The return of Zack Morris

Fans of “Saved By the Bell” will dig this clip from “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”…

  

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“Leverage” seems to be getting better

In the interests of full disclosure, I would have cut “Leverage” from my playlist after a ridiculous second episode (“The Homecoming Job”) if not for the insistence of my wife, who liked the first two episodes a whole heck of a lot more than I did. The premiere was solid, even if it was a little rough around the edges. It’s understandable that a show that tries really hard to be cute (a la “Ocean’s Eleven”) might struggle at the start as the relatively unknown actors get used to playing their characters and working with each other. In “Ocean’s Eleven,” audiences already knew and liked Brad Pitt and George Clooney, and had seen them acting “cute” dozens of times before, so their act went over well.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. “Leverage” is a TNT drama, which (for me) has been a little hit or miss when it comes to original scripted series. I am hooked on “The Closer,” but was never able to get into “Saving Grace” and was too annoyed by Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s distractingly long hair in the promos for “Raising the Bar” to even bother with that show. (I did enjoy the paramedic drama, “Saved,” but it was canceled after only one season.) “Leverage” is about a group of thieves that decide to go the Robin Hood route by enacting their own brand of justice on those that would take advantage of others.

At the center of the show is Timothy Hutton, whom I’ve liked since the days of “Turk 182” and “Beautiful Girls.” He plays Nathan Ford, a former insurance investigator who recently lost his son when the company he worked for wouldn’t cover his son’s experimental procedure. He enlists the help of four criminals — a con artist, a cyberthief, a cat burglar and a martial arts expert — to, and I quote, “pick up where the law leaves off.”

“Leverage” tries very hard to be witty, and it often hits the mark. There was the aforementioned second episode, however. At one point, Ford and his beautiful con artist cohort had to create a distraction at the L.A. shipping docks. So they pose as an obnoxious couple on vacation, complete with Hawaiian shirts and awful attitudes. They were even dragging their luggage around the shipping docks of L.A. — in a post-9/11 world. It was simply ridiculous.

The good parts of “Leverage” actually remind me quite a bit of “Hustle,” a British television show that was also about a group of con artists. Their intentions weren’t as noble as Ford’s, and that’s one thing that bothers me about “Leverage” — they don’t seem to want to keep any of the money. For example, in the third episode, “The Two-Horse Job,” a trainer hires them to retrieve an injured horse from his nefarious owner after the owner set fire to the trainer’s stable. The gang does its thing and manages to get the horse back and steal $12 million from the greedy owner. Do they keep any of the dough? Nope. They give it all to the trainer. This just doesn’t seem realistic to me.

I’ve always been fascinated with the dark side of society which is why I’m often drawn to anti-hero stories like “The Shield,” “Rescue Me” and “The Sopranos.” “Leverage” doesn’t get nearly as dark as those series, but it does live in that grey area between right and wrong. I’d like to see the moral ambiguity get a little thicker, as the victims of the con jobs are often caricatures of villains (with no discernable positive qualities).

So for now, I’m going to keep watching. But if I see Timothy Hutton dressed in a Hawaiian shirt traipsing through the docks of Los Angeles again, I’m going to delete my season pass and not look back.

  

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Greetings to the New Series: “Raising the Bar” (TNT)

For someone who’s contributed so much to television, it’s rather surprising just how quiet Steven Bochco has been for the past few years.

Bochco is the man responsible for executive-producing such classic dramas as “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law,” and “NYPD Blue,” as well as short-lived but highly regarded series such as “Murder One,” “Brooklyn South,” and “Over There.” After 2005’s well-intentioned but sketchily-executed “Commander in Chief,” however, Bochco’s name stopped appearing in the credits for any new shows, and in a 2007 interview with Newsday, he admitted that he had decided to take a step back from the broadcast networks, saying, “I don’t think there’s a big appetite for the stuff I like to do. You’re looking at 400-year-old cops and detectives who are vampires. . . . It’s fine. I don’t have any disdain for it. It’s just not what I do.”

Thankfully, Bochco has found a new home on cable with TNT, who seem to be welcoming him with open arms…and when he’s offering up a series like “Raising the Bar,” why wouldn’t they?

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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