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For a reasonably successful show now in its third season, Leverage has never quite figured out exactly what tone it’s going for. Is it a Mission: Impossible-esque show about a team of spies and thieves pulling off elaborate and perfectly executed heists? Is it a campier show, more in the vein of Charlie’s Angels, full of ridiculous costumes and so-obviously-phony-as-to-be enjoyable accents? Or is it a heart-felt drama about a group of Robin Hoods providing help to the helpless and bettering the lives of those around them?
“The Studio Job” features all three of these shows, and while some are more successful than others, they unfortunately are never able to come together as a single program. In it, Nathan Ford (Timothy Hutton) and his crew are brought in to help out an aspiring country music singer (Alona Tal) and her brother who are being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous record producer (John Schneider). It’s a low-key case for a group as specialized as this one, and one can’t help but wonder if going to the police wouldn’t have been more appropriate. Also a question that popped into my head: How does a small town singer go about finding this group of former criminals who now steal from the rich to give to the poor? They can’t exactly advertise their services tin the Yellow Pages.
In this week’s inspirational drama section, we’ve got a show about a singer being finally allowed to achieve her lifelong dream. We open with a particularly brutal scene of her being threatened by her producer, complete with each of her brother’s hands being broken. We get multiple heart-felt speeches about how from the time she was born she knew she wanted to be a singer and how this producer has taken everything from her. And we get a climax in which she sings her song in front of numerous record executives, both proving the villain to be a fraud and making a name for herself and winning multiple record deals. From the reaction of people to her song throughout the episode, it seems to be a work of genius somewhere between “Stairway to Heaven” and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.
On the camp-front, we get multiple opportunities for our heroes to dress up and mock the music industry, some of which are more successful than others. Timothy Hutton wearing an oversized cowboy hat, funny. Computer hacker Hardison (Aldis Hodge) wearing a bolo tie and attempting ridiculous southern expressions, even funnier. Less entertaining are the more over the top elements. Parker (Beth Riesgraf), the cat burglar of the group, dresses up as a Bjork-like Icelandic pop star, complete with a swan dress, in order to distract the employees in the recording studio. While that made a nice visual gag at first, by the time she was unintelligibly chirping into a microphone I was ready to move on.
The high-tech heist section of the show is the one I generally consider to be the most successful, and that made it all the more disappointing that it played such a small role in this episode. The group needs to steal the master tapes of their client’s recording session from the studio safe. Compared to some of the other jobs this team has pulled off, this one is pretty simple, and the episode didn’t add any particularly compelling twists to it. Towards the end of the episode Haridson realizes he left the important tape in the player at the studio, but even that just screams of the writers realizing they only had a half hour worth of plot and needed to stretch it to an hour.
While none of these different elements were particularly great this week, the episode did have one ace up its sleeve. It gave an opportunity for Eliot (Christian Kane), the muscle of the group, to sing. And man, can he sing. Normally Eliot simply gets to beat people up and growl one-liners while he does it (which, to be fair, he does very well). But here he gets a chance to show some other talents, while posing as a country singer hoping to lure their producer target into bidding for his services. As mentioned earlier, the reactions of people throughout the episode to this one song bordered on ridiculous, but Kane managed to sell it and add some believability to a ridiculous plotline. While I wish the episode around him had been better, Kane’s musical performances were worth the price of admission alone.
But there still is the matter of rest of the show. Leverage is a skillfully made series performed by a very likable cast. And more often than not, the individual elements in it are successful. It wouldn’t be impossible for it to blend together its various tones into one piece, but in an episode like this one, they feel as if they are part of entirely different shows. And when the pieces aren’t even working on their own, that poses a large problem. If Leverage wants to reach the heights of other cable hits, its creative team needs to figure out exactly what kind of show they want it to be.
And if they were to come up with more excuses to have Christian Kane sing, that wouldn’t hurt it either.