Recently my family and I took a long car trip, and my son discovered Scooby-Doo. “Mommy,” he would triumphantly declare from the back seat. “I know who the culprit is!”
The comfortable beats of Daphne, Fred, Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby are delightful to a six year old. The villains are easily identifiable and they would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.
I thought about Scooby a lot while watching Leverage: Redemption the new IMDb TV series which revives the drama that ran on TNT from 2008 to 2012. This new version plays a bit like Scooby Doo come to life. The storyline is thread bare, the plot twists are projected from miles away, and the bad guys would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling con artists.
As in the original, a ragtag group works a con to get the bad guy and deliver their own brand of justice. Returning cast members include Gina Bellman as sophisticated grifter Sophie Devereaux; Beth Riesgraf as Parker, the thief who can steal anything; Christian Kane as Eliot Spencer, the sensitive brute whose brawn can take down any foe; and Aldis Hodge as Alec Hardison, a tech genius who can hack into any computer system. In the original series, Timothy Hutton played insurance executive Nathan Ford, who is devastated when the company he works for fails to provide treatment for his terminally ill son. We learn in the opening moments of the new series that Nathan has died, and Sophie is now his grieving widow. She, along with the rest of the gang, have basically gotten out of the grifting game. But you know how it goes: Every time you think you’re out, they pull you back in. Noah Wyle takes over for Hutton as lawyer Harry Wilson, who has spent his career legally protecting evil doers and their fortunes. Now he seeks—you guessed it—redemption, hence the title of this revival.
Filmed on location in New Orleans, each episode offers up a new dastardly foe for the team: an art collector who made his fortune via the opioid crisis; a real estate developer who cuts corners; a casino developer who bulldozes people’s homes. These villains stop just short of twirling their mustaches.
I was a fan of the original series, even though I would not have called it great TV. Leverage was never going to win an Emmy award. I don’t think it ever made any year-end best lists. It was part of a bygone era of basic cable TV dramas that don’t really exist anymore. Think Monk, Burn Notice, Rizzoli & Isles, The Glades or The Librarian, which Wyle also headlined. It didn’t break any new TV ground, but it was always a very entertaining and enjoyable show. One that didn’t make you think too much but provided a comfortable diversion. I might have described it as a great show to fold laundry to.
Something has gone awry in this new iteration. Although Dean Devlin the executive producer of the original version is back, Leverage: Redemption—now with Kate Rorick as its showrunner—is a clunky shell of its former self. For one thing, the production values are extremely low. Many backgrounds are so obviously fake. Then there’s the dialogue, which feels the need to keep reminding viewers about the overall premise of the show. “We’re not heroes. We’re just necessary,” Sophie states. “I don’t want money or revenge. I just don’t want this to happen again,” says one victim of the week. And, unfortunately, the acting is subpar. We are just coming out of a pandemic so I’m not in the mood to be mean, but suffice to say the performances are not great even from those who you would expect to be on point. The charm of the original was the easy rapport among the leads; that’s missing in this go round.
(It doesn’t help that Hodge, the strongest of the ensemble, is listed as a “special guest star” and departs the series after the second episode. He’s replaced by Aleyse Shannon, who joins the series as Alec’s foster sister Breanna, who—wouldn’t you know it—is also very good at technology.)
Thankfully the series does improve with each passing episode. The pilot is the most awkward. You can almost feel the nervous energy. Maybe everyone was just adjusting to being back together. Wyle and Kane are also missing for an entire episode sans much explanation, which—when there are only eight episodes being dropped this summer—is a little odd.
IMDb TV is a free streaming service, and Leverage: Redemption is the platform’s second foray into original scripted programming. (Alex Rider being the first.) Frankly, the cost here is appropriate. Leverage: Redemption is not worth paying for. But as each episode progresses, it is getting closer to a show to fold laundry to.
Eight episodes of Leverage: Redemption premiere on IMDb TV on July 9th, followed by an additional eight episodes this fall.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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