Sunday, February 18, 2007

I Love This Series!

The second season of Hustle just hit the stores this week. I fell in love with the first collected season just a few months ago, and now I can’t wait till season 3 is released on DVD.

Hustle features the trials and struggles of a professional long con crew, but with the British flair for tongue firmly rooted in cheek. The long con requires an investment of time and money from the confidence men and women working it. Usually the schemes are elaborate and require extensive research, but the shows are so well put together that you don’t realize you’re getting educated as well as entertained.

Each season, so far, consists of 6 hour-long episodes (a full hour, not the 42-minute versions of hours we get on American television). The episodes have truly wonderful writing, brilliant acting, and a sense of familiarity. Every time I pop a disc into the player, I feel like I’m sitting down at a family reunion to catch up on new stories with old friends.

The ringleader of the group is Mickey Bricks. His real name is Michael Stone, but everyone calls him Mickey. Played by Adrian Lester, Mickey is suave, cool, and super-competent. He’s the con artist who always plays with every angle covered and at least two backup plans.

Jaime Murray plays the beautiful and eloquent Stacie Monroe. She’s the banker for the team, meaning she usually handles their finances—and that figures into one of this season’s shows in a dramatic way, but also takes part in most of the cons.

Albert Stroller (Robert Vaughn) is the father-figure of the group. He serves as the roper, the man responsible for pulling a mark (victim) within range of the rest of the team. Vaughn’s portrayal of Stroller is outstanding. He’s so smooth onscreen I just love watching him pontificate, argue, or play to character.

Robert Glenister stars as Ashley “Ash” Morgan. He’s the team’s fixer, the man responsible for finding sites they can use to run the con, and the man who has to fabricate the objects necessary, and their electronics specialist.

Danny Blue, the young short con artist taken on by the team in the first season, is played by Marc Warren. He and Mickey are always bumping heads over work and over Stacie.

Even though the episodes are fun, filled with action and suspense, it’s the characters that really deliver the draw. After an episode or two, I just dropped into their world without any hesitation. I knew I was in good hands because the stories were clever and character interaction came from actors who knew their onscreen persona intimately. When the characters argued, it came out of their nature, not an encumbering plot hook or artificial twist. The season is as honest and forthright as it is fun and endearing.

The first episode, “Gold Mine,” re-introduces the viewer to the team and exactly what the art of the long con is. Mickey and the others are motivated to get revenge for a con man they all know who was taken down by a property manager who had been conned in the past. The interaction between the differing styles between Mickey and Danny really come to the forefront, as well as the rivalry the two have.

“Confessions” starts out when Albert blows a operation after learning about the sad death of an old associate. He’s out of sorts but manages to land another mark. The new mark is a reformed criminal turned into a chef who’s become the owner of the hottest restaurant in London. Danny ends up posing as the man’s son and gets too involved emotionally.

“The Lesson” is absolutely the best episode in the bunch. I loved it so much I watched it twice just to sort out all the diversions, red herrings, and feints. Even as versed as I was in the episodes, this one caught me by surprise. I was blown away by how everything came together in the end, including Stacie’s revenge against a bank manager who was an absolute jerk.

In “Missions,” Mickey has the crew actually pay for a comic book cover, laying out 110,000 pounds of their own money to purchase it. As it turns out, Eddie—the club owner where the crew regularly drinks—is getting squeezed by a crook cop. He tells her about Mickey and the others just as their newest con is about to come together. This episode was really well done with an elaborate set-up.

Part of Stacie’s past returns to haunt the crew in “Old Acquaintances.” Her husband, never an ex because he disappeared and never signed the papers, has turned up in London as a poker player Albert has roped in for a con. Even though Stacie and Mickey have a history with the guy, the crew decides to take him on. Part of it’s for the money, but it’s mostly about revenge for Stacie. However, the con turns awry when exposure to her husband rekindles old feelings.

Although the Crown Jewels of London have reportedly never been stolen, Mickey decides to make that the goal for the crew in “Eye of the Beholder.” This episode is an absolute stunner with all the breaking and entering they had to do, as well as how they get out of trouble with the police after having been arrested.

Hustle is one of the best television shows out there at the moment. Season 3 has aired, and Season 4 is getting ready to start airing in England. However, Adrian Lester has left the show. He’s been replaced by Ashley Walters, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the dynamic changes.

But if you’re a fan of British crime dramas and haven’t yet discovered this crown jewel, you’re in for a treat. The acting, the writing, and the sheer verve of the series make it outstanding. There’s even a wonderful music score. Hustle is a great addition to the home DVD home library or as a gift to someone you know who enjoys television that truly enterains.

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