Here's the companion piece to last week's episode showcasing the women of Leverage. This time out, it's the men's turn to be showcased. Apparently, Leverage thinks that, if the background action is especially improbable, in a sprawling, international-cast kind of way, then it'll be that much easier to just showcase the shit out of whoever is up front. It's a theory that I think I can detect a few holes in, but both episodes land squarely on the better side of passable. If one flaw that both halves of this experiment share is that they make you aware of how well the regular cast members work together to make you miss the ones who are barely featured, that's more of a backhanded compliment than a complaint anyway. I'm not even sure it's all that backhanded.
Maybe the ladies came off a little better, if only because the comic-con-game/espionage genre practically demands that they be given the chance to dress up and swan about a little in glamorous settings while being paired off with gorgeous men. Timothy Hutton could probably still be a world-class romantic comedian if he'd comb his hair and assert himself a little. But something in him seems to resist that, as if he saw it as his duty as a good character lead to run away from anything that might remind people of his distant past as a thinking woman's young-adult heartthrob. (If The New York Review Of Books had run fold-out pin-up posters in the days of Ordinary People, Daniel, and The Falcon and the Snowman, Timothy would have had a monopoly on them.) His idea of a showcase is an episode that devotes plenty of time to making light of his character's drinking problem (he gets to correct an old acquaintance who asks if he's drinking again by saying that it's not "again," it's "still") and, for the sake of a laugh, dressing up as a priest. I like the fact that Leverage sees Nate Ford's proud status as (in his words) a "functioning alcoholic" as something to crack mean jokes about rather than an excuse for hand-wringing and dark nights of the soul. I'm not so crazy about the fact that it can't resist a goosy music cue when it's revealed that it's him inside the priest suit. Just because the show has developed enough self-respect to avoid solemnity doesn't mean it couldn't develop a little more and say goodbye to forced cuteness.
The plot itself was hardly free of the stuff. It dug a character out of an episode from two years ago, Hurley, played by Drew Powell, an actor whose size and amiable demeanor required somebody, several years ago, to create a prequel to Bonanza, just because it would have been a terrible waste if this guy had never had a chance to play Hoss Cartwright. Having established that Hurley was a lot nicer now that he was before the crew ran a game on him and got him thrown in jail, the episode7 then established that he'd somehow gotten even dumber, and, as part of his rehabilitative self-reinvention program, was ferrying truckloads of Jesus statuettes for a nun who clearly couldn't really be a nun, because she was too hot. As a result, he had members of two different criminal organizations, one Latin and one Irish, running around the streets trying to find him so they could shoot him in the head. Nate only had to get the bare details down before developing his own theory about what was going on, but Hurley didn't believe him. "I used to be a drug addict," he said, with perfect, sweet logic. "I think I'd know if I was a drug mule."
Well, yes and no. Eager to show that Nate was right but not wanting to lump a fake nun that hot in with the ugly bad guys, the show split the difference and revealed that Sister Hotness was part of an independent socialized-medicine redistribution program for the very sick and financially hard-up. She was, she explained, "part of a group that liberates [cancer] drugs from the factories," sticks them inside the religious sculptures, and gets them into the hands of people who need them but have no other way to get them. It goes without saying that the people who wanted to interfere with such a well-intentioned scheme must have been very bad people indeed. Anyway, it'll kind of have to go without further explanation, since I didn't really master the intricacies of why they wanted to kill everybody in sight, maybe because I was too busy admiring the good sister's passionate belief in her cause and what expressing that belief passionately did to her cleavage.
The funny thing is, at the end, it was perfectly clear what Nate and the boys were up to and why, but they went ahead anyway and included a little montage showing them doing it all again, as if this time we in the audience would get it. It was a little like those old "News for the Hard of Hearing" segments at the end of Weekend Update, where Chevy Chase would re-read the top story of the night while Garrett Morris popped up in a little box in the corner of the screen, cupped his hands around his mouth, and hollered it at you. It's a special kind of show that can manage to make you feel dumb by assuming that you don't understand what's going on when you do, right after you've felt dumb for not being able to keep up with the stuff that doesn't get a little recap. But maybe the show was just running short.
It wasn't the only instance of padding in the episode, and it wasn't the best. That honor probably falls to a conversation between two thugs that was maybe a couple of drafts away from being something Quentin Tarantino would have been proud of. (It started out with the thugs arguing about whether or not it was acceptable to murder somebody inside a church and somehow developed into a debate on the religious nature of the Boy Scouts, based on their code. Finally, the more trigger-happy of the two guys asked his partner how come he knew so much about the Boy Scouts. The fellow stiffened up, as if fighting back tears, and said, "We all had dreams once.") Good stuff, but somehow, I didn't enjoy it as much as Hardison's imitation of Eddie Murphy busting up the joint in 48 Hrs. ("I'm a bad cop!" he repeated anytime the people he was trying to con just seemed confused) or watching Eliot thrash some goons while Hardison urges him to just step away from them so he can shoot them, or attack a moving car using an umbrella as a harpoon, or just the casual way it was revealed, at the end, that he'd be collecting the fake nun's company as his finder's fee. The big point may be that only having to come up with material for half the regular characters frees the writers up to invent more strikingly weird stuff for the supporting guest stars, but that the trade-off may not be worth it.
- "Terrorism and peanut allergies do not mix." It makes no sense out of context, and it barely made any better sense in context, but for some reason, I can't shake the feeling that this would make a great T-shirt.