Review: 'The Real Hustle'


The Real Hustle
Hits the Mark

In a cover story last October, executives at Court TV explained how they planned on transforming the network made famous by OJ Simpson’s white bronco chase into a network that appealed to what they called “real engagers;” viewers who preferred programming that focused on real life subjects, though not necessarily like the reality TV that currently permeates the airwaves.

Last night, the newly christened TruTV premiered one of its new primetime shows meant to hit that demographic. The Real Hustle follows three con artists, Apollo Robbins-a pickpocket, Ryan Oakes-a magician and Dani Marco-an actress, as they con people on the street in common scams.

While the show does have a sort of Candid Camera quality about it, it remains very compelling, and moves swiftly form one scam to the next. Some of the scams are classics, such as the three card monte or stealing a cell phone/wallet from a table in the park, while others, such as a scam involving a flea market and a staged phone call, are absolutely devilish in their creativity.

One theme that I suspect will be present throughout the show is deference to authority. In true Stanley Milgram style, the team dress up as figures of authority, usually “security personnel” with generic badges, and use that influence to convince people to give them personal information and do things they would not otherwise do, such as submitting to a patdown on the Staten Island Ferry. Really fascinating stuff.

The strange psychology is a big part of the shows appeal. When the flea market scam was conducted, the person being scammed actually thought they were the ones doing the scamming. Of course, the appeal of watching Apollo and Ryan do their sleight of hand to lift wallets and phones is appealing in its own “uncovering the magician’s secrets” sort of way.

The show is not without its flaws, some of the segments drag on after they should have ended, and of course there is always the problem that wannabe con artists, upon seeing how easy it is, treat the show as a how-to guide. But then again, I don’t know how many criminals would be watching the former Court TV. They might hold a bit of a grudge. In addition, some of the hidden cameras struck me as a bit odd. Apparently the producers were able to convince local businesses to let them put up hidden cameras on the fly. While I don’t doubt that they were reimbursed, it is still strange to think that some assistant manager would agree to such impromptu shenanigans.

As a whole however, The Real Hustle hits the mark(s) and keeps on going. It is a solid start to TruTV’s rebranding effort. One thing is for sure, the next time a savvy looking guy approaches asking for directions, I might just have to slowly back away.

You can check out the three card monte scam here.