‘Hustle’: Series 7 Episode 1 review

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BBC’s glossy Hustle returns for a seventh series, with the five con artists taking on their most ambitious challenge yet.

The episode starts in particularly cheesy fashion, with the five anti-heroes travelling on a London bus and merrily swindling a group of visiting bankers out of £20,000. The obligatory shot of the five walking smugly down the road, decked out in designer suits sunglasses, is unbelievably contrived, yet this is a programme that celebrates its own corniness. The dialogue throughout isn’t nearly as witty as the writers seem to think it is and the constant sub-Ocean’s 11 jazz music just adds to the cheesy atmosphere, but despite this, the programme is still relatively entertaining.

This week, the main focus of the group’s attentions is the witchy owner of ‘Model Devotion’, Wendy Stanton (played brilliantly, if slightly panto, by Anna Chancellor). After hearing from their put-upon local barman Eddie (Rob Jarvis) about his niece being conned out of £1,000 by Ms. Chancellor, the gang decide to give her a taste of her own medicine: faking an entire fashion line for her to invest in.

Adrian Lester’s Mickey is still at the forefront of the show, here playing a camp fashion designer to perfection. The end payoff is immensely satisfying: the look on Wendy’s face when she realises that her money is gone forever is delicious. In a rather neat twist, we are introduced to three equally deplorable (and typically cartoonish) targets at the start of the episode, which are brushed aside until the ending, involving a fictitious Thai jail and the American Embassy.

The camera work and sets are impressive as we’ve come to expect from Kudos productions, but the expensive atmosphere isn’t enough to gloss over the increasingly predictable scripts, particularly for Matt DiAnglo’s character, Sean. However, Ash, played by Robert Glenister, manages to steal the show in one scene – when asked which of the three potential targets he wishes to scam, he simply writes ‘posh git’ on a beer mat, accompanying this with a look of extreme disgust.

Despite a few funny lines and solid cast chemistry, there’s little to excite or amuse the audience for a full hour, with the directorial flourishes feeling more like padding than ever. There’s also an uncomfortable hypocrisy in the gang’s attitudes towards people with money, while they blithely revel in their own lavish lifestyle.

Hustle remains watchable nonsense, but it’s not half as clever as it would like to be.

Airs at 9pm on Friday 7th January 2011 on BBC One.