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HTF DVD REVIEW: Leverage: The Complete First Season

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#1 of 6 OFFLINE   Scott McAllister

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Posted July 14 2009 - 09:33 AM

 http://static.hometh...-14709690.jpg">Leverage: The Complete First Season      Studio:  Paramount
Year:  2009 Rated: NR Film Length:  584 minutes Aspect Ratio:  Widescreen Languages:  English Dolby Digital 5.1 Subtitles:  None Starring:  Timothy Hutton, Christian Kane, Aldis Hodge, Gina Bellman, Beth Riesgraf         The Show   "We provide….leverage."   What do you get when you combine an emotionally tortured former insurance investigator with four other professional criminals, each with their own specialty?  In the case of TNT, the result is the hit TV series “Leverage”, a smart and challenging new thriller/drama/comedy.  TNT took a gamble when they commissioned the series for a thirteen episode run, and it turned out to be a very smart risk when “Leverage” ended up topping out as the #1 ad-supported cable show for the Tuesday 10 pm time slot.   Nathan Ford (Academy Award winner Timothy Hutton) was a successful investigator for IYS Insurance, hunting down thieves and retrieving stolen property insured by his company.  Nate’s life takes a drastic and horrifying turn when his son’s cancer treatment is denied by IYS, causing his death.  The pilot episode picks up two years after Nate’s life started circling the drain, when he is approached at a bar by Victor Dubenich who asks him to coordinate a small group of loner thieves he assembled to retrieve mission critical jet schematics that were stolen from him.  Victor’s belief is that it takes an honest man to lead a group of cons, and Nate begrudgingly accepts.  When Victor doublecrosses them after Nate’s team retrieves the data, they go after Victor directly and end up forming a corporate front named “Leverage Consulting & Associates.”   Nate’s team of thieves is made up of people he’s all previously familiar with, having chased them all at one point or another during their criminal escapades.  Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge) is the computer, electronics, and networking expert.  Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane) is a merchandise retrieval specialist and is also highly trained in hand to hand combat and martial arts.  Parker (Beth Riesgraf) is the resident infiltration master and, quite simply, is so skilled in stealing objects that the show only classifies her as “Thief”.  The team is rounded out by grifter Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman) who acts as the pointwoman for most of the cons.  Together, they set out to topple greedy corporations and corrupt individuals who prey on ordinary citizens.   “Leverage” does a lot of things right, the first of which is the new angle on an old theme: revenge.  The Leverage team’s primary goal is to provide their clients the influence they need to get what’s due to them.  This is usually done by means of elaborate cons and heists meant to take not only financial reparations from the perpetrators, but also provide highly public embarrassments as well.  Due to the enormous success of their first con against Victor Dubenich, they are able to provide services at no cost to the client.   Character development is one of “Leverage’s” strongest points, and it’s handled exactly the way it should be.  Details about the backgrounds of each of the team members are drip fed down slowly throughout the entire season, so nobody is really given a spotlight in their advancement.  The great news is that it works well for the audience.  We find out that Hardison and Parker have more in common than it seems, Eliot may have possibly been involved with military black-ops groups, and Sophie and Nate apparently have a hinted-at history that goes back quite a few years.  Nate’s background is probably the one that viewers are most interested in, since it’s his tortured life that leads to his leading of the Leverage group in the first place.  He is the lynchpin of the team, and in a smartly chosen move by the production team, his backstory details are consistently fleshed out all the way up to the two-part season finale.   The show is not without a few niggles though, so it’s not all roses and perfection.  The vast majority of the first season’s episodes are strong, but there were a few filler episodes that lacked the punch and engagement established earlier in the season.  Also, as with almost any heist genre show or film, there’s a bit of deus ex machina going on during the elaborate cons, most notably with Hardison’s hacking scenes.  The show introduces him as a computer expert, but it would be great if, once or twice, the audience was shown exactly *how* he was doing something, instead of merely being shown that he did it.  These are fairly minor quibbles for an otherwise exemplary debut season for “Leverage”, but I’m noting them in the interest of fairness.      Picture Quality
  Leverage is offered only on DVD right now, but this is not a detracting factor.  The picture quality is razor sharp on a 1080p screen with bright colors and almost no oversaturation.  I was actually very surprised and impressed by the quality on these discs.  This is a great example of what a well prepared and mastered DVD can look like on a fairly average family television.  
Audio Quality
  The four disc set is offered only with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and it is more than adequate.  The soundfield is well spread out with a strong focus for dialogue on the center channel.  The music track is comprised mostly of low bass notes that do well through the subwoofer and the myriad of explosions are even more emphatic.  All in all, this is a well produced 5.1 track that viewers will be hard pressed to find a real complaint about.   Special Features
  “Leverage: Behind the Scenes”  (12:39)  This is a pretty decently presented featurette with all sorts of backstage info from the set.  Narrated mostly by Dean Devlin, this covers the requisite areas of behind the scenes info that viewers are used to.  Interviews with the cast and production stuff give an opportunity to elaborate on the process of making each episode.  The best part of this has got to be the segments with technical advisor Apollo Robbins who calls himself a mostly “white-hat” thief.  It’s worth checking out for a bit of extra entertainment.

“Anatomy of a Stunt Fight” (3:23).  This DVD extra has Christian Kane walking the audience through his four stage fight sequence from the season finale.

“The Cameras of Leverage” (2:07)  This is basically a 2 minute music video for the two cameras used during filming of the first season:  Red Digital Camera: Red One, and a Sony XDCAM PMW EX-1.  Oddly enough there’s no information given at all about the cameras.

“Leverage Gets Renewed” (2:50).  This is a brief, nifty, get together of the cast of of the show when they find out that they have been renewed for a second season.  There are actually some good surprises here, so I’m not going to spoil anything.
“Beth Riesgraf’s Crazy Actress Spoof”  (5:00).  The actress who plays Parker takes time out do a spoof of her herself meeting with the writing team to go over her proposed changes to the character for the 2nd season of the show.  Totally over the top and fairly funny, this extra is a fun example of Beth Riesgraf’s ability to poke fun at herself.
Deleted Scenes:  Each disc contains some deleted scenes from the respective episodes.  For the most part, these are interesting to watch and fun to see what could have been, but ultimately are best left as they are: deleted.  The show is edited well enough that the pacing never really provides an opportunity for these scenes to have been put in.
In addition to these specific special features, each episode also has an audio commentary track featuring some of the people behind the show (usually Dean Devlin, Chris Downey, and John Rogers).  Each track is very entertaining with some great insights from the production and writing staff.  It’s clear that these guys really love this show and have a great time making it.  I highly recommend that buyers listen to these tracks after they finish watching the series, as they are nearly as entertaining as the show itself.   Wrapping Up
  In this era it seems as if great shows go the way of the dodo long before they should while far inferior series get renewed year after year.  With that in mind, it’s a real treat to find a show as entertaining and well put together as “Leverage”.  What’s even better than that, though, is the fact that it has been renewed for a second season.  As a viewer of the series before I got this set to review, it’s nice to see our faith rewarded by a TV network by renewing a great show with lots of promise.  This DVD is packed with goodies and is a great value for what it offers.  Any season set that has great audio commentaries for every single episode is worth celebrating.  When all the other extras are added in, it’s just icing on the cake.   The first season of “Leverage” is highly entertaining, and the ensemble cast is truly on their “A” game for these thirteen episodes.  Special kudos should go out to Timothy Hutton for his portrayal of Nate as a slowly eroding moral man with a burgeoning drinking problem.  On the same note, Beth Riesgraf also gets special note for making Parker’s special brand of crazy so damn interesting.  I highly recommend this set to anybody who’s been searching for an entertaining, suspenseful new series to watch.  

"Being God must be tough, huh?"

"When you do it right, nobody thinks you did anything at all."

#2 of 6 OFFLINE   Scott McAllister

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Posted July 14 2009 - 09:38 AM

My apologies in advance for the bizarre formatting on this review.  I'm still trying to work out the kinks in my process with the new forums.

"Being God must be tough, huh?"

"When you do it right, nobody thinks you did anything at all."

#3 of 6 OFFLINE   DavidJ



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Posted July 14 2009 - 05:48 PM

Thanks for the review.  This is a show that we really enjoyed---it is a great light and fun summer show.  Sounds like they did a nice job on the DVD release and I'll be picking it up.

#4 of 6 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted July 15 2009 - 02:00 AM

This show was one of the happy surprises of the past television season, and I greatly enjoyed most of the episodes. The audience numbers fell away a little bit toward the end of the season when the Nathan/alcoholism subplot began to dominate and the episodes became darker and less fun.  I understand the tone will be a bit lighter this season and that other tweaks have been implemented for season two. Looking forward to the season premiere tonight. Thanks for the review.

#5 of 6 OFFLINE   Scott McAllister

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Posted July 15 2009 - 05:53 AM

 I think I agree with you in some ways about the focus on his alcoholism in the last third of the season, but I also think it was critical to the overall story arc of the first season, particularly in the season finale.

I have to remind myself that, as was mentioned many times in the commentaries, the producers didn't know whether they would be picked up for a 2nd season.  With that in mind, they crafted a self-encompassing season that could stand on its own in case it wasn't renewed.

Thanks for the feedback!

"Being God must be tough, huh?"

"When you do it right, nobody thinks you did anything at all."

#6 of 6 OFFLINE   Mark Talmadge

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Posted July 15 2009 - 06:15 AM

I have to agree with the reviewer about this series being one of the best shows to come out of last summer's run.

While I didn't get in on the show during its original broadcast, a friend of mine had taped the series and it had become one of my favourite shows. I especially liked the touch that they added to Nate's character that he wasn't perfect. Here we have an alcoholic who finds any excuse to have a drink and who leads his team into all kinds of cases.

I have to say that Leverage was one of the best surprises of last summer and I'm glad that we're getting 15 episodes for the second season. I wasn't impressed with the ad campaign, but after sitting down and watching the first season straight through, I became hooked. I'm definitely planning on picking up the DVD set sometime before the end of this week.

I highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys action. It's sort of a mix between the A-Team and Dukes of Hazzard. Here you have all the action of A-Team with all of the snubbing at the establishment as the Duke boys seem to have.

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