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You can't cheat an honest man. Never been done. Or at least that's what they say in Hustle. When pressed to it, we would like to think of ourselves as honest, yet there's something about the world of the con man that keeps attracting attention.

Not that a con man would want the attention, but it makes for compelling entertainment. Maybe it's that we think we would never fall for that. Deep down, though, we might think that when offered the promise of easy money, we might not resist. At least in Hustle, such casual corruption looks fun.

Running for the last year or so on AMC here in America, the BBC series gets its first season released on DVD. One of the great things about discovering a BBC series is that your time commitment to a season is truncated relative to an American show. This "Complete First Season" is only six episodes, spread across two discs. Just enough to get you hooked, but not enough to make it a painful experience, unless you count waiting for the second season to come out.

Created by writer Tony Jordan, who's also stirred things up with Life on Mars, Hustle has a dual purpose. It chronicles a family of sorts, friends forging bonds in their chosen profession, while also meticulously explaining to the audience some of the finer points of being a con artist.

And these people are artists. In the pilot episode, lead Michael Stone aka Mickey Bricks (Adrian Lester) has ascended to legendary status among the police. Master of the long con, Mickey assembles his team for one last big score, to see himself go out on an even fifty.

His mentor, Albert Stroller (Robert Vaughn) chooses the marks. For added bait, they throw in the luscious Stacie Monroe (Jaime Murray). Because every such team needs the guy who can fix up all the gadgets, they've got a quirky uncle of sorts in Ash Morgan (Robert Glenister), who also specializes in getting hit by cars.

It's not exactly an overused skill, but it's a rare actor that can make it funny to slide down a windshield leaving a trail of blood.

What Albert recognizes and Mickey doesn't want to see is that the master isn't getting any younger. For the con man must take an apprentice, just as Albert passed on his knowledge to Mickey. As unlikely as it seems, the rough and overeager Danny Blue (Marc Warren) could be the next great flim flam man, and Albert brings him into the fold. Of course, having this particular "son" also causes a bit of Oedipal conflict, which runs throughout the season.

There's a subtle but touching theme of passing along that legacy. In the second episode, Albert gets beaten by thugs after getting caught cheating at cards. Even hospitalized, though, he can't help but exult in the rush of trying a con like a younger man. For all his awkwardness, Danny, too, has a sense of respect for the past, dying to try out some of the old tricks he'd learned in books.

The show employs some cool style to match its subject. When Danny pulls one of the classics off, the whole sequence is shot like a silent film comedy. To sucker in a brutish casino owner that loves movie musicals, we don't hear the pitch - we literally watch the song and dance, in which appropriately, Danny isn't nearly as versatile an entertainer as Mickey. And whenever the audience needs to get clued in to the intricacies of the plot, everything just stops dead as a character steps out to explain.

As for extras, this set is pretty sparse. Though the second disc offers brief cast biographies, the only other feature is a behind-the-scenes look at the show's development, split across the two discs to make it seem somehow fatter than it really is. Informative, perhaps, but a lot of the praise the producers give may be empty for American audiences. This cast may indeed be some of the finest actors of their generation (Kenneth Branagh might take issue), but for U.S. audiences, the proof probably doesn't lie in a bunch of mini-series for the BBC.

Let me be fair, though. In addition to the veteran Vaughn, this cast really is good. Both Warren and Lester get to demonstrate a lot of versatility, Warren especially if any of you have caught his guest appearance on Doctor Who. Murray has been one of the names thrown in to the casting ring for Wonder Woman, and after a few episodes, you'll see why.

If you've already watched this show on AMC, which is currently broadcasting the third season, then you know. True, it owes a heavy debt to Ocean's 11 and The Sting, but the scripts acknowledge that outright, and then you get on with enjoying the con.

Regardless, you want to check this set out for a smart, stylish series that promises to only divert you for about six hours - at least until Season Two gets released.

Hustle - Complete Season One

Derek McCaw


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