Spiritually indebted to “Mission: Impossible” and to a lesser degree “The Sting,” “Leverage” seeks to revive the ’70s-style caper, as a crack squad of crooks mounts fabulously elaborate scams — targeting unfeeling corporations and corrupt tycoons. That gives the series a timely Robin Hood streak, but, aside from an easygoing quality and mild comic flair, there’s not much here to steal the hearts of viewers; instead, it’s another modest, lightweight addition to TNT’s diner-style menu of comfort food for a weary nation.
The ad-free premiere uses that extra time to introduce an unlikely team of criminals with unique specialties, assembled by an airline exec (guest Saul Rubinek). The exec taps Nate Ford (Timothy Hutton) — a former insurance investigator whose son died because his callous employer denied medical claims — to serve as their leader.
Think of Ford as a modern version of the pulp hero Doc Savage, and the rest of this gang as his Fabulous Four: Sophie (Gina Bellman), an accomplished grifter and aspiring actress who only performs convincingly when she’s involved in a scam; Parker (Beth Riesgraf), an acrobatic thief; Alec (Aldis Hodge), a computer-hacking wizard; and Eliot (Christian Kane), a martial-arts badass.
Accustomed to working alone, Ford orchestrates how they can operate together, and their initial collaboration inspires them to reunite for similar endeavors — providing “leverage” to those in need of help against uncaring conglomerates. Hence the second installment, where they assist a wounded Iraqi war vet done wrong by a shady mogul and crooked politician.
In addition to producer Dean Devlin, the creative team includes writers Chris Downey and John Rogers, whose comedy backgrounds underscore that “Leverage’s” main goal is mercifully less about indicting big-business malfeasance than simply delivering cheeky fun. The program sputters, in fact, whenever the stories veer toward sobriety, with Bellman’s terrible actress/first-rate con artist and Hodge’s “Star Wars”-quoting techno-geek providing the lightest moments and a few stylish touches.
Ultimately, though, even amid a period of heightened hostility toward greedy fat cats, this kind ofpremise (which also bears a resemblance to AMC’s “Hustle”) can easily begin wearing thin almost before the premiere ends — promising as it does another dose of shimmying down zip lines and improbable escapes every week.
The best thing TNT has going for it, frankly, is the same cultural trend that also appears to be benefiting CBS — namely, hard times fostering an appetite for undemanding fare, helping the channel amass solid tune-in for shows with a retro flavor. Even so, it’s difficult to envision how a slick-but-slim concept like “Leverage” can maintain its footing over the long haul.