Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Netflix pick of the month: HUSTLE

Actually it’s a TV series (although 20th is in the process of developing it as feature). It’s called HUSTLE, produced by the BBC. Tony Jordan created it and I wouldn’t want to get into a “Bar Wars” type duel with this guy.

AMC airs the series from time to time “over the pond” but you can get the DVD’s.

HUSTLE is about a group of con artists that pull elaborate stings. And by elaborate I mean ingenious, intricate, sometimes inspired. You’ll be saying, “How the hell do they come up with this stuff??”

Leading the cast is Robert Vaughn. (The Man from UNCLE now essentially plays Mr. Waverly.) Yes, he’s wooden as always. He never acts, he “poses”. But it works somehow.

Adrian Lester is the real revelation. He plays the mastermind leader, Mickey. And if you’ve never seen him before that’s because this is the first non-theater project he’s done. But you’ll see him again. Denzel Washington, watch out.

Marc Warren plays Danny. He’s the young, raw, talented newbie to the group – gifted but unpredictable. Ironically they picked a guy who looks like a young Illya Kuryakin (the Man From UNCLE’S partner who always got the shit beaten out of him while Vaughn’s character slept with the dictator’s wife).

There’s Robert Glenister as “Ash”, the technical whiz who can break into any safe, rewire any security device, and although they never showed it, understand the new Time-Warner Cable DVR remote.

Luscious Jamie Murray plays Stacie. She was the villainess in season two of DEXTER. It’s fun to watch a woman who is ten times smarter than the men she targets to con.

After the first three seasons characters drop out and are replaced. I haven’t seen those episodes so I can’t say whether they suffer. Season four has to because Adrian Lester isn’t in it. He returned for season five however. I don’t understand why actors drop out of English series. They only make six or eight at a time.

The production values are sumptuous. The series is super stylish. Michael Mann would be proud.

Examples of some of the cons: they have to break into jail, they have to create an entire Bollywood production, they have to create a forged Mondrian so good that it fools experts, they steal the Crown Jewels, and in my favorite so far – Danny and Mickey stage a competition. They’re both dumped out in the center of London at noon completely naked. They have eight hours to return to the home base and whoever grifted the most money wins. In short order they’re wearing tailored suits, cruising around in chauffeured limousines, raking in the dough.

The gang doesn’t always succeed, they often have to improvise, personality conflicts and past feelings also get in the way. But it’s always fun, always a good ride. HUSTLE, where the cons are pros.

47 comments:

Jim 7 said...

Adrian Lester was a young unknown lead in "Primary Colors." He played the George Stephanopolis part (much better than George has played it since then.)

Thom Zahler said...

Whoa! I didn't realize there was a season five where Mickey returned. Great news!

VP81955 said...

I know Robert Vaughn wrote a book some years back on the blacklist, much of which was extrapolated from a thesis he wrote (I think it was at Southern Cal). For all we know, he might be a better writer than he is an actor.

I'm guessing you didn't accompany the Dodgers to Washington and Pittsburgh. Then again, based on tonight's 14-2 carnage, you didn't miss much.

I envy you guys, heading back to the postseason for the third time in four years. The last time Washington experienced pennant race baseball was 1945, when area native Goldie Hawn was in her mother's womb (she was born Nov. 21). The last pennant we had in town was in 1933, when your meager funds went to either ballgames or sexy pre-Code movies in downtown palaces. No one had enough money to do both. Is it any wonder Washington lacks a baseball culture? No market could survive that kind of drought.

Stevan said...

Hustle is still on - I didn't know that! When I didn't see it on AMC any more, I thought it was done. Thanks Ken!

Rebecca said...

If you like this kind of thing, are you watching Leverage on TNT? It's truly excellent, and kind of the same setup, with a criminal "team". Great action, smarts and humor.

Plus, you get all kinds of inside info and questions answered by John Rogers (head writer/producer?) in his blog, kfmonkey.blogspot.com. Since that's one of my favorite features of your blog, it's so cool to find it elsewhere, too.

Jan said...

It sounds like Leverage on TNT might be a remake of this.

Rinaldo said...

"Adrian Lester is the real revelation. ... And if you’ve never seen him before that’s because this is the first non-theater project he’s done."

I guess Primary Colors and Love's Labour's Lost (among others) don't count?

And surely he's not in competition solely with other black actors?

Rebecca said...

@Jan, I don't know, because I haven't seen any of Hustle yet - although I've been meaning to because my daughter recommended it to me months ago. But Leverage is kind of a Robin Hood thing, with the gang of thieves using their skills to help people who've been taken advantage of by those who are wealthier, more powerful or just plan evil.

Tim W. said...

I also have to chime in with recognizing Adrian Lester from Primary Colo(u)rs, as well as The Day After Tomorrow (a guilty pleasure). He and Vaughn were the only ones I recognized. I actually always wondered why I didn't see him much after playing the Stephanopolis part so well.

WV: Skinglu: It's glue for your skin. What the hell were you expecting?

Bob said...

Robert Glenister is the brother of Philip Glenister, who played Gene Hunt on the BBC series Life on Mars (and continues to play him on the new series Ashes to Ashes). If you've never seen Life on Mars or, worse, have seen the American version, you owe it to yourself to rent the first season, which is now available from Netflix. Philip Glenister is the best of an all-around excellent cast.

wv: furomi - the inevitable result when the cat jumps in my lap.

D. McEwan said...

Count me among those who remember Adrian Lester in PRIMARY COLORS. I also saw him, back in 1974, play Anthony Hope in Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD onstage in London with the magnificent Julia McKenzie. It's not a good role. He's the poor leading man stiff, but Lester smoked up the stage, burning hot he was, and he can sing like a dream too, so I've been a fan a long time now. (Looks damn good shirtless also.)

Roebrt Vaughn got one of the worst reviews of all time in the Los Angeles Times, back around 1968 or 1970. He was playing the title role in HAMLET at the Pasadena Playhouse. The critic wrote:

"HAMLET is the easiest of all of Shakespeare's tragedies to produce successfully. All you need is a reasonably good actor playing Hamlet and you're home free. Last night the Pasadena Playhouse opened a WRETCHED production of HAMLET."

Ow. 40 years later, and I still remember that review. I'll bet Vaughn does too.

But Vaughn had a VERY funny scene in LITTLE BRITAIN AMERICA.

D. McEwan said...

Okay, that was 1994 when I saw Lester in SWEENEY TODD. He was probably born around 1974. Oops. Saw him in LOVE'S LABOURS LOST Also. And he's why I caught a couple of these HUSTLEs as well.

rita said...

ahem. marc *warren*, not wilson. :)

WV: fackin -- no explanation needed. ;)

KEN LEVINE said...

Thanks Rita, I made the correction.

And for those giving me shit about not mentioning PRIMARY COLORS -- hey, it wasn't mentioned in the bio I read. So kill me.

Paris said...

"And for those giving me shit about not mentioning PRIMARY COLORS -- hey, it wasn't mentioned in the bio I read. So kill me."

Come on, you can do better than that... I mean, if you look at the imdb, he's got 33 credits on tv and film. Of course, the imdb isn't necessarily accurate - these are the guys who think you're a location scout in Hawaii after all. So Wikipedia? 28 credits. But still, they often get stuff wrong too, right? What about the BBC's official Hustle site? That bio mentions that he made his name acting on the London stage, but then goes on to list several major film roles. Of course, there's no reason why the US bio would be the same... So what about AMC's Hustle site? "Prior to his leading role in TV's Hustle, Adrian Lester was known best for his role in Primary Colors. "

KEN LEVINE said...

Uh, did I mention that I don't get paid for this? If I occasionally have an inaccuracy in one of my daily pieces that I offer for free I apologize.

D. McEwan said...

Lighten up guys. If Ken didn't see PRIMARY COLORS, he can hardly be knocked for not knowing. (But seriously Ken, see PRIMARY COLORS. It's a really good movie. Normally I can't abide John Travolta, but his Bill Clinton gloss worked quite well. And there's a lot of fine performances in it, and a good script. Good book too.)

I've been attuned to Lester because, well, when I saw him onstage - [i]SPROING!(/i] - so I've been alert to him ever since. Ken was unlikely to have had that reaction to him.

And it's nice to see that he's made more of an impression on American viewers than Ken or I realized.

Paul Duca said...

I've seen this and am impressed...the episode that blew my mind was when they convinced a sleazy tabloid newspaper publisher that the Queen Mother (Queen Elizabeth's mother) died during World War II and someone else was recruited to take her place.

Pat Reeder said...

Alas, I missed Robert Vaughn's "Hamlet," but he did give a truly Shakespearean performance in "Teenage Caveman."

WV: "sequald" - Past tense of "to make a sequel," as in, "The original 'Halloween' has been sequald to death."

impworks said...

Hustle season 4 wasn't as good but I started watching it again in season 5 when Adrian Lester returned and Marc Warren left.

Once you've watched the British version of Life on Mars I'd suggest a look at the original TV version of State of Play or go back to the source and watch The Sweenie. Quite tame now but in its day hard hitting.

As to why British shows don't keep hold of actors. I ask myself that quite a lot. There seems to be a culture of fear of typecasting here (which is probably not unreasonable) and I guess the contracts are different given syndication has never been the same sort of driver here as in the US.

Brian Phillips said...

Thank you for the recommendation! Per your comment:

"I don’t understand why actors drop out of English series. They only make six or eight at a time."

I recently heard the "Fresh Air" interview on NPR with Terry Gross. Ted Danson said that it took him over a year to play Sam properly. Within that year, I would argue, Sam and Diane worked well off of each other. On the shows you have worked on do you find that the cast "chemistry" is something that is pretty much in place near the beginning of the show ("Friends" creators felt this way about their cast) or does it tend to develop over time?

Lionors said...

I tuned in to "Hu$tle" because of Adrian Lester. I saw him in a West End production of "Company."

I think he had the best voice of any "Bobby," although my husband favors Raul Esparza's performance.

Tim W. said...

D. McEwan: "Okay, that was 1994 when I saw Lester in SWEENEY TODD. He was probably born around 1974. Oops. "

I have to say, I was a little confused when you said 1974. That would have made him 6, apparently. And to be that impressed with a 6 year old...

Ken Levine: "Uh, did I mention that I don't get paid for this? If I occasionally have an inaccuracy in one of my daily pieces that I offer for free I apologize."

Am I the only one paying you for this? You told me everyone was doing that. Well, at least I've got my money coming from a friend in Nigeria who I'm helping with retrieving their inheritance.

Donna said...

Thanks for the information about season 5 of Hustle. I managed to catch them on AMC and when they stopped showing it, I went out and bought the seasons on DVD. I think Adrian Lester is one of those hidden gem talents.

He recently was in the pilot episode of another British TV show called "Being Human". His character was recast (and not for the better, in my not so humble opinion) because BBC took too long between the pilot and the rest of the series. (Two of the main characters were also recast). Mr. Lester played the head of the vampires and managed to pull off the evil-suave-I could kill you as soon as look at you villain with style.

Jon Delfin said...

Robert Vaughn leads the cast? That press release you read came from BBC America, not BBC, right? Trying to put that U.S.-centric spin on things?

Gary Mugford said...

It's often hard to rationalize acting awards where it seems silly to say this or that actor was 'the best.' Apples and oranges WAAAAY too often. But the sheer drop in quality during Marc Warren's season in the spotlight (Series 4)for Hustle gives ample proof that Adrian Lester ranks amongst the best. Didn't miss Warren for series five at all. In fact, didn't miss Jaime Murray either. Kelly Adams is a real find in series five. Different, not necessarily better, than Murray, but a match for Lester.

By the way, to see Lester work well as a second banana, check out Bonekickers. It's sort of Clive Cussler meets Indiana Jones on a limited budget. Like all short-run British series, it's over before you know it. And it leaves you wanting more.

I also echo the call to see the original State of Play. Simply the best TV of the year, the year it came out.

blogward said...

Oh no! You're recommending Hustle? That pathetic, tedious, embarrassing drivel? It was Tony Jordan was responsible for Eastenders, the drama equivalent of a cheap snow globe. Hustle has more plot holes than Watership Down has rabbits, and the acting makes Baywatch look like Orson Welles' Mercury Theater. Robert Vaughan is like William Shatner without the personality. And I speak as an ex-UNCLE fan. Oh, Ken.

WV: parlyza = How Elvis pronounced the song in later years.

rita said...

i'm sure mr warren appreciates mention of his name on your blog. he's hardly what you would call a household name outside the UK.

WV: witico = ken levine

Anonymous said...

he's black, therefore he's only a threat to Denzel Washintong. He can't be a threat to any white actors, that would be illegal; don't you watch Mad Men?

KEN LEVINE said...

I'm always amazed that these disgruntled readers who clearly hate my blog feel the need to post comments anonymously (cowards)and keep coming back. If you don't like my blog then leave. Find blogs you do like. But if you feel the need to rip me at least have the balls to leave your name.

And for the record, to the last commenter (since you're listed as anonymous I'll just assign you a name -- Dickhead comes to mind), I compared Lester to Denzel because he would be up for the same roles. Seriously, just go the fuck away.

Paris said...

Um, Ken - sarcasm got the better of me when I posted above, mainly because I am genuinely surprised that you hadn't heard of Adrian Lester, and that any publicity material for Hustle would claim that this is his first non-theatre work. As for reading the blog, well, obviously I come back because I like your take on writing for several of my favourite tv show. And yes, I know you're doing it for free - thanks for that too! So, what this comes down to is: sorry for pissing you off, thanks for your writing, and check out some of Adrian Lester's other stuff...

D. McEwan said...

Tim W. said...
D. McEwan: 'Okay, that was 1994 when I saw Lester in SWEENEY TODD. He was probably born around 1974. Oops.'

I have to say, I was a little confused when you said 1974. That would have made him 6, apparently. And to be that impressed with a 6 year old..."

Well wouldn't you be impressed by a six year old who could perform Sondheim's music well enough to be cast as a principal in a National Theatre of Great Britain production? Not to mention the prescience of performing SWEENEY TODD 5 years before it was written.

Scott said...

I'll add my voice to those praising the British State of Play. That was excellent - and Marc Warren was quite entertaining in it (and in Doctor Who for that matter).

kellygainesboyd said...

Hi Ken. I have NO complaints. Zero.

However, I DO wish somebody would call ME luscious, just once in my life.

Nobody has ever used the word luscious in front of my name.

So, I'll do it myself.
Luscious Kelly Gaines Boyd.

Thanks for all the good reads, Ken!

David in London said...

Ken: leaving aside the jerk who made the Denzel comment, lighten up!

We correct because we love.

Adrian Lester, Marc Warren, et al, are very familiar to viewers of British television. Have they shown Spooks over in the U.S.? Same slick pace, good casts and twists.

Joey H said...

Is this similar to "Mission Impossible/"

D. McEwan said...

I did enjoy Marc Warren on DOCTOR WHO, but he was an amazingly lame choice to play Dracula. THAT was a MESS!!!

rita said...

ooh. marc warren was in life on mars as well. such a shame he's hardly known. ken, you might want to put that on your netflix, too, and ignore the chopped up version on bbc america where they had the gall to cut roughly ten minutes from *each* episode.

Anonymous said...

First thing I thought of when I saw "Leverage' was that it was a knock off of "Hustle".

Hustle being better because it is planned. Leverage is a disappointment because it seems most of the scams are made up as they go along.

Oh well I am sure, as some have already mentioned, that Hustle is a reworking of some other show, there being nothing new under the sun.

But the make up of the "teams" so resemble each other down to the point of a Brunette Grifter/temptress with an English accent is a bit much.

DICKHEAD said...

yes Ken, that's what I'm saying, Lester and Denzel would both be up for similar roles, such as "House Negro" or "Field Negro". It's because they're black. If you thought they could be up for the role of, say, Danny Ocean, you would say "watch out Frank Sinatra!", but no, Frank has to watch out for George Clooney, because he's white. It's pretty clear.

D. McEwan said...

I don't think I'd buy Adrian Lester as "Field Negro," he's too urban, and there's that British accent.

So aer you saying George Clooney couldn't pull off "House Negro"?

Cityslkrz said...

I can't believe you just reviewed Hustle, and thank you! I was told to watch Leverage, and as soon as it started I thought, "This is a huge ripoff of Hustle, but not done nearly as well."
I hadn't seen Hustle for a while and thought it was canceled, I'll have a look for it again. GREAT show.

Anonymous said...

Please, Denzel was *born* to play House Negro.

The Bolter said...

Hustle is better than Leverage--it doesn't have the baggage Leverage does of trying to make the characters morally good.

I think Adrian Lester had a scheduling conflict for season 4.

ExurbanMom said...

I fell in love with Adrian Lester over the film "Primary Colors," so he's not brand new to film/TV.

This show is definitely worth your while...loves it.

playfull said...

I am sure Adrian Lester would take it as a huge compliment to be compared to Denzil Washington...

And Tony Jordan did not Invent the long running soap 'Eastenders' but he did cut his writing teeth on it.
I have heard him speak on writing for tv and he is not only full of funny and interesting anecdotes but also very enthusiastic about encouraging new writing talent. A top bloke!
The story of how he came up with 'Life on Mars' is itself worth a google.

Anonymous said...

No longer on netflix :(