Leverage is an American television drama series, which aired on TNT from December 7, 2008 to December 25, 2012. The series was produced by Electric Entertainment, a production company of executive producer and director Dean Devlin. Leverage follows a five-person team: a thief, a grifter, a hacker, and a retrieval specialist, led by former insurance investigator Nathan Ford, who use their skills to fight corporate and governmental injustices inflicted on ordinary citizens.
Season 1 consists of thirteen episodes, which writers John Rogers and Chris Downey and producer Dean Devlin intended to be a complete story should the series not be renewed. Season 2, for which production moved from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon, ran in two parts: a nine-episode summer season that premiered on July 15, 2009, followed by a further six episodes the following winter. Leverage moved to Sunday for Season 3, which began on June 20, 2010.
Leverage was renewed for a fourth season on July 30, 2010. It premiered on June 26, 2011, and ran for 18 episodes, ten in the summer and eight in the winter. The continuation of Season 4 began on Sunday, November 27, 2011, at 9pm EST on TNT.
On August 12, 2011, Leverage was renewed for a fifth season, to be both filmed and set in Portland, Oregon. Season 5 premiered July 15, 2012.
Leverage was canceled on December 21, 2012 amid falling ratings. The final episode, which was produced as a possible series finale, aired on December 25, 2012. On January 9, 2013, Leverage won Favorite Cable TV Drama at the 39th People's Choice Awards.
Nathan "Nate" Ford is a former insurance investigator and the leader of a team staging elaborate cons for clients victimized by those holding wealth and influence to avoid legal reprisal.
The team comes together when Victor Dubenich, a wealthy aerospace executive, persuades Ford to lead a team of talented criminals to steal aeronautical plans allegedly stolen from him by a competitor. After a successful heist, Dubenich withholds their payment and attempts to have them killed; whereupon they implicate him in a bribery attempt, which leads to his arrest by the FBI. Thereafter they practice similar deceptions to avenge civilians who cannot use the legal system to redress their grievances. Subplots include relationships between Nate and grifter 'Sophie Devereaux'; between computer hacker ' Alec Hardison' and "hitter" 'Eliot Spencer'; and between Hardison and sneak-thief 'Parker'. The team operate free of scrutiny as 'Leverage Consulting & Associates', until Nate's former colleague, James Sterling, attempts their capture, whereupon they steal a collection of valuable art from Nate's former boss, Ian Blackpoole (returning it in return for Blackpoole's being kicked out of his own company), and disband for six months. In Boston, Nate's hometown, they resume their activities, still followed by Sterling, until Nate surrenders to the latter in exchange for the others' freedom, finally admitting to Sterling and himself that he is a thief. As season three begins, Ford is in prison, while the team attempts to free him, until a mysterious Italian woman blackmails the team into bankrupting the untouchable criminal 'Damien Moreau'. At the season's end, Moreau is imprisoned in San Lorenzo, a fictional European nation formerly under his control.
Season four opens days after their return from San Lorenzo, the team discovering that someone has been bugging their headquarters; later identified as the wealthy businessman 'Jack Latimer', who has been profiting by their victories and now offers information on the evildoings of other major corporations, in exchange for profit on each company's downfall. Nate refuses this offer, and his suspicions are justified when it is revealed that Latimer is working with Victor Dubenich (the team's first victim) against the team.
Season Five opens with Nate having the team moved to Portland, Oregon and setting up shop in a microbrewery, but the season premiere ends with the revelation that Nate is working with Hardison on a secret project unknown to the others. After a series of extremely intricate confidence tricks, the secret project is revealed and carried off, despite the recurrent Sterling. The season's final episode, broadcast on Christmas Day 2012, also reveals drastic changes in the lives and dynamics of the team, but assures the audience of their continuity.
Most episodes follow a set story structure: After meeting the client, the Leverage team researches the villains to find a weakness to exploit. Each con, either as originally planned or as complications develop, typically requires the specialized skills of all the members of the group. Towards the end of each episode, the villains seem to get the upper hand, only to be outwitted by the Leverage team. Because most of the narrative has seemed to follow the Leverage team's point of view, the audience is momentarily uninformed as to exactly how the Leverage team has succeeded in their con. A flashback then reveals how a seeming complication was either anticipated by the Leverage team, or utilized in a clever improvisation. These flashbacks, which are featured in every episode, sometimes reveal only in retrospect that an earlier scene was actually a clue to the Leverage team's plan. More often, the flashbacks reveal new information the viewer has not been privy to. This formula is followed by every episode in seasons one, two, and three. With the exception of the final season, each season ends with a two-part finale which involves a two-part, multi-stage con designed to bring down a major adversary, such as an international crime financier in season three, with an ending that advances the team's story into the new season.
Cast and characters
Timothy Hutton as Nathan "Nate" Ford, called "The Mastermind" or, in the opening credits of later seasons, "The Brains," is a former insurance fraud investigator for IYS Insurance, operated by Ian Blackpoole, and the team's mastermind. The son of South Bostonnumbers runner Jimmy Ford, Nate originally intended to become a Catholic priest prior to becoming an insurance investigator. While Ford was working for IYS, Blackpoole decided on a policy of denying payment for every medical treatment it once covered, especially those procedures deemed experimental. (Blackpoole claimed the policy was implemented to cut costs, but in fact, it was so that his company would be able to turn a bigger profit.) When Nate's young son Sam became fatally ill, IYS refused to pay for an experimental procedure, resulting in his death. The aftermath led to Nate's divorce from his wife Maggie, his subsequent dismissal from the company, and his descent into alcoholism. At this low point, Nate was hired to lead a group of thieves to retrieve stolen documents. After meeting the team for the first time and running a con against their employer, who double-crossed them, Nate is asked to continue working with them and is given the privilege of leading the team and selecting what clients the team will help. A skilled planner and chess player, Nate draws on his experience as an insurance investigator to anticipate the moves of his team's marks. Nate is affable, but is unwilling to discuss his own problems with friends or others. His tendency to change objectives in the middle of a job, his alcoholism, and his often-tenuous relationship with his team has, on occasion, put the client and the team at risk. Nate's struggle to battle his demons is a major theme of the series, and it is not till the series finale that he is finally able to walk away and find peace.
Gina Bellman as Sophie Devereaux, called "The Grifter," is an accomplished British grifter with a taste for art theft and a desire to become a legitimate actress. Multi-lingual and particularly adept at the use of accents, Sophie is seen to portray many characters in various cons, usually making direct contact with a mark to draw them into the con. Comically, her attempts to make a career as an actress lead to nothing but failure, as she proves woefully untalented and over-the-top onstage. It is only during a con when she can disappear effortlessly into a character, where ironically she can actually act well if she is pretending to be an actress. (As Nate phrases it, "She can act...when it's an act.") Sophie has a collection of aliases, which includes "Sophie Devereaux," and her real name is unknown. She has a long history with Nate, dating back at least ten years to a period when he investigated her spree of art theft for IYS. At some point, they recognized an attraction to one another (possibly around the time they shot each other) and their relationship wavers between platonic and romantic for much of the show's run, leaving Sophie alternately frustrated, angry, and disappointed. They have on occasion tried to further the relationship, but for various reasons one or the other resisted until they wound up in bed together in the third season finale. After that, they settle into an occasionally bumpy, but devoted, romance. Nate proposes to Sophie in the series finale (using what he believes to be her real name), and they depart the team for parts unknown.
Aldis Hodge as Alec Hardison, called "The Hacker," is the team's computer specialist and hacker. He is a self-proclaimed geek and science fiction fan, with an easygoing manner and a dry, unusual wit. Hardison was raised by a foster parent, an older woman he refers to as "Nana," and his first large-scale crimes involved sticking the country of Iceland with Nana's medical bills. Hardison can hack into most forms of electronics, and he is rarely caught. Hardison designed and assembled the computer and video systems in the team's headquarters, and is responsible for the two-way earpieces ("earbuds") used by the team on each episode. Hardison is a convincing actor, able to talk his way out of almost any scenario, but he is often too clever for his own good, and whenever he has the opportunity to lead a con, he devises a massively overcomplicated scheme usually doomed to failure. He is also very attached to his electronics (and in particular his van, "Lucille") and shown to become very depressed when the con takes a turn for the worse and requires his electronics to be destroyed so that the team can make its escape. Hardison's and Parker's relationship develops into a romantic one as time goes on but it is fraught with personal (and physical) complications.
Christian Kane as Eliot Spencer, called "The Hitter," is the team's highly skilled martial artist, weapons expert, and self-described "retrieval expert." A former black ops soldier, his role in cons is often to play supporting roles while protecting the team, often leading him into hand-to-hand combat that draws on his martial arts skills. Eliot was once a hitman for crime financier Damien Moreau, and he has a long history as being an almost legendary assassin, hired gun and bodyguard, then a retrieval specialist. Despite being a skilled marksman, Elliot has an intense dislike for firearms and uses them only when no other options are available to him. While merely presumed as the muscleman, he demonstrates a subtle intelligence in conversation, often taking advantage of the underestimations of others and later in the series performing as a grifter along with Sophie. In contrast to the other characters, Eliot prefers to keep his romantic life private, as well as much of his background, which includes some very dark deeds of which he refuses to speak. Over the course of the series, he displays an extraordinary talent for cooking, and later takes charge of the kitchen of the microbrewery in Portland where the team has set up headquarters, despite clashes with Hardison on the subject of food.
Beth Riesgraf as Parker, called "The Thief," is an expert thief, cat-burglar, pickpocket and safe-cracker, memorably referred to (by Eliot) as "20 pounds of crazy in a five pound bag." The product of an abusive childhood spent in several foster homes, Parker is awkward around other people and has a terrible understanding of social norms. Over the course of the series, she comes to regard the other members of the team as her family and, for the first time in her life, trusts someone other than herself. Sophie and other members of the team have attempted to improve gaps in her social skills on numerous occasions, usually with limited success. As they become closer, Parker develops romantic feelings for Hardison, but her inability to properly express her feelings leads to a slow, awkward courtship. While emotionally impulsive, she can demonstrate great physical self-control in her work using acrobatics, strength and concentration to her advantage. Parker was trained at a young age by expert thief (and recurring character) Archie Leach, and her obsessive focus on theft is to the point that her safe house is filled with gear and rappelling equipment to help her in various jobs. Parker is often sensitive to cons involving children, and at several points the team's other members were thrown into danger when she went off-script to ensure that an at-risk child did not end up like her. In Season 5's "The Broken Wing Job," she proves that she can handle problems on her own while the other team members are away and seems to be, with Nate's guidance, developing her ability as a planner. In the series finale, Nate retires and leaves the team in her hands as the new Mastermind.
Mark A. Sheppard as James Sterling, who was originally Nate's colleague and rival at IYS but is now an Interpol agent. Sterling learns of Nate's new life and begins to follow him, first thinking that Nate wants his job at IYS and later to bring the team to justice. Nate soon realizes Sterling is on his trail, but foils his efforts to dismantle the team's cons. In time, a theft leads Sterling to work with the team on a con, the outcome of which leads to his being offered a position with Interpol. The two remain friendly adversaries, even though the team's other members all hate him passionately, and Sterling has, on several occasions, allowed Nate to continue to remain untouched in exchange for Nate and his group helping him catch bad guys--for which he takes full credit. As of Season 5's "The Frame-Up Job," he has become the head of a special Interpol art theft/forgery detail which he himself had organized. In the series finale, he shows his ultimate respect for Nate and seemingly ends their rivalry by allowing Nate to escape from an Interpol office with a hard drive full of information.
Jeri Ryan as Tara Cole, a self-assured grifter sent by Sophie to temporarily replace her while she is in Europe taking some personal time. (In reality, Ryan's involvement was due to Gina Bellman's pregnancy.) Easily able to adapt to the team's method, she is nonetheless slow to be accepted by the team, especially when she learns to loathe Sterling as much as they do. Tara is a profit-seeking con who seeks a cut of most of their jobs, but over time learns to understand their not-for-profit motives. She returns in season four, having a girl's night out with Sophie and Parker that turns into an elaborate heist.
Kari Matchett as Maggie Collins, Nate's ex-wife, an art expert, who re-enters his life while working with IYS Chair Ian Blackpoole. Maggie still cares for Nate, but she cannot stand his alcoholism and self-destructive tendencies, which led her to divorce him. She is initially unaware of IYS's role in her son's death, but learns the whole story as she is drawn into one of Nate's cons, which allows them to come to terms with his death and begin to rebuild their relationship. She demonstrates a flair for Nate's new work and ends up helping the team complete a con in the Season One finale; later, the team comes to her rescue when she is falsely accused of theft. She returns to help the team in the fourth season finale, and by then has developed a close friendship with Sophie--to Nate's surprise and unease.
Rick Overton and Gerald Downey as FBI Special Agents Taggert and McSweeten, who have (unwittingly) worked with the team on at least four occasions, believing Hardison and Parker to be fellow FBI agents. Credited with major arrests following four of the team's cons, they have risen through the ranks of the bureau rapidly. McSweeten, who appears several times without Taggert's involvement, also has a crush on Parker(whom he thinks is "Agent Hagen"), which is a constant source of Hardison's jealousy. In Season 5, McSweeten seeks the team's help with a case that obsesses his father.
Robert Blanche as Detective Captain Patrick Bonanno, a Massachusetts State Police detective the team tips off when they want a mark to be arrested. An honest cop who has the team's respect, Bonanno is apparently aware of the team's work, but has never attempted to pursue them. At the end of season two, He is nearly murdered by a corrupt politician, and Nate arranges a con to avenge him. Bonanno is a lieutenant in Season Two, but is promoted to captain as Season Three opens and is a regular at Nate's weekly poker games in Season Four.
Tom Skerritt as Jimmy Ford, Nate's father, an Irish-American numbers runner and grifter, and a legendary figure in the Boston crime circles. Nate's choice of career was in reaction to his troubled relationship with his father, and after disrupting one of Jimmy's cons, forced him into retirement in Ireland. He returned at the end of the fourth season and manages to mend his relationship with his son before being killed by Latimer and Dubenich.
Richard Chamberlain as Archie Leach (the real name of actor Cary Grant), an expert thief who was a professional mentor and father figure to Parker. He inadvertently involved the team in a job when Parker came to his aid. He began training Parker at the age of 12, and although he wished to adopt her, he was unable to do so since he was keeping his life of crime a secret from his wife and family. He returned to assist the team in the fourth season finale, where he finally referred to Parker as his daughter and gave Parker's and Hardison's relationship his blessing.
Goran Visnjic as Damien Moreau, an international crime financier and illegal goods trader who has thus far been untouchable by international law enforcement. Moreau hides behind a network of people who do his bidding, while living on an isolated island. The team must use the clues and connections they find during their cases to take down his network and bring him to justice while under the watchful eye of a woman known only as "The Italian." Due to the machinations of the Team, Moreau is eventually jailed in the small, politically unstable country of San Lorenzo.
Elisabetta Canalis as The Italian, an unnamed Italian woman who blackmails the team into taking down Moreau within six months. If the team fails, she promises to have Nate imprisoned and the rest of the team killed.
Wil Wheaton as Colin "Cha0s" Mason, an unscrupulous hacker whose skills rival Hardison's. Chaos and Hardison see each other as nemeses, but Chaos has also attempted to kill Sophie and nearly succeeded. Despite being arrested twice after going up against Leverage Consulting, he is reluctantly hired to assist the team in the fourth season finale.
Clayne Crawford as Quinn, a professional man of violence who is almost as good as Eliot. He opposes the team in the first season finale, but bears Elliot no ill will, and is hired to assist them in the fourth season finale.
Leon Rippy as Jack Latimer, a multi-billion dollar professional investor who has been tracking the team since their first job. He profits from the team by way of betting against the companies that the Leverage crew takes down, thus getting ahead of the market. He has twice attempted to make a deal with Nate; he lets them know of companies that have covered their tracks so well that they do not show on the team's radar, and while they take down the said companies, he will make certain investments from which he will profit. As of "The Lonely Hearts Job," he appears to be working with someone who wants to make war on the Leverage team. In the fourth season finale, he was last seen falling from a very high cliff into a river with the sound of a gunshot being heard.
Saul Rubinek as Victor Dubenich, the mark in the pilot episode, assembled the team for Nate and then double-crossed them, motivating them to unite to destroy his business and get him jailed. At the end of the fourth season, we learn that he is behind Latimer's involvement with the team as part of his plot (from prison) for revenge. He was also last seen falling from a very high cliff into a river in the fourth season finale with the sound of a gunshot being heard.
Executive producer and director Dean Devlin pitchedLeverage to TNT in mid-2007. The show was greenlit in October and the pilot was shot in July of 2008. Devlin said of the show's creation: "I just wanted to do the type of show that I grew up with and loved. I missed Mission: Impossible and The Rockford Files. Television today tends to be more dry, dark and edgy. I’m not saying it’s bad, but it’s not the type of show I was interested in. So when TNT said they wanted to get a TV show out of me, I said I wanted to do a throwback type of show. I wanted to have fun. I don’t want to live in a dark world."
Thirteen episodes were commissioned for the first season. The show's pilot was filmed on-location in Chicago, with the remainder of the first season set and filmed in Los Angeles. For the second through fourth seasons, the show was primarily set in Boston, but filmed in Portland, Oregon. Executive producer Dean Devlin announced that the fifth season would not only be shot in Portland, but set there as well.
The series premiered on December 7, 2008 on TNT in the United States. In the United Kingdom the series aired on Bravo where it premiered on January 20, 2010; when Bravo closed down, it was picked up by Fox. The series started broadcasting January 7, 2009 on W Channel in Australia.
ION TV announced that Leverage will become part of their 2012 broadcast in syndication. The series debuted on the network on July 1, 2012. The show is broadcast in marathons on Sundays and thursdays.
In Live + 7 data, Leverage averaged 4.0 million viewers per episode in the first season, 4.5 million viewers per episode in the second season, and 4.5 million viewers per episode in the third season.
The series ranks as ad-supported cable's #1 entertainment program in the Tuesday 10 p.m. (ET/PT) time slot among viewers, households and adults 25–54. The December 7, 2008 premiere was watched by 5.6 million viewers and scored TNT's best original series telecast ever in delivery of adults 18–49 during the regular broadcast season. Through its first nine episodes, Leverage averaged 3.2 million viewers and 1.4 million adults 18–49 in Live + Same Day viewing. The first six episodes scored strong growth when comparing Live to Live + 7 numbers, with total viewership rising 33% to 4.1 million and adults 18–49 rising 42% to 1.9 million.
Data from TNT indicates that a large percentage of viewers recorded the second season finale of Leverage for later viewing. The Live + 7 viewership of 4.2 million viewers was 70 percent greater than the Live data for the same episode. In addition, for the season, Live +7 viewership was 58 percent greater than Live viewership.
The premiere of Leverage on June 20, 2010 averaged approximately 3.0 million viewers the two episodes, and maintained a 1.0 rating for Adults 18–49.
The June 26, 2011 premiere episode was viewed by 3.42 million viewers (10% more than the third season premiere) while the January 15, 2012 season finale was viewed by 3.9 million viewers.
The fifth season premiere episode was viewed by 3.39 million viewers, and achieved a 0.8 Adults 18-49 rating. The fifth season finale, also the series finale, was watched by 3.04 million viewers and achieved a 0.7 rating in Adults 18-49.
Critical reaction to Leverage has been generally positive, with review aggregation website Metacritic reporting "generally favorable reviews" by critics and "universal acclaim" by users. Reviewing the shows's first two episodes, Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly wrote that Leverage is "shrewdly conceived, and it moves along like a son of a gun." He felt that the "backup crew ... wisecrack without much charm," but also that "Hutton's top-grade work and the twisty plots" made up for this. Tucker concluded that the show was "better than the last two Ocean's Eleven movies."Robert Bianco of USA Today felt that Leverage "seems to owe more to other movies and shows than it does to real life," pointing specifically to The Sting and Mission: Impossible as obvious sources of inspiration, but concluded: "at least it's paying its debt in an entertaining fashion." Bianco felt that "Leverage does get overly busy at times (simpler camera work would help)," but also that Hutton "supplies the charisma the show needs to succeed and the weight to keep it grounded."
Reviewing the show's first season for the DVD review website DVD Talk, David Cornelius wrote: "The cast is terrific, bringing out the comedy without reaching for camp, while the scripts, if not exactly airtight, offer enough breezy fun. It's a bit slight, but it's also solid entertainment." Reviewing the second season for the same website, John Sinnott wrote: "Though this season is a bit of a let down after the first one, Leverage is still a very good show. This character driven program has some truly enjoyable characters and some great stories." Reviewing the third season, Sinnott wrote: "This third year's worth of episodes is a step up from season two, even if a couple of the shows are hit-and-miss. Happily, there are far more hits than misses." Reviewing the fourth season, Sinnott wrote: "A step up in quality from season three, the fourth season of Leverage is fun, energetic, and immensely entertaining. The first couple of episodes are a bit bland, but after those the show picks up the pace and fires on all cylinders."
Reviewing the Season 5 premiere, David Hinckley of the New York Daily News felt that it was "business as usual" for the show, but still "cool, fast-paced and thoroughly pleasant."
Margaret Weis Productions released a roleplaying game based on the show and using the Cortex Plus system in 2010, with pdf supplements coming out in 2012 and 2013. In the game, whether or not they play the actual characters on the show the players are expected to take on one of the five roles within the Leverage team; Grifter, Hitter, Hacker, Mastermind, or Thief - and every character has a second role they can perform well and two they can't at all. In order to run cons as in the show, the player playing the Mastermind is given partially complete information with which to run the con, a twist is introduced midway (as in a three act structure), and the players are given Plot Points which they can use to establish flashback scenes. The Leverage Roleplaying Game was nominated for an Origins award.