Did we like it?
It was the same delicious cocktail of rampant risk, devious duplicity and fractious friendship that we know and love. But, with the plots becoming more absurd, it’s now compulsory to hang your sense of disbelief by a thread of dragon’s saliva over a pit of hungry dogs each with the snapping You Say We Pay face of Richard Madeley.
What was good about it?
• The ultra-slick production. While such a device was the bane of Hotel Babylon, it’s a sumptuous boon for Hustle. Scenes blend into one another, usurping the last vignette with the bravado of a foppish dandy, whilst dialogue isn’t so much spoken as drooled in torrents of piquantly sugary sentences.
• The whimsical theme tune.
• The tangential diversions into fantasy sequences such as when the capricious Danny fouled up their previous scheme in Las Vegas when distracted by a beautiful woman and a heart formed around his vacuous love struck features. And when Albert coaxed Danny into how best to win the trust of ropery rapper Joey, while all around them the rest of the pub froze in time as Joey furiously tossed his microphone in a tantrum.
• Mel Smith’s transformation from yapping comedian to the bumptious, ogrish Benny Fraser who became the target for the gang.
• The cosmetic fashion in which gang’s ‘marks’ are drawn with the rapidity of a Rolf Harris Cartoon Club sketch. Benny Fraser was coloured in by showing him to be more violent than the troublesome regulars at his East End pub, while his dastardliness was etched through his people smuggling operation.
• While his son Joey’s obnoxiousness was scribbled in when he demanded that a band “who had travelled a long way” be thrown out of Benny’s pub, where they were about to perform and without payment, because they were cramping his hip hop style.
• When Stacie asked Danny to sing something into her dictaphone so she could get easily malleable letters from prospective record companies which would be used to con Benny and Joey into thinking they were industry bigwigs, he crooned the theme from Rawhide. This may have been an oblique reference to the Ol’ Dirty Bastard song of the same name; if it was, their research was flawless.
• Another aspect of Hustle that we would frown on in inferior or more ‘serious’ dramas but works wonderfully well, is that almost everyone the gang encounters are qualified idiots. This week’s prize plums were the sound engineer who Stacie conned that she was investigating noise pollution and that his music was too loud so the gang could appropriate his studio to record Joey’s new single. And also the police in the car monitoring Benny who sped off soon after Ash had phoned in a fake report of Benny being involved in a pub fight.
• While it was a slight blight that the con came off the rails due to a one-in-a-million fluke (Albert’s original ‘mark’, who had a heart attack, just happened to be Benny’s father-in-law and was convalescing at his home while the gang were paying a visit), but it was worth it for the “how-the-hell-did-they-do-that” back up plan that has become a trademark of the series.
• The track Joey recorded was half decent. The production was as slick as the rest of Hustle (although sounding dangerously close to In Da Club), while Joey’s rapping was the half that wasn’t decent sounding akin to what Goldie Lookin’ Chain would be like had when the big bang occurred a single molecule amongst the incalculable billions had been invested in them as musical talent. Top marks for pulling off a great parody with the lyrics, though: “I is walking through my own disemination. Education. Bringing my words to the whole nation. Illumination of my generation. Standing at the station. Self determination.”
• Sara Cox being made to look like the dippy DJ we’re sure she isn’t really when Ash switched the CDs in her briefcase.
What was bad about it?
• Whenever dramas tackle “youth culture” and the writers are in their 30s or 40s, there is this big void, as wide as the oceans and as deep as the conceit of Chris Evans, which represents the trap into which they will fall if they try too hard to mimic that culture from which they are separated by the embittered, ignorant wasteland of their own adulthood. And, God, did Hustle fall deep into it.
• The harbingers were there at the very beginning when a hapless drug addict, whom the gang were about to fleece, took some narcotics from his dealer and sealed the bargain by saying “safe”. The only people who use “safe” are teenagers from Berkshire whose only contact with the ghetto is TV drama, or the writers of said TV drama.
• But the worst instance was when Mickey and Stacie pretended to be hot shot hip hoppers at the MOBO Awards. It was one of those scenes when they all adopt different characteristics and mannerisms and become more like actors than people. Mickey became the walking embodiment of a rap cliché, while Stacie spoke some of the worst dialogue heard in drama since the end of Ross Kemp’s ‘Golden Handcuffs’ deal with ITV was strangled in the night by a scarf soaked in a thousand tears of weeping TV executives. “Respect!” she unconvincingly yelled. But later she ‘rapped’ to Benny’s stoic wife, “Yo, word up! I like your ice!”
• And this provoked the thought that, yes, Joey was a bumpkin from deepest Essex, but even someone was mentally myopic as he would be able to spot that they were frauds. And what’s more, if Mickey was such a top producer who had worked with Jay-Z, Joey would surely have heard of him, or if not looked him up on the Internet to check his credentials.
Hustle, BBC1, Thursday 3 May 2007
Did we like it?
Of course! Even after three series, it’s still one of our favourites with its glitzy feel, suspenseful endings and excellent ensemble cast.
What was good about it?
• Marc Warren as the always great, sometimes overbearing, Danny Blue who is desperate to take on the role of leader after Mickey’s departure. “I liked Mickey but it he lacked ambition”
• The team dynamic still worked even with one member missing
• The fact this was set in Los Angeles gave the episode a new feel and we learnt who owns the Hollywood sign.
• We love the way Hustle has of making you believe the team has no escape plan or Plan B but always wriggles out of trouble in the end. We really should be less gullible.
• The ever glamorous Jamie Murray was seen sunbathing by the pool – and she did a brilliant impression of a stuck-up, toodlepipping BBC producer.
• There were some fine comedy moments, especially Mr Hamilton’s make-up session that left him looking like a cartoon character who has just had a bomb go off in their hands.
• Danny and Ash paying homage to the Pulp Fiction quarterpounder-with-cheese scene.
What was bad about it?
• Mickey’s departure was just really glossed over (he’s selling the Sydney Opera House). We would’ve preferred him to at least have made an appearance rather than being told he’d left them to pursue a big con down under
• Robert Wagner went a little over the top in his role as the immoral Hollywood-obsessed Texan tycoon.
• Although we enjoyed the glamour and the scenery, we still think you can’t beat Hustle when the gang is hanging out at Eddy’s Bar.
Hustle, BBC1, Tuesday
What to say of you liked it
This most profoundly superficial drama series, which acts as a Heartbeat for the Spooks generation, returns for a fresh run of righteous fraudulence and charming frolics.
What to say of you didn’t like it
A drama that pulls anchor and sails directly away from the land of reality to the shallow seas of facile dreams and absurdity and just as quickly gets sucked into the whirlpool of oblivion.
What was good about it?
• Because the gang are playing roles as part of the con for much of the episode they all remain pompously and resolutely one-dimensional and were defined in a simple scene when they stepped from the smart hire car into a hotel in rigid slow motion as Stacie’s coquettish hair bounced alluringly (it should have a cast entry all of its own), the slavish, sensual Danny rolled his tongue in his mouth and Mickey took off his sunglasses that masked his furtive mannerisms.
• The distinct role each character plays within the gang such as Albert being the old sage who drips droplets of wisdom for the youngsters, Ash putting the plans into action, and Stacie shaping the ideas with her feminine perspective. But the most engaging roles are the precise, pragmatic Mickey and his clashes with the impulsive, impudent Danny.
• The vividly coloured 70s-style opening credits.
• Malicious property developer Howard Jennings was depicted as an admirable foe for the gang to tackle with his callous ignorance of decency and etiquette coupled with his obsessive scrutiny of all efforts to con him which led to a fellow grifter Harry Holmes being jailed for trying to pull such a stunt.
• The utterly ludicrous tale of conning Howard Jennings into buying a plot of land by claiming it was a gold mine was silly but worked because the plotting was so focussed, the characters so well-acted and the pace so relentless you were rarely given chance to step outside the confines of the story to take in a sharp breath of enlightenment.
• The twist in the finale where Howard was finally convinced the gold mine was real after Ash had fired cartridges filled with gold into the plot Howard’s own prospectors were testing under the ruse of shooting a rat was worthy of Jonathan Creek.
• The intricacies of grifting are flawlessly sewn into the script and never seemed forced or intrude on the plot flow even when they are as blatant as Albert educating Danny in the art of “cold reading” (building up a picture of someone before speaking to them) which was illustrated in an original way with the scene freezing everyone save the con-artists (like the effect used in the Forgot About Dre video) as Albert pointed out to his protégé how to decrypt the esoteric code such as a recently removed ring to indicate a divorcee or an unworn belt hole being used to show weight loss.
What was bad about it?
• The whole premise relies not so much Mickey’s gang being cleverer than everybody else, but more by each person they encounter being a proud entrant in the annual list of British morons. In this episode alone there was the hotel owner who was cowed and seduced by Mickey’s fake phone call in which he mentioned “the chancellor” and a deal worth “£9 million” and the receptionist for Mickey’s fake property developer’s office who accepted a feeble excuse as to why he and Ash needed to decorate the room.
• While Charlie Creed-Miles’ portrayal of Howard Jennings was keenly effective at making him as heartless as possible there were a few irritating anomalies such as when Harry was shocked that Howard had made some deductions that were more common sense observations than detective work worthy of Sherlock Holmes and he always spoke in that heavily clichéd yuppie argot so expertly mocked by John Sullivan through Del Boy (“See what you want and grab it by the balls!”).
• Two instances of the peripheral roles being thin stereotypes. Jennings’ goons seem to have fallen out of the pages of the script for Lame Gangster Crime Caper Number One with their sharply cut blazers that struggle to contain their brutish shoulders and an inclination to converge their spade-like hands as fists around their groins. And the girl Danny chats up to impress Howard shows her appreciation of him by stroking her hair.
• Eddie’s Bar is a financial miracle as nobody other than the gang seem to drink in there and they don’t ever pay their tab.
• It appeared rather harsh that Harry Holmes was refused bail considering he was only charged with fraud, and seemed more like a device to raise the spectre of prison for the traumatised Mickey.