The network formerly known as Court TV finds a program right in its wheelhouse with “The Real Hustle,” which essentially plays like a magic show with a semi-educational consumer-protection hook. A trio of scam artists stage various hidden-camera stings on unsuspecting New Yorkers — picking pockets, pilfering credit-card info and prompting personal introspection tethered to each half-hour’s signature line: “How much could they get … from you?” The channel is attempting to re-brand itself as a more liberating all-reality destination, and “Hustle” plays like an assured step in that direction.
Of course, there is one major drawback to the show — which consists of eight episodes scheduled as back-to-back half-hours — namely, that beyond warning consumers about the risks they face from unscrupulous parties, it also illustrates ways people can be swindled, ideally without going quite so far as to provide a “how-to” component. Then again, you can’t make reality TV without breakin’ a few eggs, right?
Apollo Robbins is billed as an “expert pickpocket and personal security consultant,” and he’s paired with Ryan Oakes (who’s basically a magician) and Dani Marco, an actress “skilled in distraction techniques,” which sounds like a fancy of way of saying when it comes to attractive women, men are idiots.
As in Sci Fi Channel’s “Mind Control With Derren Brown,” part of the intrigue surrounds the psychology of the various cons — the ways people can be manipulated, fooled and distracted, especially if they’re sauntering across a busy Manhattan intersection gabbing away on a cell phone.
Like so much reality TV, the show is overproduced, from repeated shots of the leads posing for the camera to the “Jaws”-like music that accompanies each operation. Still, as constructed, the series proves slick and fast-paced, taking full advantage of its hidden-camera facilities to provide various angles on Robbins’ and Oakes’ dexterous doings. (Stolen money is quickly returned, though you wonder whether, if this goes on long enough, someone will punch out one of the perpetrators before they can complete the “It’s all for TV, be a good sport!” explanation.)
By the way, a show about cons and scams, produced by guys with names like Matt Crook and Andrew O’Connor? After watching an hour of “The Real Hustle,” it’s tempting to be suspicious of just about everything.