Compared to other TV shows, Leverage is a really great gemstone obscured by all-too-mainstream diamonds. There are plenty of TV dramas focused around crime with a team dynamic, but most of those are procedural crime-solvers. And very rare is it that you get a show where every member of the team is treated equally.
But Leverage, and all five of its lovely seasons, has just that, along with a slew of crime-committing. So what’s the story? Former insurance investigator Nathan Ford is asked to lead a group of expert criminals so they can steal back important documents for a powerful client. A one-time only event becomes not only the start of a team, but a family.
Let’s go steal some reasons to watch Leverage.
1) The Writing
If you dig TNT’s The Librarians, you’ll probably like Leverage. John Rogers and Dean Devlin are the creative minds behind both, accompanied by a majority of the same writers. What I love is that all the characters are fleshed-out and flawed. Parker’s a great thief but emotionally detached after a life of getting by on her own. Hardison wants to run his own crew one day but he lacks subtlety when it comes to planning. Sophie’s the best actress on the planet, but only when she’s breaking the law. She’s spent so much of her life pretending to be other people that she takes time off from the team to rediscover herself. Eliot’s the resident Hitter, who actually tries to avoid violence when he can. He finds guns loathsome and seems like a ladies’ man when, in actuality, he chose duty over love and refuses to get too close to anyone again. And Nate….oh, Nate. Nate is so gloriously messed up – torn between being a White Knight or Black King on the chessboard of life.
Best of all, the male and female characters are treated equally. All five leads appeared in the same amount of episodes. Although Parker arguably has the greatest character development, all of them change as a result of the family-team they form. Even though Nate is the Mastermind, he’s not superior to his teammates, nor is he incapable of making mistakes. And if you had to label one a “Damsel”-in-Distress, there’s no question it’s Hardison.
My favorite aspect of Leverage‘s writing is that they KNOW the importance of “less is more.” As fans, we think we want to learn every detail about a character, but the writers know better.
“If we told you [everyone’s timeline] you wouldn’t be able to then have enough flexibility to fold that timeline in with Supernatural in your fanfics, because there’d be no space for that. The space we leave is the space for you to write your slash. And that’s super important for us to do. We do that for you people. The fans appreciate the empty space we leave so that you can write your Buffy/Supernatural/NCIS/Criminal Minds/Leverage crossovers.” – Leverage10 Podcast
2) Age of the Geek, baby
You could argue each member of the Leverage team is a geek in some way: Sophie’s got a passion for theatre, Eliot for cooking, and Nate seems to know a little bit about everything. But the true geek of the bunch is Alec Hardison, played by Aldis Hodge. Hardison’s a prodigy at technological hacking: as a teenager he got the Bank of Iceland to pay his nana’s medical bills (d’aww!) and it is through his modified earbuds that the team communicates during jobs. He loves Star Wars, Star Trek, and slept through a con once because he was up late playing the latest World of Warcraft expansion.
Like Hardison, creators Devlin and Rogers are nerdy as hell. There’s a ton of Doctor Who nods across all five seasons, although one of the earliest was Nate and Sophie using the aliases Tom Baker and Sarah Jane during a con. There was a cutaway scene planned for season two that would have implied Eliot worked in the Stargate program. If you look closely in the episode “The Last Dam Job,” there’s a vault with tiles from the original Stargate film that are actually owned by Dean Devlin.
3) Relationships =/= drama
Lots of shows make bank on the Will-They-Or-Won’t-They trope. When they finally take the plunge into They-Do, many fans lose interest or at the very least agree the show is no longer the same. Leverage was still Leverage even after two couples formed within the team. Any other show would’ve tried to capitalize on relationship drama by having their feelings interfere with work. Leverage never took that route: the jobs were always the primary focus, but you were never left feeling like the relationship was being sacrificed in favor of plot. You were given just enough of each to keep you satisfied and wanting the next episode.
4) The fandom
Fandoms are double-edged swords. They can be awesome, inclusive communities and then, at a moment’s notice, they turn into cesspools of ship hate and contentious fan opinion. Despite the fact it’s been two years since the finale, the Leverage tag on tumblr is still active and hate-free. This is the only fandom I’m in where I’ve never seen ship wars, and where we all accept that the series finale pretty much canonized a bi-racial polyamorous relationship.
The writers also developed a really great relationship with their fans. John Rogers answered questions on his blog about episodes after they aired (something he’s started to do again with Librarians), and when the series was cancelled, there was an outpouring of grief online. But the fandom came together and worked to get Leverage nominated for a Best Cable TV Drama: AND THEY SUCCEEDED. Leverage made history as the first cancelled program to win a People’s Choice Award!
5) Mark Sheppard (and other awesome Guest Stars)
What’d you expect? The man is in everything! Seriously though, Mark Sheppard is a key character in the Leverage universe as James Sterling, an insurance investigator who’s the mirror of Nate. Whereas Nate cares about people being victimized, Sterling’s motivation is money and success. He makes a glorious antagonist (NOT villain) to the team, but he’s not the only famous face you’ll find! Wil Wheaton had a recurring guest role as Colin ‘Chaos’ Mason, a manipulative hacker; Danny Glover played a WWII veteran who knew the fate of a lost Van Gogh painting the team was asked to retrieve; Richard Chamberlain played Archie; Parker’s mentor and father-figure who “honed her into a perfect thief” but failed her as a parent; and Jeri Ryan, known to Voyager fans as Seven of Nine, joined the team for a brief time as grifter Tara Cole.
6) THAT ACTING
Although Timothy Hutton (Nate) has prestigiously-recognized acting chops, some of the series’ best dramatic moments shone the spotlight on his equally talented co-stars. You’ve got subtle moments like in “The Big Bang Job,” when the targeted criminal dredges up unpleasant memories from Eliot’s past. Or the heavy-hitting “The Grave Danger Job,” where Hardison gets buried alive and it’s Parker who helps him through it. It’s emotionally taxing, not just because Hardison will die if they fail, but because it also forces Parker to evaluate the magnitude of her feelings for him.
7) Competence Porn
This is a term specific to the Leverage fandom. While other fans revel in David Tennant hand porn or BAMF beatdowns on Agents of SHIELD, Leverage lovers get their jollies by watching the team do their jobs. Do I sound insane? Probably.
John Rogers coined the term to describe the scenes the audience loves because the team is doing what they’re best at. The closest example I could offer is watching Sherlock Holmes make deductions, but it’s really something you need to experience. So I offer you, “The Rundown Job.” I recommend watching until the 1:35 mark.
Please put aside any quibbles about “THE TEAM IS MOSTLY WHITE PEOPLE” right now, thank you. Representation isn’t just about the ethnicity of the leads (although I’m by no means dismissing its importance). Hardison being black is never glossed over. In fact, he admits that he tends to “get by” grifting by playing up Black Stereotypes. The one time his ethnicity becomes a plot point, it’s only because his relationship with Parker is being juxtaposed with the story of a black man and white woman in the 1940s.
Hardison, like Parker, was also a foster kid. Though never seen, all the references to Hardison’s “Nana” indicate he was placed in a good, loving home. Parker, however, bounced around so frequently she never made friends her own age and had a foster father who taunted her by taking away her toys. Despite coming from opposite foster situations, they BOTH turned to lives of crime. So there’s none of that ‘bad circumstances make bad people’ nonsense.
Plus, one of my favorite supporting characters is Cheryl from “The Mile High Job.” She’s a woman of color working for a business conglomerate that won’t take her seriously. In her off time, she enjoys playing World of Warcraft, something she instantly bonds with Hardison over.
Pardison (Parker x Hardison) is probably my personal OTP from the team. From the first episode, everyone else classifies Parker as “insane” or “twenty pounds of crazy in a five pound bag.” Alec Hardison is the only one who sees past that. His interest in her is clear from the start — not only as physical attraction but also as her biggest supporter on the team. When a job involving an orphan boy hits her on an emotional level, Parker nearly jeopardizes it trying to save other kids from ‘turning out like her.’
In season three, Parker’s displaying signs of jealousy when Hardison gets along with a female client. When she finally tries to articulate her problem to him, she can’t do it. Feelings aren’t something she ever learned how to handle, which Hardison recognizes and handles in the best way possible:
Okay, I’m about to get really cheesy so if you want to close the article right now, I totally understand. Leverage is the one show that just makes me completely happy. It’s not perfect, but it’s PRACTICALLY perfect. I love every single one of these characters. I connect to characters who only pop up for one episode. I will watch re-runs for hours and laugh just as hard the twentieth time as I did the first time. By the time I got to the show’s end (which was an extremely satisfying one), I was ready to binge-watch it all over again. And I guess I just like the feeling that maybe a team like this could exist somewhere in the world, righting the wrongs of avaricious corporations and giving back to those in need.
BONUS! 11) FIVE SEASONS AND MOVIE
After two-and-a-half years since the show’s conclusion, we just might get a Leverage movie. So check it out on Netflix or Hulu – watch it. Watch it again. Tweet at Dean Devlin and the cast about it! I’m sincerely hoping it’s a good omen that four out of the five leads have returned to television in other programs. Gina Bellman, come back on telly and complete the prophecy!