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Friday, August 27, 2010

Then and Now: Leverage vs. The A Team

I'm out of hibernation and ready with a new series of posts: Then and Now. I've been watching more television than films lately (due mostly to the fact that I've relocated to a rural area) and the more I watch the more I see new shows popping up that appear to be cast in the same mold as shows from twenty or thirty years ago. It's really eery to watch a brand new show only to flash back to being five years old; and I'm not just talking about the remakes of "Knightrider," or "The Nightstalker." The phenomenon of television plot recycling is hardly a new one, but I think it still bears examination.

I'm starting off with TNT's great (if sometimes cheesy) heist show, "Leverage," which is into its third season. The plot is a simple one: five cons team up to restore wealth and honor to underdogs everywhere. The team features an ex-mercenary, a thief, a grifter, a hacker, and a guy who plans everything out. They take on crooked bankers, lying politicians, other thieves, insurance companies and sweatshop owners, and they take them for everything they're worth. Sound familiar? It did to me.

I used to watch "The A Team" when I was a kid, and "Leverage" is a clone in many ways. Mr. T is replaced by Elliot, Hannibal is replaced by Nate, Sophie fills in for Face, Parker for Murdock. It's a classic formula, but with a little more respect for its audience. Nothing is ever new in this world. Writers and directors either find a new spin on an old formula, or they wait just long enough for a new generation to come along. However, my generation's obsession with nostalgia and pop culture, adapting an old formula is increasingly difficult. Perhaps this is why reality television caught on. It's cheap, it's easy, and it claims to show us the truth, as opposed to the hackneyed fictional tropes to which we have become accustomed. The irony is, reality television simply mimics the standard plot structures we see in typical fiction. It is edited and contrived to the point that it is no long reality, but fiction disguised as reality. Personally, I'll take pure fiction.