"Get ready to get even"
"Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys."
"The rich and powerful take what they want -- we steal it back for you."
-- assorted taglines used during promotion.
Mission Impossible goes downscale? Vengeance Unlimited plays nice? Search for hire?
However you want to spin it, there's nothing terribly original in this TNT show.
Fallen Boston insurance investigator NATHAN FORD (Timothy Hutton), whose son died because his own employers wouldn'tpay for his son's treatment, has a new-found hard-on for fiscal injustice and corporate greed. So he sets up a high-tech gang of scam artists and "former" criminals who pool their talents to right injustices -- usually at the expense of huge corporations, gangsters and other scumbags, and return the money (or liberty or reputation) to its rightful owners -- usually honest, hard-working people. Think of it as a grass-roots bailout system; a case-by-case economic stimulus plan.
Suffice it to say that it hits a certain viber.
But it's oh-so-TV-ish. For one thing, did the whole cast of purportedly seasoned criminals -- except for a slightly weathered Hutton -- have to be so predictably young and predictably good-looking?
Come on! A super-smart black guy, a hot-tempered jock, and a babe with issues? That's the team? Was the show written, or photocopied?
Despite the show's tendency to favour glib over sharp, to smother things in cuteness and too much reliance on formula schtick, there's a dark heart underneath it all and an occasional burst of wit. And any show that so routinely makes a point of sticking it to The Man is okay by me.
Eliot Spencer is the muscle and designated hunk, a fearless and occasionally explosively violent thug with a soft spot for kids and hurt women. Alec Hardison is the geeky-cool super-smart black guy and computer hacker and Parker is the designated blonde babe, a cold, controlled bank robber and second-story man (well, woman). But she's comes off not so much as a hard-boiled professional as a developmentally challenged problem child. Rounding out the team is Sophie Devereaux, a con artist and reluctantly aging actress who has an on-again/off-again thing with Nathan.
It's cool that the team is not one smooth, frictionless ensemble, and that they all have their little quirks -- and a healthy distrust of each other. But did so many of the conflicts have to be ripped off directly from old Archie comics? At times Nathan seems less like the team's leader and simply their homeroom teacher. Or maybe their dad..
Still, let's give credit where credit is due. The actual scams, while not up to the level of, say, The Rockford Files, are often quite clever and the suspense often deftly handled.
And someone somewhere involved in the production of the show seems to really know their crime fiction. In one episode, two members of the team go into an office claiming to be detectives. Their names? Marlowe and Archer. In another, Hardison and Parker are impersonating FBI agents and introduce themselves as Agents Elmore and Leonard.
But it's the call-outs to the late, great Donald Westlake that really stand out.
One show actually begins with what looks like the scam already over, and the gang on their way out of a bank with a briefcase full of loot when -- in a moment right out of a Dortmunder caper, the bank is robbed. The plot twists and turns and winds its way to a clever, sly ending -- every move and every wink and nudge is like something right out of one of Westlake's comic capers, making it easily the best episode of the show to air so far.
But it's not mere coincidence of plot alone that had me thinking about Westlake -- it was the episode's title: "The Bank Shot Job," as obvious wink to Westlake's 1972 Dortmunder novel , Bank Shot, as you can get. In fact, the whole episode-naming convention, where every episode is "The Such-and-such Job," fairly smacks of Westlake.
And just in case anyone missed the point, the head of the other gang is named Stark -- the name, of course, that Westlake used to write his novels about his unflappable professional thief, Parker.
But the most obvious homage is in the name of the all-business, no-nonsense member of the team, the unflappable professional bank robber whose professional expertise is called upon so heavily in almost every episode?
Parker, of course...
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, with thanks to Mark and Stephen and all the others for spotting some of the shout-outs I missed.
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