Andrew Serong

A hobby blog. Expect cats.

Guilty pleasures, Leverage, and TV vs Film

January 16, 2016

Leverage (2008 - 2012)
Over the past year, I watched only a couple of dozen movies. Before going back to uni to study coding (it’s officially a Software Development course, but I prefer the umbrella term), I knew I’d have to put a few hobbies on hold. The first to go was watching movies. There’s still a couple of video stores in my area, and it’s still possible to go hire 5 weekly DVDs which is still one of my favourite things to do.

But priorities change, and while I love movies, I’m really enjoying pursuing the overlapping areas of job-related career-like things, and tech creative projects. For me it’s that wonderful crossover where in role-playing-game terms, I’m finally accruing enough experience points that I can venture out into the more dangerous wilds. Or in less over-inflated language, I’m getting to work on some really inspiring stuff, both at work and in freelance projects. And I’m only overwhelmed just enough that it’s exciting. Not so much that I’m running for the hills and considering a career in embroidery (which would probably be considerably harder, anyway).

So, watching movies has become less of a hobby of self-education and expanding the range and reach of the kinds of things I watch, and more just about relaxation and fun. Which is to say, the reasons that probably most people watch movies.

But after a long day of work and / or study, the barrier to entry for a film is a little harder to work with than a TV show. With TV, you can kid yourself that you’re only going to watch a single episode, and that means only 45 minutes. But more importantly, with TV you get to return to a world that you already know, and catch up with characters you let into your life.

While films provide a self-contained journey, it’s the ongoing day-to-day adventure of television that helped me get through the past year. Learning new skills is an incredibly incremental process, and I find myself enjoying my day-to-day routine more than ever. Rather than looking for a couple of hours of escape, in television, I think I’m looking for something that resonates with the everyday challenge of getting better at things and dealing with what life throws up.

Like everyone else I love Game of Thrones, and Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix was a bit of a revelation. Long-form, deep comic book storytelling, with novel-like pacing. The Flash was also a great discovery — good, campy, YA sci-fi, with some time travel thrown in. But for me, discovering and binge watching the 2008–2012 series Leverage, was the real highlight.

If you haven’t seen it, Leverage starts out as a light-hearted over the top confidence thriller. A team of five, comprised of a Mastermind, Hacker, Hitter, Thief, and a Grifter work to take down large corporations, corrupt officials, and as they say, they pick up where the law leaves off, robbing the rich to feed the poor. It’s a modern Robin Hood, but it’s also indebted to movies like Oceans Eleven and Sneakers. It’s by no means a serious drama, and at first glance, it’s cartoonish and ridiculously over-the-top. But somehow, this little show captured my imagination with its unfailing optimism, charisma, cleverness, and the warmth of the main cast (led by Timothy Hutton).

Urban Fantasy author Seanan McGuire has a lot of good things to say about Leverage over on her tumblr, and fans are somewhat obsessive. I can see why.

David Mamet describes the confidence thriller as the greatest of all genres (Red Belt and The Spanish Prisoner are my favourites of his). It allows for some of the most interesting and intricate of plots, but the real pleasure of Leverage, for me, is in how it reframes problems. As a post-financial-crisis show, the clients in the show represent us dealing with some of the most common and despairing of contemporary first world issues. Crippling personal debt, insurance that fails to pay out, the gaps and loopholes in health care, personal tragedy due to corporate greed and negligence. But for the Leverage team, these problems aren’t problems. They’re jobs.

There’s a similar philosophy in agile software development teams, of continuous integration, iteration and experimentation. That dealing with failure is a necessary stage in development, and that failure provides opportunity for growth and change.

Leverage draws an optimistic world in which people can and do help each other, but it’s an optimistic world in which problems are exciting. In which a team of disparate members can pull a problem apart, and each serves their role in bringing people to justice. The writers and actors have done such a great job at crafting these five comic-book-like characters, that each is clearly defined, but together they form a functional whole. It’s a demonstration of good team dynamics, and a reminder that we don’t need to be able to do all the things.

We just need to be able to play our part well, work well (or at least functionally) with others, and take pleasure in problem solving.

Leverage might not have won any Emmys, but I’ve gotten so much more out of watching this than any number of Red Weddings. And as the wise Dave Grohl says, there’s no such thing as guilty pleasures.

(via anne-apolis on tumblr)

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