In the mid-to-late 2000s, heist stories were all the rage after the roaring success of Ocean’s Eleven in 2001. Heist stories are great because they lay everything out for the audience, so they know pretty much exactly what to look for, even in a complex scenario. Then something goes wrong, and the audience gets to try to figure out if they can find the way out before the protagonists show them. Generally speaking, they feature a lot of humor in the form of personality conflicts between the different kinds of specialists who all get pulled together to make the heist happen.
Enter, in 2008, the TV show Leverage. It combines the above heist dynamic with a Robin Hood “take from the rich and give to the poor” story mechanism. These criminals aren’t just fun; they’re also secretly fighting for justice. Basically, if you liked Ocean’s Eleven but wished they were secretly good guys or The A-Team but wished they’d use fewer guns (even if the body count was remarkably low), this show is aimed straight at you.
The main cast consists of five characters. The brains of the operation is Nate Ford (played by Timothy Hutton,) a former insurance investigator; he keeps the team on track by picking the targets and coming up with the plans. Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman) is a grifter who relies on her looks, charm, and acting talents to con people into willingly giving up the goods. Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane) is the heavy man; he beats people up as necessary. Parker (Beth Riesgraf) is a retrieval specialist; she picks locks, cracks safes, and generally gets into places where people don’t want her to be. Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge) is the hacker of the group, something you have to have in your 2000s-era heist team.
For one reason or another, I ended up watching this show as it came out but not on TV - I used the TNT website. Streaming hadn’t yet gone mainstream, it was awful quality, but it was way more convenient than waiting for an episode to be aired again. I adored it, and when I realized it had a baseball episode, I knew what I was going to follow up last week’s Deep Space Nine article.
Unfortunately, this is far from the show’s best episode and has very little baseball in it. If you’re interested in the series based on the above paragraphs, I recommend you start at the beginning so you can watch the relationships build and grow. If you jump in here, you’re going to be missing out on a lot of the nuance. For example, Sophie isn’t present for this episode because Gina Bellman’s pregnancy kept her out of most of the second season. Instead, she was replaced by Tara Cole (Jeri Ryan.) You also wouldn’t be expected to know that Nate is an alcoholic, so his casual downing of multiple shots near the beginning of the episode isn’t just a sign of how much he misses Sophie; it’s a sign that he’s relapsing. At this point in the season, he’s been drinking for a while and it’s eroding the team’s trust in his judgments. You also wouldn’t recognize team arch-nemesis Sterling when he makes his grand entrance late in the episode.
The episode largely wastes the talents of character actor Richard Kind, who plays corrupt mayor Bradford Culpepper III. The role written for him never allows him to get into any kind of rhythm and deliver his usual brand of cinematic magic. He does do better in the subsequent episode, which raises another issue with anyone considering starting their journey into Leverage here: this is the first episode of a two-parter.
The episode did give us this, though:
That’s a commercial Hardison spent several hours putting together to help sell the fake baseball player identity he creates for Eliot.
There is a Royals connection because Hardison decided to give the fake identity a year in the Royals farm system before having him bounce around the globe. But, well, after that, it goes downhill. Eliot has little to no experience with baseball, he doesn’t like the sport, but Hardison makes him a catcher - one of the most complicated positions in the entire sport. Not only that, but Eliot takes to the sport like a duck to water; he finds himself instantly able to call an effective game as a backstop and crush balls all over the field when he has a bat in his hands. There are only a couple of actual baseball scenes, and the game is barely relevant in either of them. In the first, the pitcher calls a timeout so the team can ask Eliot if the rumors about the team being moved are true. The other is when Eliot is at bat, Nate tells the team to go back to the base so they can plan their next steps, and he tells them he’s not leaving until the game is over so the audience can laugh at this man who hated the sport but is now obsessed with it.
On its own, this episode absolutely does not hold up; the nuance that makes these characters lovable is too necessary. The show itself, however, absolutely still holds up very well. You’re going to have to suspend your disbelief quite a bit to believe that these people are capable of all of the feats they claim to be capable of. However, the cast is charming, the dynamic is fun, and it’s nice to see someone put corrupt government officials and massive corporations in their place. The show holds up so well, in fact, that IMDb TV got a hold of the rights and is currently filming a new season. It will feature the entire original cast, minus Timothy Hutton. Hutton, for all his star power at the time of the original’s release, was almost certainly the most easily replaced cast member. Noah Wyle will take over in a similar but different role. They even got Aldis Hodge, who easily has the most star power of the team in 2020, to come back in a recurring role subject to his availability as he continues to work on the Showtime series City on a Hill.
I was disappointed in this episode because I wanted to share it with all of you and hopefully inspire you to watch more Leverage. I don’t think this episode can pull that off. I hope you’ll all watch Leverage anyway, though. It’s a terrific show that’s a ton of fun.