So, Leverage. I posted this on an external blog a while back, but no-one really reads that blog, so. Here I am, recycling content already!
When I first posted about Leverage on LJ
, I said:
It feels like it's trying to be Ocean's 11 for television - and given that I loved the Oceans movies a lot, that is not a bad thing in my books. It has a lot of similarities; each episode shows you the job, the setup, and then plays out the con to keep the suspense rolling. Critical things happen behind the scenes so that the viewer can be surprised, but it's never just handwavium; they'll usually cut to a flashback scene showing how the team set things up. There are serious personal issues motivating many of the characters, but on the surface the banter flies, and I spend most of an episode laughing as I watch.
The similarities extend as far as the soundtrack; Leverage uses a lot of the same music as the Oceans movies, particularly Ocean's 11. Not just the same style; I'm sure some of the tracks are identical.
It even shares the same language of cons, where the characters suggest cons to each other without ever going into detail about what each con entails.
Nate: ...And besides, we're going with a much bigger scam. *smirks*
Parker: The London Spank?
Hardison: The Genevan Paso Doble?
Eliot: The Apple Pie.
*pause, everyone looks at Elliot*
Eliot: [defensively] It's like the Cherry Pie, but with lifeguards.
Lifeguards. I love it.
Although it's not doing anything really ground-breaking, one of the things I do like about it is that it really pushes my 'competence' buttons; I love seeing people being effortlessly good at something, and this delivers in spades. Eliot is a perfect example; he's the team's muscle, and the first episode makes it clear how ridiculously good he is at his job. So, you're inclined to write him off as The Thug.
Except, except; he's nearly as good a scammer as Sophie, the team's actress, con artiste and grifter. Or Hardison, the team's computer genius, who does a fantastic line in impersonating FBI agents. It'd be so easy for the show to play them as pigeonholed cogs in the ensemble, having them fumble and bumble when they're out of their element for comedy value; instead, they're professional and effortlessly competent, and it's just a joy to watch.
That line about being glad the writers avoided the temptation to paint the characters as one-note stereotypes certainly resonated with me a couple of weeks ago, when I watched a recent NCIS episode - which is a show I generally enjoy a lot, even if you can't take it too seriously - and saw how not
to do it.
To wit, the following exchange. (McGee is the team's computer-savvy agent; he's got a Masters in forensic computing, and is generally a stereotypical geek.)
McGee: Actually, I met someone.
DiNozzo: What's his name?
McGee: Her name is Claire. [smugly] She's a computer programmer.
Ziva: Where did you meet?
McGee: Well, actually, we, uh - we haven't met in person. We met online.
DiNozzo: [laughing] Of course you did. Go figure. [McGee is beaming in the background.]
Ziva: So, when is the first date?
McGee: Hopefully as soon as possible. This girl, Ziva, she's perfect - she's gorgeous, she thinks I'm hysterical. And... she's a level five sorceress.
DiNozzo: [holding his head and laughing] Oh god.
DiNozzo: No! The sadness, when I hear you talk like this! You don't know who these people are - it could be a forty-five year old overweight man in Minnesota. I mean, like you said, you two haven't even met yet.
McGee: What part of level five sorceress don't you understand?
Gibbs: [entering] All of it.
McGee: Boss, to be a level five sorceress, you have to conquer ... it's not important.
McGee refers to the "level five sorceress" thing at several other points in the episode, too, as though it's a measure of Claire's awesomeness as a person. Every time it happened I died a little inside. (Bear in mind, for those of you who don't follow NCIS: this is a character who graduated top of his class from FLETC, the law enforcement training program. He has had girlfriends. He's supposed to be capable of dealing with people, not just computers.)
And really: a level five sorceress? I can't think of a single game where being a level five anything
is much to brag about. It has the dire ring of the writers skimping on background and just throwing a couple of nerdy-sounding phrases in approximately the right order - and this is far from the first time the NCIS writers have been lazy about backing up geek cred with solid research.
Compare it to this conversation from Leverage 1x08, where Alec Hardison - the team's hacker and token geek - is posing as an employee to infiltrate a company's headquarters.
Hardison: [leaning against a counter in the break room, looking bored] ...yeah, they transferred me from the second floor.
Cheryl: Well, I don't know what it was like down in Consumer Integration, but let me tell ya, I have been working my butt off on this account. But Steve? No, he's just sitting back waiting for me to fail so he can swoop in and save the day. I swear, it's like he's a rogue and I'm a mage and we're part of the same guild, but secretly he's working with the Alliance to undermine us.
Hardison: [looks startled and impressed] For the Horde!
Cheryl: For the Horde. [They fist-bump.] You play World of Warcraft?
Hardison: You kiddin'? Did you get the new expansion pack? Woman, I was up all night. I mean, Burning Crusade was great, but this new one is mindblowing.
There. Was that so hard? All the NCIS writers had to do was say "okay, guys, anyone got kids who play Warcraft, or one of those games?" and spent five minutes asking 'Okay, so, how do gamers actually talk about their characters? What would a gamer say if they were bragging?'
As it is, NCIS's pandering to the cheap-and-easy mainstream jokes at the expense of the nerd brigade is uncomfortable to watch, and it sends the message that their show doesn't care enough to appeal to a geeky audience. With a tiny bit of effort, Leverage's writers produce a scene that's just as funny as the NCIS jokes - but it's positive, inclusive humour that ultimately just leaves a better aftertaste.