Man, our friends from Oklahoma told us Nebraskans were too thin-skinned to risk setting an episode there, but we didn't listen ...
I kid, I kid.
Right, this was about as straightforward a show genesis as you can imagine. A lot of times we look at classic con tropes, from movies and real life, and try to imagine the modern day equivalent -- the horse's bloodline/Lost Heir variant from "The Two Horse Job", for example.
Downey came into the year wanting to do our version of a boxing movie. Boxing cons have a long and distinguished history in con culture. The natural update is mixed-martial arts fighting. The writer, Albert Kim, used to be a sportswriter, some folks at Electric Entertainment had actually developed an MMA movie and we were able to go out and get real MMA athletes. It all came together, for once, about as smoothly as an episode of television can. The fun bit of research, actually, was finding out how remote PPV concerts work.
Third one shot, second one aired. We didn't mind this, actually, as the second episode shot, airing tomorrow, is off-template, and we wanted the new summer viewers to get a better sense of how the show generally progressed.
As far as character choices, well, it was a natural that if we were going to have Eliot fight, we'd discuss his relationship with violence. I hope what we were trying to do came across -- Eliot isn't a violent man. He's someone who understands his capacity for violence (and viewers of an old busted pilot of mine will start to see recurring themes). He also put on something like twenty pounds for the show. Coincidentally, so did I, I just haven't taken it off yet. He probably also didn't do it in the Guiness/Black Bush plan I utilized.
The idea that Parker would genuinely adore being in Nebraska amused us. She's comfortable there. Anyone looking at flashbacks would probably get a good sense why. Gina did a fine job of handling the opposing view (I think it was Sen. John McCain who called MMA "cockfighting" first) and being a little bit too precious and spoiled when it comes to her lifestyle.
Let's see what questions we have in the mailbag:
@Nicole: ... Eliot mentions in his conversation with Sophie that he learned a long time ago he can't control the violence. Do you guys plan to divulge any of that sort of background for him this season? Or do you plan to leave us hanging on the mystery, like you've mentioned wanting to do with Parker?
He can't control the violence around him, "around him" meaning anything from his criminal lifestyle to ... well, you guys always do a better job at these things. Take it as you will, you'll probably never get more details about it. Worst thing you can do with Wolverine is show him in that poncy bathrobe running into the woods. Bah.
@elcucuyfeo: So just how did Eliot learn to fight so well and who taught him??
We've always thought that a particular unit in the Army put a fine shine on the skills of his youth, and then he went out and collected techniques in his travels.
@Emily: This was the ep where he got cut because he did his own stunts right? How much of the fighting was actually Christian?
Nope, he got cut doing the elevator fight in #206. He did get dinged up good and hard in this one, though, as that's all Kane, all the time, fighting. Giving me a goddam heart attack. The ring collapsed, too. Fun shoot.
@slarti: Was the build-up to Eliot snapping and beating the other guy down supposed to have a "Bill Bixby is about to have a Hulk-out" vibe? I expected that dramatic chord to sound as soon as his eyes bugged out.
Yes, although we went back and forth -- it was tricky becuase we were both overselling the con to the bad guy and also trying to hit the right level for the audience without going over the top. YMMV (thats for @ashley, too. Gina did a nice job of selling the con)
@Feelred: How was the atmosphere on set when Beth had Aldis in that grapple?
They laughed their asses off. Aldis really does have a ridiculously good sense of humor about his character's physical awkwardness. Considering he could snap my neck one-handed.
@Becky: My question doesn't really have to do with the episode. I was just wondering why they don't show the preview/clip for the next episode of Leverage until after Dark Blue. Wouldn't it make more sense to show it after the Leverage credits?
Or, have the Leverage fans stick around for the first ten minutes of Dark Blue, and try to hook them. Those marketing humans are cunning.
@Ed Dravecky: ... Oh, and I know you'll hear this a million times but... chicken-fried steak in Nebraska? Seriously?
Oh, we'll get to you in a bit, sonny boy.
@Coren: One small quibble - Hardison seemed to get the short end this episode - between hacking a hick and not having the financials in order til episode's end, it just felt very un-Hardison.
We were trying to make a point -- they're not perfect, and if taken out of their comfort zones, they can get rattled. We need them to be a little less the all-powerful super-team, or at the current rate of escalation the season ender would involve conning Galactus. ("The Slightly More Ultimate Nullifier Job.")
@karenmiller: The car Nate revved off in after dumping the producer. Did I miss something? Was that a set-up plant so he'd have a way to bugger off?
You mean the fine Hyundai sports coupe? You missed a LOT. I would, in fact, recommend going to your local dealer and getting a test drive.
No, Eliot picked him up, if I remember, but we may have cut the shot.
@Save-Vs-DM: As a writer, have you ever pulled out experiences from running a game as a DM to inform just how cons might go wrong? We all know that players don't do what you expect most of the time, so was that good trying when it comes to writing a twist?
Breaking a story is a bit like role-playing, but I can't get the writers to use the damn dice. Actually, cons are a weird bird, game-wise. Everyone wants to play a good con game, but the nature of the revealed narrative makes them almost impossible to run.
@marga: any possibility you might serve up cameos from other "experts" in other fields? we got matt lindland tonight... maybe we get a renowned scientist? or software creator? actor? artist? chef? medical doctor? astronaut? magician?
Always tricky with cameos -- you don't want to pull people out of the story. I think Wil Wheaton as a famous geek may be the closest we have.
@Alexandra: Are the episodes airing in the order they're produced this season? ... Also, how do you pick who becomes the emotional center of each episode in its order? I mean, Eliot is the obvious choice for a fight story, but what makes you say, let's focus on Eliot specifically in the 2nd episode of this season?
Because of the split summer season, they'll run in the order shot, with maybe one substitution. We don't peg character beats to episode order, but to the specific context of the story. As noted, last year's "Stork Job" started as Nate & Sophie story, and morphed into Parker. There are two overall character arcs to this season, but they're not super continuity driven.
@Marley: My question - did I see a saxophone in the Trunk Full o' Guns at the end?
Yep. That was the thing Parker bought on a whim at the pawn shop.
@puu: are we working toward an end game with eliot and sophie?
We're currently working on an ending to bloody #213. Anything past that is madness.
@Nato: 1) That WAS a virgin Bloody Mary Nate showed up on the golf course with, right? 2) Was "Triana" a Venture Brothers shout-out?
1.) Yes. For now. 2.) Do you know how many one-name pop princess names we tried to clear? And all of them were taken. Finally, in desperation, we threw in Triana from VB. It cleared.
@Phil Hendricks: I was wondering why all the computer screens in your show emit weird futuristic space sounds, like you're in a cockpit. Computers don't really do this, of course, and it's the only thing about the show that made me want to turn it off.
I feel your pain. You know, we try to be a little hipper with that stuff -- you'll note in the pilot Hardison ran his entire hack off a thumb drive -- but it's one of those TV quirks that people don't seem to cue in on "on screen on screen" info without the sound. Whether that's something in human nature or based on years of TV doing it wrong, and therefore programming audiences for certain cues, I have no idea.
@Robert: Also, I hate to see in the media the casual abuse as demonstrated by Parker on Hardison demo'ing the MMA techniques. ... Why we continue to excuse female-on-male violence as pure laugh-riot material I will never know.
Rob, I feel ya. But listen: my hacker's a hip person of color, my sex symbol isn't an anorexic in her 20's, and my badass uber-thief is a blonde we put in a dress precisely once a season. Even I, on the vanguard of the socialist Hollywood liberal homosexualist agenda, can only punch so many holes on my liberal cred ticket per season.
@Amy: Question: is the doctor's recommendation for Eliot to get a CT scan just good advice (which it is) OR are you foreshadowing future medical issues? Please tell me he's going to be okay and I'm just over-thinking!
We're not really a soapy show. Eliot's got a frequent-flyer card at his local CT clinic, and he's always come back fine.
@NJM: As a Nebraska native, though, I did have to throw a minor fit - not due to any offense, but for the sloppy research. Lincoln a dying agri-industrial center? Umm, it's the state capitol with one of the best-funded state universities in the country. The villain escapes southbound on I76 and dashes across the state line? That's quite a trick, since Iowa is 60-odd miles east... on I80... Yeah, you guys could have spent 10 minutes on Wikipedia and fixed a lot of tiny mistakes. Basic errors like that undermine the good work you guys do.
What is this Wikipedia you speak of?
@Denita: Almost but not quite-which brings me to my question. Did the team just excuse Sophie's lame attempts at an apology (for last season) and forgive her or what?
As fellow emotional cripples, they accepted that as the best apology they were going to get.
@Jason: As satisfying as it was for the team to pull out the con in the end this week, it now makes me want to see an episode where they don't pull it off/settle for a tie kind of situation. Something to rattle their confidence a little. Or, could be the long arm of the Sterling at work... Man, I love this world!
Sterling's arm is indeed long. He will be back. And as we've seen, Sterling never, ever loses ...
@dremiel: Was that the first time we've had an overhead 'scatter' shot where they didn't scatter but followed each other? Yeah, a little more than a team.
First time. Nice of Albert and Roskin to pick that up and use it with a twist.
@Chaz: Here's my question, though it doesn't quite have much to do with the actual show. There has been a long standing rumor that Christian has tattoos on one or both of his legs but you don't see any sign of that in the episode ...
I asked Christian if I could see his legs. That did not go as well as one might hope.
@Nicole: Are you thinking of doing an episode focused on Hardison any time soon? Even though it seems like his background is pretty simple I feel like were missing something and I'd be sweet to see more of Aldis. :)
Not a background-centric ep, but the Winter season opener ought to make you pretty happy.
@Cuy: Is there any chance you guys could work with British screenwriter Steven Moffat on an episode of Leverage? Would be fun to have an ep. set in England with Gina around...
Actually waylaid Moffat at last year's LA Dr. Who con. He is, of course, running DOCTOR GODDAM WHO this year, and if anything I'm the one who's going to be hitting him up for a freelance, not the other way round. Though he did tell me how he got Gina naked that one time.
@Bates: But I like the turn it took instead, that the gang can sometimes get caught with a hand in the cookie jar. Exploring that theme of control -- them having it, not having it, regaining it, and so on. Not all cons run smoothly, and your leet skilz may not always work.*
Why, my friend, you seemed to have stumbled on the theme of this year. Nicely done.
@Mitchy: I forgot to say that, judging by the double rainbow shot we saw, the weather when you were filming the golf scene was extremely wet. Did it hold up shooting?
It was actually raining behind Hardison, if you look closely enough. But the lads soldiered on. I'd be tempted to say "Hey, it's Portland, what do you expect?" Of course, it's now 104 degrees in Portland, and I've learned to assume nothing.
@briddle: two things I've noticed after watching again. First, the con has the same formula as the other one that went wrong (Bank Job), in that they just planned to scoop up the money and leave without taking down the mark in any other way. Was this a conscious decision on your part?
Hmm, I don't think so. it may just be the nature of expanding short cons out to long. Nice catch, though.
@Michael the G: How are the injured parties (in this weeks ep, the local boy done wrong and his daddy) contacting the Leverage crew?
This is one of those things we intentionally don't explain. We know how, and we actually shot the scene where they explained it, but we like to leave it up to the viewers to have their own satisfying theory of how Leverage might enter their life, and right their wrongs.
@Sam: I hope we're going to see some more of Nate being a bit of a bastard, after all, he did say he was worse when he was sober, right?
Oh, he's just warming up.
@Rich Baldwin: The chicken fried steak bit was fun (chicken fried chicken would have been even funnier) - but maybe you could be a bit more accurate about the Midwest - if one could argue there's a single Midwest, since there are actually several, from the industrial midwest to the Ozark region to Appalacia etc. It's nice you all tried to set things in a flyover state, but it would be nicer if you did so in a way that's more representative of the actual where places you're setting your scenes.
... killing me. You people are killing me ...
@EmilyBlake: One observation. When all those dudes approached Elliot to test his mettle outside the ring, I thought -ooooh time to see Elliot's krav maga skills. But then he took the guys on one at a time.
Intentional on their part, as it was a gauntlet, not a beat-down. You'll see multi-opponent fights soon, although we tend to find the one-on-ones offer nicer spots for choreography. As in last season's wisk-fu.
@Jason: If we watch the show on Netflix a day or two after it airs, does that "count" as a viewer in any way that does you any good?
Nope, no ads. (Although, hey, watch it any way you want) It only counts if you watch it Live or on your Tivo within 24 hours. Everything else is nice info but not useful.
Right then, on to the wrap-up. For the Nebraska humans ...
It's a fair cop --Lincoln was a bad choice. This is how we wound up there: we originally set the story in a small town in a flatter, more economically desperate state. Then, looking at the location scout, we said "Okay, no way Oregon, from ANY angle, doubles for that." So -- and this is all happening during the single week of pre-production, among a thousand other meetings -- we cast around for other states with strong wrestling backgrounds, places where MMA does very well (checking with our MMA guys), and wound up with Nebraska as a good choice. It is, however, why the computerized map graphic went the wrong way -- it was built before we settled on a city, if I remember properly.
Now, where we screwed the pooch -- by which I mean I screwed the pooch -- was settling on Lincoln as opposed to using a fictional county or town like we did all first season. Honest truth, 600 pages of script later, I have not a goddam clue why I did that. However, I accept your rage: mea culpa, mea culp, mea maxima culpa.
But this is the great thing about writing for television. You learn so many things. For example, I had no idea until I opened my e-mail account this week, that Lincoln was the Paris -- nay , the Lothlorien of the Midwest, a place where there are LOTS of black people, and no one eats chicken-fried steak. Never. Ever. Ever. It is UNHEARD OF.
But this is the perfect example of why it's difficult to do shows set anywhere except LA and New York. This is how the cultural conversation basically goes:
TV writers: "You know what might be amusing? Sophie gets an order from the hotel menu, and she doesn't like it, because she's a bit of a princess. Chicken-fried steak is one of those meals that always baffles foreigners. It also has a funny name. Let's have that be the item she ordered off the menu, from among the many things she could have ordered."
TV audience: "You're saying we're all hicks who eat chicken fried steak!"
TV writers: " ... shit. Really? Um, what about the fact that out of all the villains in the show, the team is almost brought down, for the first time, because they got cocky and underestimated the fine Midwestern -- "
TV audience: "Screw you with your flannel-wearing stereotype Red State hate."
TV writers: "Wow, this is not going well. Errr, you know, Parker really like Nebraska --"
TV audience: "Unlike the rest of America, we never mistake one athletic black man for another!"
TV writers: "... Tyrone, you want to handle this one?"
Tyrone: "Not now. I'm busy signing autographs for Clippers fans.*"
This is not to say "lighten up" or "we sometimes get it wrong." No, the real thing here is that we always get it wrong. Always. We will always get it wrong in the future.
And not "always get it wrong about the Midwest because we're in Los Angeles and New York." That's "always get it wrong even when it's about Los Angeles and New York."
At the intersection of "all people's individual experience of a place is universalized out as their definition of the place" and "there are only so many hours in a day" lies the fact that all culture deals in shorthand. Last time I checked, the American middle-class was getting hammered by this economy. I've BEEN in those towns where Main Street's gone to hell. We want to to talk about those towns (rather than set another story in LA), we toss it in with a story about the MMA that tangentially links to Nebraska, bam, it's soup.
But the same thing happens for every city, including the ones we writers live in. For example, I live in Los Angeles. We have a lower murder rate than Phoenix, Arizona. A lower murder rate than Indianapolis, Indiana. A lower murder rate than Wichita frikkin' Kansas.
But if you watch television -- made by people who live in LA, shot in the city of LA -- do you ever see The Closer: Minneapolis Hellhole?
No. According to network television, Los Angeles is Murderville, capitol city of Rapesylvannia.
Angelenos and New Yorkers, however, have just learned not to give a shit and enjoy SVU hunting down this week's subway sodomizer. It may be perhaps because we're busy destroying culture, but it's just something we're used to.
All this to say, we're glad you're watching the show, and assume if we come to your town and get something wrong, it's an honest mistake born of scheduling and chaos rather than laziness and willful condescension.
Unless it's about Rhode Island. You people and your stinking "plantations." Yeah, you. We're coming for you.
*NOTE: I have been with him when he has done this. Not as bad as his time in China when he signed his name Kobe Bryant for a week, but still ...