Viewers’ Guide: “Hustle.”

from http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2004/01_january/20/hustle.shtml

British television seems to be getting a lot more attention these days than it used to, but you know what show I never hear much about anymore?

Hustle.

Okay. So I don’t hear much about it anymore because its eight seasons ran between 2004 and 2012 (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when the hell did it get to be 2017?). But still. I loved Hustle. Or, I should say, I loved the first four seasons of Hustle. It originally concluded after four series, but then changed up its cast slightly and ran for four more. I’ve never seen the latter four seasons; it’s not widely available in America.

The show follows a cast of con artists who form a team and undertake the “long con”–a con set up over a long period of time for a bigger payoff. The man who brings them all together is just out of prison for his last con gone wrong, but you’re way off if you think Michael Stone is just another petty criminal. He’s a man, and he’s in a different business, but the phrase “hooker with a heart of gold” comes to mind here. Sure what he does is illegal. But he only picks marks who deserve it–after all, you can’t cheat an honest man–and he’ll do anything to protect his team.

So who’s on the team? Well, in addition to Michael Stone (“Mickey Bricks”), the inside man, the team is comprised by (in order of appearance in the first episode): Albert Stroller, the distinguished elder gentleman, as played by Robert Vaughn, whose role as “the Roper” is to find the mark and dangle a money-making proposition in front of them; Danny Blue, the new kid, who’s all flash and brash and raw talent for Mickey to shape; Stacie Monroe, the beauty with more than her share of brains; and Ashley Morgan, “the Fixer,” a long-time con man currently getting himself hit by distracted drivers for the insurance money.

Sure, the stories and the details of the cons sometimes stretch believability. But it’s all in good fun and there’s often “ah-ha” moments at the end where you realize the con artists have set something up that completely fooled the mark–and you.

One of my very favorite things about this series is its setting and filming techniques; if you love London, this show is serious eye candy. You see a lot of different building and other exterior shots, glamorous hotel sets/interiors, gorgeous restaurant scenery. One of the most frequent interior locations is a bar whose bartender, Eddie, is simultaneously amused and frustrated by his clientele, and that’s a great setting too. Totally cozy bar. Whenever I watch this show it always ends up making me want a whiskey, neat, in a cut-glass highball glass, or coffee, poured out of silver into gleaming porcelain. But I digress. The show’s cast also has great chemistry and the theme song can’t be beat.

So don’t hold out. Be one of the suckers that’s born every minute and fall for this show.

Years aired: 2004-2012.

Episodes and seasons: 48 55-minutes episodes over the course of four seasons. The first four seasons comprise a unified series with most of the main characters in place; for series five through eight, Hustle returned in a slightly different version and with two new main characters (and with a new, techno-fied theme song).

Christmas episodes? No.

Primary Stars: Adrian Lester as Michael Stone; Robert Glenister as Ashley Morgan; Robert Vaughn as Albert Stroller; Jaime Murray as Stacie Monroe; Marc Warren as Danny Blue (later seasons: Matt Di Angelo as Sean Kennedy; Kelly Adams as Emma Kennedy; Ashley Walters as Billy Bond)

Creator and primary writers: Created by Bharat Nalluri and Tony Jordan: written by Tony Jordan, Ashley Pharaoh, Matthew Graham, Howard Overman, Julie Rutterford, and others.

Setting: London

First aired on: BBC One

Fun trivia: This is emphatically not fun, but only the first four series of this show are available on version 1 DVD (the U.S. format). BOO.

Robert Vaughn is a well-known American actor, perhaps most famous for his role as Napoleon Solo in the 1960s classic TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Creator/writer Tony Jordan is a prolific TV writer who also turned out scripts for popular soap EastEnders and awesome crime/time travel series Life on Mars.

Okay, this is personal trivia, but I can’t NOT share it. When I was in London Mr. GBTV and I were trying to decide what play to see. So I scanned the plays and their cast lists and when I saw that Marc Warren (who plays Danny Blue) was in a production of Little Voice (based on the awesome movie of the same name), I said, THAT’S the one we’re seeing! Because Mr. GBTV is a luv, he agreed, and off we went. We also got great seats, through some weird coincidence, and at one point in the play Marc Warren used one of the side aisles. He was only like fifty feet away from us! And then my poor husband had to listen to me saying, all the way back to the hotel, “It was like we were right next to Danny Blue!!” Yes. I am emphatically not cool. I get it.

All out of Hustle Episodes? Watch these next, luv:

Okay, these are all movies, but are kind of essential if you are into the Con Artists storyline. First off there’s the Granddaddy of All Con Films, The Sting, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Then there’s The Grifters, darker in grifting tone and way darker in its relationships circle, as John Cusack is the con man in love with his girlfriend, played by Annette Bening, but also, a bit uncomfortably, with his own foxy grifting mother, played by Anjelica Huston. Last but not least there is Guy Ritchie’s awesome film Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, focusing more on card games and uglier drug and violent crime than does Hustle, but with a similar close circle of card players and petty crooks (bound by friendship as well as illegal activities) at its heart.

MI-5 (Spooks). If Wikipedia can be believed, the idea for Hustle was first pitched by Bharat Nalluri, who was the Executive Director of this series. MI-5 details the activities of the spies and staff of the British security service (for domestic security, as opposed to MI-6, which is the international side), and it is excellent. Fantastic cinematography, more London eye candy, compelling storylines, but most importantly, top-notch characterization and relationships between characters bound together by secrecy, their job, and their intense feelings for one another.

Only Fools and Horses. This classic comedy series is definitely not as posh in its setting or characterizations as Hustle, but the general idea is the same: brothers Del Boy and Rodney Trotter do a little bit of everything ever-so-slightly not legal to put together a bit of cash. It’s dated, but it can also be a lot of fun, and for those viewers who like the pseudo-family feel that Hustle has going on, the real family feel of this show might offer a nice parallel (although Del Boy is often harder on his brother than Mickey Bricks is on his team).

Jeeves & Wooster. Okay, likening a show about a foppish British aristocrat and his personal gentleman’s gentleman (set in the 1920s and 30s) to a fast-paced modern drama about bilking rich people out of their money might seem like a stretch. But I’m putting it here because Jeeves & Wooster, starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, offers a different kind of setting eye candy–lots of period London exteriors, but also wonderful manor house grounds and interiors. It’s luxury of an entirely different sort than that lived in modern hotels by the con artist gang in Hustle, but it’s still luxury. And let’s face it: Jeeves is a bit of a master con artist. He comes up with great schemes for all of Bertie Wooster’s buddies, and perhaps his greatest con of all is getting his boss Bertie to believe that he is actually in charge of the duo, when we all know that Jeeves is pulling the strings.

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