Saturday, June 26, 2010

Leverage: The Five Faces of Robin Hood

It's a simple premise. Take five people who don't trust each other, give them a common foe, and force them to work together. It's been done a hundred times on ensemble shows. Why does it need to be done again? And why has Leverage struck such a chord with its audience?

It needs to be done again because it says something. Too many shows today have weak, disjointed plots or no plots at all. They're full of characters who revel in their own dysfunction instead of seeing it as something to struggle against. Interpersonal dynamics are seldom allowed to develop past the stage of "alliance based on need." No one really trusts anyone else, no one wants to be where they are, and there is an ever-present sense that the fragile accord of the moment is about to be shattered under the stress of impending doom. We're told that this is gritty and realistic. My phrase for it is self indulgent and lazy.

In the age of reality TV, we've gotten used to shows that don't really say anything--or if they do, they say we should hold popularity contests for cash; parade the minutiae of our daily lives in front of a camera to excite the voyeuristic trend in post-modern culture; or engage a series of bizarre trials to see whose behavior can be the most extreme. There are exceptions of course. On rare occasions, I've seen reality shows rise above the level of old time carnival promoting to provide content that is thought provoking or at least well thought out. There have been a handful of contestants on talent shows whose music made me glad they had the opportunity to be heard. One or two even inspired me. (Take a wild guess.) Overall though, reality shows remind me in a very painful way of gladiator tournaments in the last days of the Roman Empire.

We need shows that speak to the best of human nature instead of the worst. We need accessible characters who can be selfless even when they don't want to be; who find that they are better and stronger when they work together; who maybe--just maybe--might like how it feels to help others. Leverage speaks to its audience because it does those things with wit and style.

Last week, I compared the show to Robin Hood. I made the observation that, with five characters in the role of Robin, most people would find one who looked like them. So, who are these wonderful characters I keep talking about? Over the next six weeks, I'll be answering that question in a blog series called The Five Faces of Robin Hood. Please check back next week for--

Holy crap, I can hear the clamor starting already!

"Six weeks? I thought you said five? I'm confused! And hey, what about..."

Okay. Okay. First let me say that the title of this post isn't entirely accurate. As I'm sure most fans know, when Gina Bellman (who plays Sophie Devereaux) went on maternity leave last season, Jeri Ryan joined the cast as Tara Cole, which brings the number of Robin Hoods up to six. The premise of the show, however, called for a five person team, and The Five Faces of Robin Hood is just a better sounding title.

I'm not dismissing Tara. In fact, she's my (second) favorite team member. I also love Sophie, and I'm really glad she'll be back for Season 3. So, I'll be blogging about both of the lovely grifters in turn.

For the moment, this is what the series look like:

July 3: Nate Ford
July 10: Alec Hardison
July 17: Parker
July 24: Sophie Devereaux
July 30: Tara Cole
August 5: Eliot Spencer


  1. I am VERY excited about this series. I was hoping when I read your thoughts last week that you would go ahead with this idea. Definitely bookmarking this blog and checking on it each week.

  2. Thank you, I'm glad to hear that some people are interested. I can't wait to see where season 3 takes us!