Tuesday, March 29, 2005 by

If you’re looking for a drama full of convincing dialogue, believable plotlines and gritty realism, then Hustle is not the first show you would turn to. However, if what you want is to be entertained by a well written, highly polished collection of stories, with impeccably over-played performances, then it’s more than ideal.

Whilst there is nothing at all wrong with programmes that entertain by holding up a mirror to society and confronting the myriad of problems many people endure, there’s also room for a series that sees no shame in presenting brilliantly conceived yarns, draped in slick direction, shamelessly over-the-top acting and immaculate dialogue.

Hustle provides all of this with great pride, and doesn’t care who knows it. After this first episode’s opening gambit, which reunites our happy band of professional “grifters”, in a swanky hotel that will become their operational base, Adrian Lester, in his role as Mickey Stone, delivers the line, “OK, let’s do what we do best.” It seems to be more than a reference to the confidence tricks pulled by the group; it could have also doubled-up as a self-satisfied boast from the writer regarding the quality of what’s on offer.

The show is unusual in today’s “what happens next” style of drama that has become prevalent of late. There is no need to dangle a juicy little tidbit from the following week’s episode at the end, here. All that’s required to keep the viewer watching for an hour is encapsulated in standalone stories that traditionally have a beginning, middle and an end. It’s ability to entertain for those 60 minutes is enough to ensure you will find yourself watching same time next week, and if you happen to miss it, you will not be completely lost when you tune in again.

For this second series, things were reassuringly the same. It would have been a mistake to try and stray from the show’s workable format by coming back as an all-new improved version of what was presented before, as many strive to do. When you buy a candy floss at the funfair, you don’t want it to taste any different to the last one. You want the sugar rush and the sweet sickly adrenalin. With Hustle, you want the gang to target their “mark” – usually a self-centred, smug, greedy city whiz kid who deserves to be stung. You want to see them plan their long-con, adopt their flimsy disguises and even flimsier accents; You want there to be a short series of mishaps and scrapes along the way with hilarious consequences; You want cars parked in side streets visible to all but those that would benefit from seeing them; You want the plan to look as though it’s all going to go terribly wrong, only for one of the gang – usually the one who was against the whole scheme in the first place – to step in at the last moment and save the day.

All were present and correct in episode one, involving a plot to fleece a smug, greedy city whiz-kid, Howard Jennings, by convincing him there was a goldmine under a scrap merchant’s in London. He had successfully foiled a plot to con him previously by old-time grifter Harry Holmes, resulting in his imprisonment. Danny, ever the cocksure rookie, was convinced they could sting him successfully, against the advice of his more experienced companions. This was against the “rules” – to try and work a con on someone who has sussed out previous attempts. Danny, of course, saw his colleagues’ reticence as a further challenge, and set off to prove the others wrong. Cue, the con, which unraveled as expected (flimsy disguises, accents, mishaps, et al) – before the plan looked like it was all going terribly wrong, until someone did indeed step in and salvage the situation.

The final scene, as ever, took place in Eddie’s Bar, where they counted out the money they had accumulated, laughed like they have just caught the baddies in Scooby Doo, and one of them suggested a ludicrous idea for their next “job”.

Same old candy floss? Inevitably. Same time next week? You bet!


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