Thursday, January 15, 2009 by

“What do we need in a mark?” asks Mickey, rhetorically. “Greed.”

Fair point. Although you could argue staying gratis in a ridiculously lavish hotel is a tad over-indulgent.

City shitters

City shitters

The Hustle bustle

The Hustle bustle

Yep, it’s Hustle and five series in, the moral compass is still a-whirl. New recruit Emma asks Mickey – after he’s tagged some evil cartoon city types whose cartoon dastardliness has prompted a cartoon suicide – “Do you always get emotionally involved with your marks?”‘. “If I don’t,” he replies, “it’s just about the money.”

But it’s hard to believe that with an icy Adrian Lester so passionless in the lead role. You know what? A little more emotional involvement wouldn’t go amiss here.

Undeterred, Hustle keeps laying it on thick, positioning the gang as an ersatz family. There’s Mickey as dad, Ash a resourceful uncle and Albert (much missed in this episode) an absent, rogue granddad. Emma and Sean, meanwhile, are the newly adopted orphans. They were “farmed out as kids” and she’s “trying to save up enough to send him to drama school.” The thing is, this is a family who take every opportunity to demean and defraud guileless barkeeper and comic foil Eddie (a running gag that’s always been the show’s most misjudged element). “Ah, he loves it,” says Ash, unconvincingly.



The generations not-gapped

The generations not-gapped

Hold up, though. Let’s stop moaning about all this misdirected morality. It’s there simply to grease the mechanics of a show that’s all about wrongdoing – and doing it inventively. Inventiveness, in fact, is something Hustle has bags of. It oozes across every scene, the production team pulling out impressive stops to gild the innumerable moments of exposition.

 As Mickey briefs his troops on the latest marks (and, Adam James, why does your agent continually put you up for roles as spineless city shits?), the show slips into a faux-Heroes tableaux Рone city shit throwing a glass of water over another city shit, all in glorious slo-mo.

Plot wise, it’s an equally rich mix. Sean is undergoing a classic apprentice’s journey, while bits nabbed from Derren Brown (auto suggestion), Jonathan Creek (a stolen painting that hasn’t actually been stolen), and – yep – Ocean’s Eleven (attempting to nick the unnickable) crackle away nicely.

Plus, tonight’s episode presented a noticeably less smug package than before. In part this was thanks to those new additions, Matt Di Angelo (Sean) and Kelly Adams (Emma), who bring a fresh faced, callow kind of innocence to the show. So innocent and callow, in fact, the flirting between Mickey and Emma felt like an ill-advised bridging exercise across a mighty generation gap. The hour was also notable for – unless I’m mistaken – there being no mugging shots straight into camera. Sure, those moments are supposed to make you feel complicit in the scheme, but sometimes they come across more as an invitation to punch out the screen.

I’m being quite hard on Hustle, really, and it doesn’t deserve it. If this was 40 years ago, Lew Grade would have commissioned it in an instant (and, funnily enough, the gang do seem to be living in sight of an ITC-style backdrop). It’s a funny programme – often very funny – and works hard during every minute of screen time.

But it is all about the money.


One Response to “Hustle”

  1. Clark Enwell on February 6th, 2009 5:33 pm

    I’m fairly sure Hustle was doing what you call “faux-Heroes tableaux” before Heroes came along. Of course, it’s all nicked from “The Matrix” anyway…