Monday, March 01, 2010

So right... and then so wrong

It's sad when something that starts so right goes so terribly wrong. Ted Bundy, AOL/Time Warner, the Segue, "Leverage."

I believe it's season 3 of Leverage that just ended — truthfully the second and third seasons blended together in my mind in a mix of bored-out-of-my-skull and "huh?" — I'm not really sure if it's 2, 3 or maybe even 4 that just shuddered to a halt. Which is a real shame, because the first season was great. Really. Like, can't wait for next week's episode good. Like, what will they think of next? good. And then came some major sophomore slump. Screech to a halt, slam on the brakes, make an emergency brake 180, what in blazes happened? slump-eroo.

In the spirit of cloud/silver lining, I'm going to say that Leverage Season 1 v. Leverage Seasons 2 & 3 provides great lessons in what makes for good episodic TV and what doesn't (and some other things thrown in for extra credit). Like all rules, these rules can be broken, if you know what you're doing. Otherwise, rules are rules for a reason. Like cliches.

What's the first rule? Underlying story arcs make better episodic television. Think about the first season of Veronica Mars. Think about any season of Friday Night Lights (talk about a built-in underlying story arc). Think Burn Notice. Think The Mentalist. When there aren't story arcs, there are character arcs. Bones. NCIS. And don't talk to me about Law & Order because it's a law unto itself. I did say that rules can be broken.

Are we all on the same page? To sum up: Leverage is about a motley crew (ha!) of thief, grifter, muscle, hacker and ex-insurance investigator/mastermind (Thomas Crown Affair, anyone?) that bands together for a little revenge on behalf of one of the crew and a big pay-off for all of the crew (the story arc). As they pursue the big prize, they help the little guy they encounter along the way who is being unfairly pressured or treated (the episodes).

By the season 1 finale of Leverage, revenge has been served, nicely chilled. Along comes season 2 and things get hinky. Why are they still working together? What happened to — ah, next rule. Keep your facts straight. There's nothing more annoying then plot fundamentals that change on a whim. By the end of Season 1, this crew each had raked in some 8 or 9 figure pay-day and were working out of some awesome, fully loaded space in a Chicago high-rise (one stone, two birds: 1) these guys didn't need their "clients" money and 2) they had some very cool toys). Come season 2, and our hero is living in and working out of some nice but surely not spectacular apartment over a bar in Boston and apparently no one is fabulously rich any more. Huh?

Here's what I find so sad. How easy it would have been to fix. Re the story arc, I'm no professional, but, hello? there are five main characters. Give another one of them a past, present or future they can all connive and scheme about. Seriously. How hard would that be — take the thief. Her biggest score was stolen and she needs to get it back or there will be dire consequences (How to Steal a Million, To Catch a Thief come to mind). You've got a hacker, you're telling me you can't come up with some nefarious past or future thingymabob that's got to be resolved? You know, an ex-partner genius computer geek who's now scheming to take down the world (Remember Die Hard 4? or Sneakers?)? What about the grifter, a grifter for crying out loud. One of movies' easiest characters. One of her old marks isn't hunting her down for revenge? Another grifter isn't trying to muscle in (Matchstick Men? The Grifters? Dirty Rotten Scoundrels?)? As for the muscle — don't even get me started on the possibilities there.

Final verdict. Season 1 — yes. Season 2 and following — no. And that's all she wrote.

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