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The Hustler Seeks the Funny In Revenge

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[show=thehustler]”Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Maybe so, but how funny is that? Well, pretty darn funny, according to The Hustler, a new scripted series running on Crackle. And after a rough start, the show’s creators may well be right.

The Hustler stars Mark Feuerstein (the token good Republican from season three of The West Wing) as the eponymous character, a sullen man who has been robbed of a prized football record. In the first several episodes, The Hustler focuses his attention on two kids, stepping stones to his greater plan. These initial forays suffer from a lack of clear motivation and an abundance of awkward moments, but they get a boost from Feuerstein’s energy and charisma. He charges in like a young Leonard Smalls in the pilot, then serves up some tasty dancing moves at a bar mitzvah. If he doesn’t completely save these early stretches, Feuerstein at least makes them watchable.

Episodes three and four feature a face-off with his archnemesis, and finally an explanation of The Hustler’s big vendetta. Considering there are 11 episodes already produced, the third entry seems early for the confrontation; nevertheless, this is a good choice. After turning a tennis match into literal murderball, The Hustler is free to broaden his range of targets. Unfortunately for The Hustler (but fortunately for The Hustler), the archnemesis has a grandchild, and so the cycle of vengeance continues.

Business really picks up in episode five; The Hustler prepares for his next quarry, and a flashback explains why. Installments like this one demonstrate the real promise of The Hustler as a parody of lone-wolf-with-a-grudge serials. But this protagonist is not mature, cool, or rough enough to really be a renegade. While his narration tries too hard at times (I could have done without hearing about “sharting in a speedo”), it ultimately reveals a wounded pretty boy who thinks he’s hardcore, and there are a lot of laughs to be mined from that.

Feuerstein is well-cast here; the sideburns and shades can’t hide the sensitive eyes or purdy mouth, and he takes great relish in playing this goofball. The show as a whole now looks to have found its way with genuinely funny conflicts and a strong lead. If it can hold to this new course, The Hustler looks like a plate of revenge-farce good enough for seconds.