Did we like it?
We really should hate this as it brazenly brandishes everything we despise about TV dramas – a plot so contrived it could substitute for EastEnders at Christmas and nobody would know, a world beyond the central cast populated by denizens so thick they would fail an audition for a village idiot, and a pat morality that tyrannises the viewer’s perception – but like a trashy pop song you can’t get out of your head, and thanks to a great cast (welcome back, Adrian Lester) and a plot that grips like a cuddle from your grandma, we really enjoyed it.
What was good about it?
• With Marc Warren and Jaime Murray flying the next it was left to the brilliant Adrian Lester and Robert Glenister to carry the show between them – which they managed with the sort of glossy panache that has become Hustle’s trademark. Ash (Glenister) was promoted to a far more active role that saw him surreptitiously steal from bathroom to boardroom to help Mickey confound an ostensibly heartless investor, while Mickey himself was once more portrayed as the underhand megalomaniac but beautifully instilled with a tremulous insecurity by Lester.
• The ingenious way in which the replacements for Stacie and Danny were found as Albert played Mickey and Ash off against “rough around the edges” Emma (Kelly Adams) and her brother Sean (Matt Di Angelo). Emma pretended to be a hard-nosed businesswoman who had been guided by Albert to fleece Mickey (in his role as a hard-nosed businessman) of £1m.
• If you’ve seen Hustle before, you know what happened afterwards was a succession of self-congratulatory scenes of sleight-of-hand followed by both sides swindling the other. The only complication was that Emma and Sean were being tracked by a crook they conned who tracked them down to their base, only for Mickey and Ash to storm in and save the day with another intricate ruse.
What was bad about it?
• Taken in isolation, each of Hustle’s flaws send our blood boiling to such a heat that to bathe in Mount Etna would cool us down. Every series we feel that we’re one of the gang’s ‘marks’ who have been deceived into thinking something superficial and rubbish is somehow televisual art worthy of classical veneration.
• Everybody in the world of Hustle is stupid, even the central characters who elsewhere appear to be ready to offer Einstein lessons in being really, really clever. When Albert set up the crossfire con, both Mickey and Emma had to be convinced of the other’s authenticity. Ash, for example, deposited a doctored copy of the Independent in a bar where he met Emma, which she later saw the inserted story about Mickey’s prowess on the stock market. Why didn’t she check the internet, as such an esteemed expert would surely turn up on numerous websites? And the same goes for Mickey and Ash.
• While many of the scams work only because hotel receptionists, navy seamen and police officers display a competence below that of the Keystone Cops.
• Because Mickey et al walk a tightrope between right and wrong each of their targets must be tiresomely painted with the sort of defamation that would make Genghis Khan seem saintly. Albert informed Mickey that Emma’s persona ‘Sara’ had extorted money from the fund for the Chinese earthquake disaster, making her appalling in the eyes of the audience without a chance to judge for themselves.
• And while this was merely a front, it happened also to the obese “city boy” who was fleeced by Mickey for his wallet and car because he was barking loudly on the phone about his intention of exploiting the toil of immigrants. While the paper thin East End gangster was cast as evil and worthy of humiliation when he punched Emma.
• The gangster was also rubbish because he failed to arm himself or his thugs with guns when they tracked down Emma and Sean. And when Mickey and Ash faked the murders of Emma and Sean, and threatened to do the same to the gangster, he crumbled like a little baby, before scuttling off.
• The clinking glasses of champagne and the terminal insincerity of smiles and conversation lucidly brought home to us the horrors of dinner parties once more.