TNT's Leverage crew returned tonight with the first of seven remaining season four episodes - and "The Experimental Job" made me glad to have them back.

When a homeless veteran dies in the middle of a party full of rich kids, the police write it off as a heart attack. His daughter thinks differently; she tells Nate and Eliot that her dad was part of a university sleep study involving PTSD and she's suspicious.

She has a reason to be: Hardison singles out a well-connected, BMW-driving kid named Travis (Jonathan Keltz), who also happens to be a member of the university's "Order of the 206," as in the 206 bones in the human body. No, that's not ominous at all.

The backdrop allows Nate, Parker and Hardison to go back to school, the former as a substitute professor and the other two as students. While Hardison befriends Travis, Parker gets to poke around in the research lab, where she gets trigger-happy with the button that electro-shocks a poor volunteer.

It's interesting to see how both characters don't quite fit in that environment; I love Parker's attempt to boost Hardison's confidence, and their subsequent kiss (even if it was an act!). At least his gaming skills win him some fame amongst the preppies, even if only temporarily. He eventually learns that belonging isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Meanwhile, Eliot slips into the homeless community, and gets recruited into the study. This brings him face-to-face with Travis' mysterious friend, who is quite possibly the least intimidating CIA agent I have ever seen on television. Eliot is easily able to deduce the ulterior motives beyond the study  - they're looking for ways to break people, not help them.

We get a very good reminder here that while we love Eliot, our hitter is and has been a lethal force. He has his dark side. We're not shown his attacking the CIA agent, but we don't need to see it - just listening to him and seeing the reactions of the other study participants, it's scary enough.

"The Experimental Job" works because each of the characters exhibiting the qualities that we know them best for. Parker can be socially inept, Hardison a bit geeky, Elliot more than a bit intimidating. There's not as much of Nate or Sophie as I'd have liked for the winter premiere, but I'm willing to allow that because I enjoyed what was there - the usual snappy one-liners, a few destroyed chairs, and a bad guy that I loved to hate.

This wasn't the most innovative or fast-paced of Leverage episodes, but the characters were true and the story easy to follow. That's what makes this show work: it's perfect escapism, a chance to kick back for an hour and have fun with a great cast of actors, regardless of what time of year it is.

(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.