Tap-Out” based purely on a comment along the lines of “Hey, MMA’s popular right? Let’s write about that.”

Not everything is terrible in season two though, and there are a few genuinely clever episodes that I really liked. For instance, “The Two-Live Crew Job” in which they logically up-the-ante by pinning Leverage against another equally skilled team of cons (led by guest star Wil Wheaton), is a sharp, and well-thought-out progression of the otherwise formulaic plot. It seems like the writers actually thought about how they could improve the series with this episode, and then did exactly that. Also a bright spot in this otherwise dreary, predicable show is the addition of Jeri Ryan to the cast. Actress Gina Bellman had to leave the series around the middle of the season due to pregnancy, and while Sophie’s exit was messily written (the excuse is that she needs to find herself – what?), it at least paved the way for a more interesting female member of the crew to join up (Bellman is good actress and likeable enough, but Sophie is a pretty one-dimensional character in all honesty). Tara (Ryan’s character) serves a much more interesting function to the series, by adding an “outsider” dynamic to the often too-chummy Leverage crew.

Ryan, by the way, is the forth person from the “Star Trek” franchise to be involved with “Leverage.” The geek inside me is giddy with that fact. Seven-of-Nine herself joins the ranks of Brent Spiner, who guest starred as a corrupt businessman in season one, Jonathan Frakes is a regular director of the show, stepping behind the camera for two episodes this season, and the aforementioned Wil “Wesley” Wheaton has a guest spot in my favorite entry in the series so far.

Now, even with my criticisms, I’m still not ready to fail “Leverage” – because it didn’t completely fail me. If nothing else, a majority of this season’s fifteen episodes are enjoyable, and don’t require much commitment from the viewer. Almost every episode resets after the credits roll, and the serialized nature of the program – something so lacking in modern television (of which I’m glad, for the most part) – makes “Leverage” light, popcorn entertainment and sometimes that’s all fans require. I for one think that the series could do more with it’s cast, writers, and other creative minds (the talent is certainly there), but if the show and it’s creators are content with being an average, crowd-pleasing commodity, so be it. Doesn’t mean it’s that good of a series though – and certainly not what it set out to be in the first season.

“Leverage: The 2nd Season” contains all 15 episodes from the second season, in their original “production order.” What that actually means, I’m not sure. I’ll assume that TNT aired a few of the episodes in a different sequence, which was the case with season one, but I can find no information on the web about any of broadcast issues. The following episodes are spread across four discs:

- "The Beantown Bailout Job"
Nate Ford returns to Boston Assurance and his old insurance job, but then an accident crosses his way and he saves a banker and his daughter. Later, the Leverage team meets at one of Sophie's performances, when they decide to help that banker deal with the local Irish mob.

- "The Tap-Out Job"
When the father of a hospitalized martial arts fighter asks Nate for help, the Leverage team tries to con the corrupt fight promoter.

- "The Order 23 Job"
The Leverage team stages an outbreak at a hospital in order to get a quarantined convict to reveal the location of his hidden money.

- "The Fairy Godparents Job"
In order to get a corrupt funds manager's money, which he has hidden at home, the Leverage team needs to act as fairy godparents to his stepson. By organizing a big performance for the kid they plan to lure the stepfather under house arrest out of his apartment.

- "The Three Days of the Hunter Job"
The Leverage team gets involved in a fraudulent newscast, when they try use fake government secrets to con newscaster Monica Hunter, who likes to demonize innocent people and then hide behind the network. The team uses the opportunity to get to know each other’s roles by switching them.

- "The Top Hat Job"
The Leverage team infiltrates a company to stop a corrupt vice president from selling contaminated frozen food. When their initial reconnaissance goes bad, they realize they'll have to go in posing as magicians.

- "The Two Live Crew Job"
Nate is asked by an elderly couple to recover a stolen painting for them, but when the Leverage team tries to steal the painting back, they figure out that another crew has beaten them to it, so Nate decides to take on that crew of con men in order to retrieve the painting.

- "The Ice Man Job"
Leverage tries to take down a diamond merchant who hires people to rob his own trucks in order to get the insurance payout. Meanwhile, the team has to cope with a missing Sophie, so Hardison takes over the grifter’s part by posing as "The Ice Man".

- "The Lost Heir Job"
The Leverage team helps the director of a charity get her rightful benefit. Tagging along is civil rights lawyer Tara Cole, while Sophie still resides in London.

- "The Runway Job"
The Leverage team cons the owners of a clothing company, after their employees are mistreated.

- "The Bottle Job"
The team employs a quick version of a classic con in an attempt to prevent a loan shark from taking over a bar.

- "The Zanzibar Marketplace Job"
Jim Sterling (Mark Sheppard) shows up to offer the team a job involving Nate's ex-wife Maggie (Kari Matchett), who is framed by an industrialist.

- "The Future Job"
The Leverage team takes on a fraudulent psychic.

- "The Three Strikes Job"
When Lt. Patrick Bonanno is shot while on a public corruption case involving mayor Brad Culpepper III, Nate decides to go after the corrupt mayor.

- "The Maltese Falcon Job"
The Leverage team continues to con the corrupt mayor, while the FBI and Jim Sterling close in on them.

Video

Paramount grants the series a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Shot digitally in high definition on the RED ONE camera, “Leverage” has all the polish and shine of a modern motion picture, but on a slightly less epic television budget. The image is sharp, with a strong black level and good depth. Colors remain natural, without any fringing or banding present, and detail proves to be above average in every scene. Issues come from the show’s aesthetic – creative decisions that hamper an otherwise perfect standard-def DVD rendering – whites, especially in exterior locations are frequently blown out, killing detail. Likewise, sometimes, shadow detail is insufficient due to similar directorial intentions, only with darks. Certainly, “Leverage” looks great – it’s just not the best looking series on DVD at the moment.

Audio

Paramount includes an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track on “Leverage: The 2nd Season” The series has a typical, but well-produced soundtrack with full use of the 6-channels throughout each episode. Surrounds get the expected use, the series is action oriented after all, and dialog remains always sharp and easy to discern. The shows score is probably the most noticeable aspect, providing nice variance and range to an otherwise above average but by-the-book soundtrack.
No subtitles are included.

Extras

The season itself may have slipped a bit comparatively, but Paramount’s 4-disc DVD release of season two is just as good as their handling of “Leverage: The 1st Season.” Each episode includes optional audio commentary from the writers, producers and director, while the fourth disc houses around 45-minutes of video based material including featurettes, a spoof video and a gag reel. Unfortunately, there are no deleted scenes included in this season (season one was stacked in that regard).

DISC ONE:

Audio commentaries. Each of the 15 episodes in season two includes an optional audio commentary with the shows writers, producers and directors. As was the case with the first DVD release, these tracks run the gamut from pretty good to great. The participants are easy going, offer plenty of details on the production and favor a reasoned balance of both technical and anecdotal information. Fans, be sure to check these tracks out. My one complaint: a total lack of participation from any of the actors. The commentaries include:

- “The Beantown Bailout Job” with Dean Devlin, John Rogers and Chris Downey.
- “The Tap-Out Job” with Marc Roskin, Albert Kim and John Rogers.
- “The Order 23 Job” with Rod Hardy, John Rogers and Chris Downey.
- “The Fairy Godparents Job” with Jonathan Frakes, Amy Berg, and Chris Downey.

DISC TWO:

Audio commentaries. Each of the 15 episodes in season two includes an optional audio commentary with the shows writers, producers and directors. As was the case with the first DVD release, these tracks run the gamut from pretty good to great. The participants are easy going, offer plenty of details on the production and favor a reasoned balance of both technical and anecdotal information. Fans, be sure to check these tracks out. My one complaint: a total lack of participation from any of the actors. The commentaries include:

- “The Three Days of the Hunter Job” with Marc Roskin, Melissa Glenn and Jessica Rieder.
- “The Top Hat Job” with Peter O’Fallon, M. Scott Veach and Christine Boylan.
- “The Two Live Crew Job” with Dean Devlin, Amy Berg and John Rogers.
- “The Ice Man Job” with John Rogers, Chris Downey and Christine Boylan.

DISC THREE:

Audio commentaries. Each of the 15 episodes in season two includes an optional audio commentary with the shows writers, producers and directors. As was the case with the first DVD release, these tracks run the gamut from pretty good to great. The participants are easy going, offer plenty of details on the production and favor a reasoned balance of both technical and anecdotal information. Fans, be sure to check these tracks out. My one complaint: a total lack of participation from any of the actors. The commentaries include:

- “The Lost Heir Job” with Peter Winther, John Rogers and Chris Downey.
- “The Runway Job” with Marc Roskin, Albert Kim, Chris Downey.
- “The Bottle Job” with Jonathan Frakes, Chris Downey and John Rogers.
- “The Zanzibar Marketplace Job” with Jeremiah S. Chechik, Melissa Glenn and Jessica Rieder.

DISC FOUR:

Audio commentaries. Each of the 15 episodes in season two includes an optional audio commentary with the shows writers, producers and directors. As was the case with the first DVD release, these tracks run the gamut from pretty good to great. The participants are easy going, offer plenty of details on the production and favor a reasoned balance of both technical and anecdotal information. Fans, be sure to check these tracks out. My one complaint: a total lack of participation from any of the actors. The commentaries include:

- “The Future Job” with Marc Roskin, Amy Berg and Chris Downey.
- “The Three Strikes Job” with Dean Devlin, John Rogers and Chris Downey.
- “The Maltese Falcon Job” with Dean Devlin, John Rogers and Chris Downey.

“The Creators of Leverage: Q&A” is a featurette which contains the proceedings of a live Q&A session with Chris Downey, John Rogers and Dean Devlin and a their conversation with an audience. They discuss the origins of the show, casting, and the particulars of writing and producing for television. Pretty interesting stuff, actually. Runs 18 minutes 55 seconds.

The bluntly titled “John Rogers Set Tour” is just that. In this featurette producer John Rogers gives viewers a tour of the Leverage HQ set, and briefly talks about shooting the series in Portland. 3 minutes 8 seconds.

“Behind the Boom” is an effects oriented featurette. Go behind-the-scenes and see the work that is put into creating some of the show’s (rather poor) CG related sequences and other special effects, including the destruction of a building for a key moment in the series. 7 minutes 14 seconds.

“The Hand Job.” Actor Aldis Hodge cons the producers into getting him a pony in this sort-of-funny spoof video in which he shows viewers real life con and scamming techniques. 5 minutes 8 seconds.

A featurette focusing on Andy Lange’s music and score used in the series, titled “Andy Lange Music” is brief, with surface-level comments from Lange and the producers. 2 minutes 58 seconds.

Finally, a gag reel, produced for the second season wrap party is included. It starts off rather terribly and doesn’t improve until the end. It’s funny – eventually. 9 minutes 2 seconds.

Packaging

The four-disc set comes packaged in a standard clear keep case, with a cardboard slipcover included in early pressings.

Overall

“Leverage” had a bumpy second season, but it wasn’t terrible – at least not completely. The DVD release should please fans, with excellent audio and video, and a surprisingly robust supplemental package. Recommended.

The Show: C+ Video: B Audio: B Extras: B- Overall: B

 


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