By Ken Tucker
Updated December 05, 2008 at 05:00 AM EST

For TNT’s fun new caper series Leverage, Timothy Hutton plays Nate Ford, a former ?corporate suit with a sympathetic backstory: He recovered stolen goods for an insurance company that later refused to pay for his dying son’s medical treatment. Alone, boozy, and ? betrayed, Nate finds himself revived in a new life as a morose Robin Hood, heading a crew that steals from the rich to give to the needy. In the Dec. 7 premiere, Ford’s righteous impulses end up with him taking down a corrupt aviation company. In the second hour (on Dec. 9, the first in Leverage‘s regular Tuesday time slot), he pays for underfunded rehabilitation care for wounded U.S. veterans by intercepting millions of dollars being laundered through a private security company working in Iraq. The series isn’t shy about its agenda: Big business — especially in league with big government — can be bad. (In a sense, it’s the mirror image of the all-lawyers-aren’t-sharks attitude on the network’s surprise hit Raising the Bar.) We’ll see if that resonates with a wide audience as we enter a post-Republican era. But don’t think Leverage is preachy — it’s shrewdly conceived, and it moves along like a son of a gun.

Leverage‘s key executive producer is Dean Devlin, whose credits include revved-up action yarns like Independence Day, Godzilla, and, on a smaller scale, the Noah Wyle Librarian TV movies (the latest of which premieres right before the Leverage debut). Devlin, a first-time director, helmed Leverage‘s first two episodes, so you know he’s into this ?project, and it shows. The plotting and the break-ins crackle; there’s a nice balance ?between Ford’s crusading and the show’s mandate to take you step-by-step through each week’s elaborately planned crime against criminals. In this, Leverage is better than the last two Ocean’s Eleven movies.

Hutton has moved into middle age with cool aplomb: He has done world-weary wiseguy (playing Archie Goodwin in the Nero Wolfe A&E series) and haughty malevolence (in the fine but short-lived NBC series Kidnapped). In Leverage, he combines both qualities with a certain disreputable seediness; the result is more appealing than ever. I wish the same could be said for his backup crew, a would-be A-Team consisting of a thief (Beth Riesgraf), a tech wizard (Aldis Hodge), an actress/self-described grifter (Gina Bellman), and a chunk of muscle (Christian Kane), all of whom wisecrack without much charm?they’re more like a C-Team. But averaged with ? Hutton’s top-grade work and the twisty plots, we can leverage this series into a B+.