Sunday, June 20, 2010

Leverage: The Awesomeness of Us.

There is a strange and marvelous phenomenon sweeping the fandom garden. It's called Leverage, and if you haven't heard of it yet, you will. Actually, if you haven't heard of it yet, all I have to say is, you must live in an alternate reality.

Leverage runs on TNT, and I am about to explode with anticipation of tonight's season 3 premier. I love this show, folks. I love it in a way that is scary because I swore to myself that, after SG-1's cancellation, I would never allow myself to get this invested in a fandom again. Well, so much for that. Good job, Rose--or maybe, good job Leverage writers...

I discovered Leverage last year, and I have since devoured all 28 episodes. Twice. Soon after I found it, I began telling everyone I know, "This show is incredible. You must watch it." Then I found myself having to explain that, no, it isn't science fiction. It isn't fantasy. It's not a period drama. I love it anyway, and so do a lot of my friends who usually stick to genre shows.

Why? There are a lot of ways I can answer that. It's probably a little different for each person. That said, I can point to a lot of commonalities that I've observed between Leverage and my favorite science fiction shows.

Leverage is an ensemble show in which a team of professional thieves run elaborate con jobs on wealthy individuals or powerful corporations. Rather than just looking for a big score though, the team chooses their marks at the behest of their clientele: ordinary people that the targets have wronged. The characters are flawed but endearing misfits, and the storylines deal as much with their personal struggles as with the professional challenge of the week. Although the team is very good at what they do, things rarely go smoothly for them, which provides a satisfying mix of humor and tension. Plots are nice and twisty, even managing to surprise me a good part of the time--not an easy feat, as anyone who knows me will attest! All in all, it adds up to a compelling experience with enough humanity to keep viewers tuning in and enough escapism to offer a little break from our real problems.

Most of the science fiction I enjoy is not actually about spaceships, aliens, time travel, or high-tech gadgetry. Those things provide a backdrop that tickles the imagination of the viewer and allows the show/movie to deal with themes and ideas that are more difficult to approach in a contemporary setting. They usually feature a disparate but tightly knit group of characters who must routinely pool their skills and resources to defeat (or at least hold the line against) a larger and more powerful force. Star Wars makes it the most obvious: Rebel Alliance vs. Galactic Empire. Star Trek tends to be more metaphorical about it: explorers vs. the vast unknown. Other shows run the gamut in between.

Leverage pits the same kind of group against the most universal enemy concept that I know of: wealth and privilege. It's a show about finding a way for the average joe to come out on top after being victimized and dismissed. The lives of the main characters excite our imaginations the same way that aliens and ray-guns do. These guys put on new identities every week; they impersonate public officials; they pretend to be air marshals and FBI agents; they walk in the circles of the rich and powerful and nobody knows they don't belong. When they're done, they walk away with bags of money and rarely get caught. If by some fluke they are discovered, they escape. In short, they live out our fantasies. They are awesome. Rooting for them is rooting for ourselves.

There's a reason that robin hood stories are so common across time and culture. Robin Hood resonates. Especially in rough economic times, we want a hero whose allegiance is to ordinary people and who can ride in at the eleventh hour with a big bag of gold. The fact that the gold comes from the rich villain on the hill only makes us love our Robin Hood more. Leverage gives Robin Hood five faces. Most people will find one who looks like them. The individual cases make the premise more immediate and personal. Robin Hood isn't just trying to save England anymore. He (or she) is saving us.

I could go on. There's a lot more I could say, especially if I wanted to start analyzing the five faces of Robin Hood or something. Actually, that sounds like a good idea for a blog series. For now, I'll let the new episode speak for itself.