HU$TLE: A new show from AMC and the BBC gloriously revels in the "art of the con"

Evoking such James Foley films as Glengarry Glen Ross and Confidence, Hustle is one of those rare films that works because it feels so familiar. Yet, within the familiar confines of the very genres it evokes, it also intricately shows us the “ins and outs” of the confidence game. It is the show’s ability to do this, while incorporating snappy dialogue, fine acting and a zeal for stylization that make’s Hustle more than just a TV version of the aforementioned films. Created by Tony Jordan and featuring Adrian Lester, Robert Vaughn, Marc Warren, Robert Glenister and Jaime Murray as the main crew in the cast, Hustle is one of those shows that seems destined to create water cooler moments for all it’s viewers.

In a nutshell, Adrian Lester plays Mickey “Bricks” Stone, a con man just released from prison who gets the old gang together for one last score. His team consists of of Albert Stroller (Robert Vaughn), an old school, American grifter who has a gift for finding the perfect mark. Ash Morgan (Robert Glenister) is the tech operator, and he operates with very much the same efficiency that we see most tech people operate in shows or movies of this nature. Danny Blue (Marc Warren) is the wildcard of this bunch. He just inserts himself into the group and as a result we are never really sure what his intentions are. Aside from this, he seems to be at odds with Mickey and this makes for an interesting play of actions between their characters. Rounding out this group is the dame, Stacie Monroe (Jamie Murray). Playing the deceiving part of most men’s fantasies, she is often used to distract, disarm and genuinely disrupt situations long enough for her team to gain the upper hand regardless of the situation.

Now, what sets this group apart is their Robin Hood-like way of operation. They don’t just go after regular people. Rather, they take down “morally corrupt marks.” Think Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling from Enron. This is essentially what the first show is about. The group dynamics are established, everyone’s roles are clearly defined and then we see them set about pulling off their score. While I could nitpick and ask silly questions, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a great time watching this team work. From getting their money together, to making a suitcase look like it has more cash inside it than it actually does, to taking over an office in a high security building while business is still going on, this is clearly a team that knows what it’s doing.

My only real bone of contention is that I felt a scene between Mickey and Danny was a bit of a put on. It just seemed inserted into the script to try and give the characters depth. They are talking about the type of work they do, and it seems like Danny wants to be more involved in the planning and general operations. Of course, Mickey feels that he is getting ahead of himself and they discuss an aspect of Mickey’s life that really isn’t explained. I didn’t have a problem with this, so much as I had a problem with the general scene. I am not saying that it was badly written, it just didn’t feel like it was organic enough to the material. In fact, they could have left that scene out of the show and I don’t think it would have effected the rest of the narrative.

Also, I find it interesting that they try and humanize these con artists by making them only rob the really rich and greedy. As if that’s some sort of crime. I may think it’s awful for people to behave in that way, but as long as they aren’t breaking the law, I don’t think somebody can be faulted for making more money than other people. However, to hold up these characters as “morally corrupt” is wrong simply because the “good guys” fleece people throughout this entire show. A wallet here, a piece of identification there and it’s all in the service of bringing down the fat cats. On top of this, to go back to the Robin Hood analogy, these characters may steal from the rich, but they really don’t give it back to the poor. In the end, I think these are minor issues right now, and it will be interesting to see how Bharat Nalluri’s (the person who came up with the show’s idea) concept holds up over the course of this shows 18 episode run.

The people who have created Hustle certainly have their work cut out for them. With any show that deals with something as clever as the “art of the con,” it seems like things have to keep escalating in order for the show to keep up with itself. At the end of the day, the subject and overall plot seems like it could become the writers worst enemy. Also, I would hate to see a character like Mickey (who is clearly drawn and certainly has a conscience) become some moral arbiter for the greater good of society. What would be interesting is if the group dynamic were to change from show to show. If characters were to disappear for some reason, or new characters were brought in because they know a certain con better than others. Heck, this show might even benefit from killing off a character or two. Being a show about a con, they could always bring them back right?

Overall, I think Hustle has a great deal of potential. The writing is certainly clever, the characters are very well cast and the subject matter is imminently interesting and entertaining. As this was only the first episode of this show, it will be interesting to see where it goes from here and if the creators can make it through the season without outsmarting themselves. Interestingly, it seems like this first show made every effort to let the viewer know that anything and anyone was up for grabs. Like a good con job, it wasn’t until the end that we realized just how deceived we had been as viewers. Some may call this parlor tricks, or manipulating the audience by withholding information, I see it as experimentation.

In a day and age when TV seems to be getting more wooden and structured, it’s nice to see a show like Hustle gloriously revel in the art of being bad.

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