The first episode of the new season of Hustle, the excellent British-American co-production about a group of confidence tricksters with interesting moral codes, premiered Wednesday night and was not quite as good as the previous seasons but was still much better than nearly everything else on TV.
The episode marks the transition from previous leader Mickey "Bricks" Stone, played by the now-departed Adrian Lester, to Danny Blue, played by Marc Warren. Warren does a good job of characterizing Danny’s interesting combination of ambition and lack of confidence, and the other performers do nice work as well.
Robert Wagner provides an excellent villain, a vulgar, greedy, corrupt businessman from Los Angeles whom the gang decide to fleece in order to teach him a lesson (after deciding to fleece him just to get the money). The weakness of the episode is in the contrast between Danny’s freewheeling, improvisatory approach and that of the previous leader, Mickey, who thought things through meticulously before proceeding on a con.
Either way can be fun to watch, but this new approach definitely changes the dynamic of the series. In the previous episodes, the viewer had a chance to try to guess what Mickey’s plan was. In the present case, without a concrete plan to start with, the viewer is really just along for the ride. And once a plan does coalesce, in the last ten minutes of the episode, it is easy to guess what the team is going to do.
And if it’s easy for us to guess, it should be easy for the mark to figure out. Still, things turn out well in the end as the wicked Wagner (who is finally beginning to show his age, alas) gets his comeuppance.
The moral complexity of the show also seems to have suffered a bit as we lose the tension between Danny’s and Mickey’s approaches to the con and their interesting discussions of motives and values. It seems possible that this tension will return when new team member Billy Bond (Ashley Walters), a former delinquent youth, joins the gang. He did not appear in the season’s initial episode.
The new dynamics of the show may take some getting used to, but Hustle is still very entertaining and well worth watching.