Gold Finger / Picasso Finger Painting

There is something wonderful about programmes that are just so clever that they leave you still reeling even after the continuity announcer has introduced the next item on the schedule. Hustle is one of the few programmes which has found and cultivated the perfect blend of humour and brilliant quick dialogue which weaves intricate webs and plans faster than the human brain can work them out.

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Last week's episode saw a triumphant start to what is the eighth and, unfortunately, final series. With the team of grifters returning once more to relieve unscrupulous businessmen and people with 'just too much money' of their not-so-hard-earned cash, the episodes continue to follow the tried and tested format:
1) Identify target; short backstory highlighting why taking money from them is The Right Thing To Do/Hilarious,
2) Carry out clever plan,
3) Encounter problem (can be potentially life-threatening if appropriate),
4) Appear on the brink of destruction/discovery/death,
5) Conveniently have done some clever trickery that makes everything fine.

It's formulaic, but it works brilliantly and why should the writers fix something that's not broken? Plus, it gives the audience the added enjoyment of being able to try and pick up where exactly they're going to try and pull their clever solution from.

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What made Episode 1 outstanding was the way that it shamelessly used and manipulated current affairs as plot devices. Hermione Gulliford played the delightfully spoilt and instantly dislikeable Tamara Hexton-Pilkington, in the opening scene, being taken in by the team in an Olympic-themed con: a chance to hold the Olympic Flame. Receiving it from Justin Bieber.

The main mark of Episode 1 is the sleazy, smooth-dressing 'wide boy' Dexter Gold (Paterson Joseph), who runs a cash for gold exchange, swapping the treasures of sweet, old, vulnerable people for a pittance. Albert (Robert Vaughan) persuades the team to take on Dexter in an act of random kindness, but Dexter is not all that he seems. Behind the cash/gold front, he is a middle-man for stolen gold bullion. Joseph is an excellent bad guy, maintaining both the cheeky chappie persona and the dangerous con-man dark side convincingly.

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Of course, something must also be said for the long-suffering yet faithful barman Eddie, who finally loses his rag in this episode after his beloved photo of footballer Ian Rush falls victim to vandalism by some of the grifters... He kicks them out of the bar. Eddie is a personal favourite of mine when it comes to the characters in Hustle, and I am reminded why when he has lines like “I panicked, I don't know why I said that, of course it would” after he answers no to Emma (Kelly Adams)'s question “Would it help if I slept with you?” when trying to persuade him to let them back in the bar.

Mickey (Adrian Lester), as ever, is sickeningly clever, knowing absolutely everything about every possible outcome of the plan, but as ever, that is part of the fun. It's contrived, but who cares? The ending comes after some tension and potential disaster, in this case Dexter turning up at the bar, in an almost farcical way, still convinced by the Gaddafi's Gold-stealing Black Ops story. It's hilarious and easy to follow, but still bends your brain in the nice way that Friday night telly should.

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The second episode played brilliantly on the usual format, and forces me to eat my words from the beginning of this review. With Mickey gone, kidnapped by a shady art collector as punishment for trying to sell him a fake of a painting that had been stolen from him, and the episode 'narrated' by Ash (Robert Glenister), the show takes on a completely different feel, and throws the viewer off a bit (after all, we've all become familiar with the step-by-step feel of the past eight series'). It's nice to see someone other than Mickey lead the plans, and creates a nice storyline that not only gives the other characters a time to 'shine' but also shows how much of the programme does revolve around Mickey's character. The race against time element is an excellent touch too, even if in some parts it is a little implausible that they could get so much done in so little time. It must also be said that in this episode the bad guys are especially good, from 'overall villain' Petre Sava (Peter Polycarpou) to fake-tanned wonder Harry Holmes (Martin Kemp). Actually, in this episode it wasn't just Harry that was orange, almost everyone had a hint of bottled sunshine about them, which was a bit weird.

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Sheila Hancock as Dolly deserves a whole class of her own, as a brilliantly weird character that was infuriating, funny, and clever all at the same time. Forever sending the characters on wild goose chases, this was certainly an episode that wasn't going to let the solution be an easy one. In the end though, I think the solution was nigh on perfect. It was brilliant to see Ash finally step up and take complete control, and his rant at the end about being grifters was fantastic. Even more fantastic was the slow clap he was given afterwards (a nice touch of awkward reality) and the slappy fight between the suits that followed. Directed by Adrian Lester, meaning Mickey's character took a back seat for the most part, it was, of course, good to see Mickey finally free from the clutches of Sava, but you get the impression that after this episode his character could easily become obsolete. I sort of hope it does.

The next episode of Hustle airs at 9pm on Friday on BBC One. You can view the programme page on the BBC Website here, and catch up on episodes one and two on BBC iPlayer.

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