In an age of escapism, the television classic “Leverage” was a staple for nerds everywhere. The show follows a group of five modern Robin Hoods: Nathan Ford, Sophie Devereaux, Alec Hardison, Eliot Spencer and Parker — just call her Parker. Dedicated, talented and brave, these criminals steal from the corrupt businessmen of the world to help rebuild the lives of their victims.
“Leverage” received overwhelmingly positive reviews in its five-season run from 2008 to 2012, gaining a cult following that still exists to this day. So, when the show ended, fans missed the cathartic experience of watching their favorite criminals con crooked capitalists. This year, their prayers were answered when IMDb TV announced its revival of the show, “Leverage: Redemption.”
Taking place years after the original series ended, “Redemption” shows the group’s return to crime after they split to work on different exploits. Once the group is together, however, the sequel’s scams flow just as well as in the original. “Redemption” does its predecessor justice; it keeps the elements that made “Leverage” so impactful for its fans while showing realistic character growth.
The best part of “Leverage” — and “Redemption” — is the incredible grifts the group pulls off. No one con is the same. In the first eight episodes of “Redemption” alone, the group pretends to be a rival casino group to steal a crooked casino owner’s riches, fakes a haunted house to catch predatory real estate agents and cons an evil developer into thinking his own building is on the verge of collapsing.
The grifts are great to watch because each character is the best at what they do. There is no illusion that the criminals are the underdogs; the best part of each episode is watching Eliot Spencer, the hitman, dominate in a fight against overconfident, yet incompetent, thugs. This is no different in “Redemption,” as each member performs their task and completely defeats their foes.
The team’s success in their plots gives viewers a cathartic experience — seeing a corrupt rich businessperson get completely taken down simply feels good. At the end of each episode, the audience sees the villain find out that they’ve been conned, followed by the team giving their earnings to the antagonist’s victims. Both shows’ overwhelming theme, justice, is rooted in this satisfying experience.
Eliot Spencer, the hitman, serves one primary purpose: kicking people down and taking names. Portrayed by Christian Kane, the ex-military man’s confident approach to fighting makes for a great watch. However, in the original “Leverage,” Spencer was a one-dimensional character. He was a moving ball of angst and anger who rarely had a tender, emotional moment.
In “Redemption,” however, Spencer has opened up his emotions — and a food truck business. In “Leverage,” it’s canon that he is an incredible cook, but it isn’t until the revival that the audience sees Spencer pursue that passion. He also shows incredible empathy in this venture; he employs veterans in his trucks so they can get a fresh start. Compared to the Spencer in “Leverage” that spent every episode moping, the new Spencer cares about something that helps others he relates to.
Alec Hardison, usually called just Hardison, is the classic man in the van surrounded by screens. He is the hacker but also does most of the research — such as finding out how to get into certain vaults — throughout each con. He’s the best at what he does, leading to a stark overconfidence and greediness portrayed very well by Aldis Hodge. In the first episode of “Leverage,” the only backstory the audience gets is that he used his tech skills to get an expensive hotel room under the digital guise of being Mick Jagger.
Though Hardison only appears in the first two episodes of “Redemption,” his exit shows clear character development. He leaves the team to go help prevent economic collapse in Sri Lanka, a selfless act a young Hardison wouldn’t dream of doing. Before he leaves, his foster sister Breanna Casey comes to take over the reins. As he worries about her joining the team, the audience sees a softer side of Hardison, one that has more concern about his sister than himself.
Whenever the team needs to get into a locked room, Parker takes the lead. She is both an expert acrobat and a professional thief, as portrayed by Beth Riesgraf. Parker’s personality is exemplified in Episode 7 of Season 2 of “Leverage”; after Sophie Devereaux fakes her own death, Parker has to poke her to make sure she’s not a ghost. This social awkwardness and lack of awareness are due to Parker’s lack of family growing up. Her only father figure was another professional thief.
In “Redemption,” however, Parker shows emotional intelligence and impressive leadership. Parker and Hardison began dating during “Leverage” and became a fan favorite couple. When he has to leave in “Redemption,” Parker shows a previously unseen vulnerability; while she openly admits she doesn’t want him to leave, she recognizes that he must. Parker also steps into a leadership role for the team, as she plans a few cons — something her “Leverage” character never dreamed of doing.
Sophie Devereaux, portrayed by Gina Bellman, is class personified — in many outfits. As the team’s grifter, Devereaux becomes whatever character they need, from a real estate agent to a financier to an investigator. She was meant to juxtapose the only character to not return, Nate Ford, in the original “Leverage.” They were a couple and the leaders of the team, with Ford being the planner and Devereaux being the caretaker. In “Leverage,” Devereaux’s character existed only to contrast to Ford. As a result, she had no complex characterization on her own.
In “Redemption,” Devereaux takes over the mastermind role after Ford’s pre-series death. She both plans their heists and acts as their lead grifter. The audience loved this change, mainly because they finally got to see Devereaux’s peak intelligence and wisdom in full effect. She creates infallible con plans, reads people’s intentions in the blink of an eye and still gives incredible performances to fool the team’s targets.
The fifth member of the team, Nate Ford, didn’t return in “Redemption” because of controversies around actor Timothy Hutton. To replace him, ex-lawyer Harry Wilson (portrayed by Noah Wyle) joins the team. While he doesn’t take over the mastermind position, Wilson becomes the driving force of the team as Ford was. In “Leverage,” Ford led the team because he wanted to get revenge on the rich after an insurance company denied medicine to his dying son. Similarly, Wilson brings jobs to the team due to his past career.
The difference between the two is that Wilson wants to repay the victims of his own crimes. As a lawyer, he represented many crooked businessmen and defended them from the repercussions of their actions. These are the same businessmen the team takes down. Wilson provides a driving force behind “Redemption” beyond the original team’s Robin Hood-esque goals. He has a personal angle; he cares about their cons because he wants to help those he once stole from.
“Leverage: Redemption” is a great example of how a show remake should evolve. It maintained the great grifts and sense of justice of the original while showing growth in the returning characters. The show even expanded on the original with the addition of Harry Wilson, since his presence adds a motivation for personal forgiveness — a redemption, if you will.
Both the original and the revival are available on Amazon Prime and IMDb TV and are a great pick for any viewing occasion. Both series have an impressive diversity of grifts, and it’s incredibly entertaining to watch the team do what they do best. Even more, it’s always satisfying to watch people get justice and redemption.