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