Each episode's plot focuses on a team of grifters who conduct the art of the "long con", often targeting a "mark" whose activities are immoral and/or illegal, or whose character retains a fundamental negative personality with others they dislike, or who they make suffer, while adhering to the credo that "you can't cheat an honest man". Although conmen, the team display a moral, honourable code within their team, which include sometimes helping others who have been victims of their mark, often with anonymous financial compensation to them, and never stealing anything that doesn't belong to them, instead borrowing them for the con and then returning them afterwards. For each mark, the team focuses on background research to uncover any issues they may face as well as a weakness in them that they can exploit, such as a passion for something they love, or an issue they are facing. Once they have a plan, the team set up a scenario, employ a "convincer" to rope in their mark, and then hit them with the sting in which they take them for a sizeable amount of cash, within the tens of thousands, before conducting a "blow-off" to ensure the mark will not come after them, either because they won't if they have to admit to conducting something illegal, or because the team have convinced them it will be impossible to do so. Although episodes feature stand-alone stories and are not referenced in later episodes, some series have featured sub-plots that occur during its broadcast, or make reference to events that occurred in previous episodes. In one such example, the first half of the third series features a sub-plot in that the team manage to pull off some long cons despite nearly suffering misfortune, which they later resolve after one of the characters determines what was causing them to suffer such bad luck.
is most unique for two notable qualities, one of which is stylish fantasy scenes that often portray the main characters doing something out of context and often being unrealistic, as demonstrated by this scene taken from the third episode of Series 5
What makes Hustle unique amongst crime dramas is two notable qualities used within its episodes. The first notable quality is that each episode's plot tends to have an element of mystery surrounding it, usually in the form of misleading story elements - what viewers may believe to be happening within the episode, will eventually turn out to be not the full story. An example of this is that the viewers could be led to believe that a con has gone wrong towards the end and that the team have failed, only to witness that the mark has still be conned of money by them. Such a plot device is balanced out with a series of scenes that helped to explain about what happened, in the form of events that occurred "behind-the-scenes" of the con. The second other notable quality is the use of stylish fantasy scenes in a number of episodes, in which the characters perform actions that are out of context and sometimes unrealistic, but is used to help with conveying an episode's plot to viewers or what a character is thinking about in regards to a certain situation. One such example of this can be for the scene to suddenly be stopped in mid-action, and the main characters being able to freely move around and interact with each other, and possibly anything else within the frozen scene. In some episodes, the main characters break the fourth wall to either give a subtle, discreet psychical tell to alert the viewers of what they are up to (i.e. a small smile), or to give an explanation to viewers about certain aspects they are doing or the situation they are in.
The main cast of Hustle (series 4)
The main cast of Hustle (series 5–8)
- Michael "Mickey Bricks" Stone (Adrian Lester - Series 1–3, 5–8) - the lead 'inside man', Mickey is an ambitious and intelligent conman, known for being a world-renowned long-con expert with a careful eye for detail and ensuring that every part of his plan is covered, including a back-up plan for when things go wrong. While smart, his success has given him a considerable ego that he is unbeatable, while he has a severe dislike of being told what to do. He firmly hates the system that benefits wealthy people who are immoral, corrupt and greedy, which stems from the emotional trauma of watching his father dying prior to the retirement he had worked hard for all his life. During the show's first two series, the writers made notable implications that Lester's character had preciously had romantic relations with Stacie, and during the fifth and sixth series, created romantic tensions between himself and Emma Kennedy. He was initially married to another woman, but divorced her during the first series. Lester departed from the show after the third series, with his character written out as a result, before returning to take part in the fifth series, staying with the show until the end of its final series.
- Albert Stroller (Robert Vaughn - Series 1–8) - the 'roper', Stroller is a semi-retired, legendary 'old school' grifter, who has a fondness for gambling and cheating at cards, frequents many private clubs, has professional friendships with hotel concierges, and specialises in identifying potential marks and ensnaring them. Vaughn's character is mainly portrayed as a mentor and grandfather-figure, responsible for training Mickey to be who he is. Despite his experience, he served time for his crimes, doing so again after the fourth series to the midpoint of the fifth series. Although his backstory puts it down that he began his life as a grifter by conning his former employers at a shoe factory and spreading his proceeds amongst his former co-workers before leaving the states, the third series revealed that he served within the US Army during World War II, while the seventh series revealed that he had a daughter from a previous relationship.
- Ash "Three Socks" Morgan (Robert Glenister - Series 1–8) - the 'fixer', Morgan is a resourceful, all-round grifter, capable of finding and setting up the locations, securing people, items and websites that are needed to help with convincing a mark that the con is anything but, and gifted at impersonating various people ranging from anything such as elderly pensioners, utility workers, to sophisticated upper class businessmen and politicians. A part of his character includes his love of conducting 'The Flop', thanks mainly to an old skull fracture he obtained in a bar brawl and passing it off as a fresh injury. During the first series, the writers had him doing the short-con with a female partner who suffered brain damage as a direct result; although this was written to have an impact to his character, the plot device was rarely used again in later series. Glenister is the only actor in the show to have appeared in every episode of the show, with the writers later giving his character a lead part in the eighth series on a story that Lester wrote and directed.
- Stacie Monroe (Jaime Murray - Series 1–4, Guest in Series 8) - a charmer, Monroe specialises in using her sex appeal to manipulate potential marks, assist Morgan in acquiring what is needed, and conducting short-cons to help raise funds for the current long-con being performed. While extremely intelligent and accomplished, she prefers not to be involved in a romantic connection with another man due to her ex-husband leaving her while taking all their life-savings with him; this plot device was later explored further during the second series. Throughout her appearance between the first and fourth series, the writers created romantic tensions between her and Blue. After she and Warren decided not to return for the fifth series, due to scheduling conflicts, her character was written out of the show as a direct result, though the writers later wrote her back in as part of the show's finale after Murray agreed to reprise her role.
- Danny Blue (Marc Warren - Series 1–4, Guest in Series 8) - a seasoned short-con artist, Blue is somewhat brash but enthusiastic and imaginative, often wishing to prove he has the talent to pull off long-cons and dreaming of being the best grifter in London. As part of his backstory by the writers, Blue's family were mostly crooks who were somewhat dishonourable; none of his family are shown, except for his grandmother, whom he deeply loves. During the first three series, he was relegated to the role of second 'inside man' and being taught what he needed to know about the long-con, maintaining a firm rivalry with Mickey with a petty competitive nature between the two, though with both respecting each other. After Lester departed from the show, the writers upgraded Warren's character to the leader of the team, with the whole series focused on the development of Blue in his new role. Like Murray, Warren decided not to return to the show for the fifth series due to conflicts in his schedule, thus his character was written out of the show, though he later agreed to reprise his role as his character, alongside Murray, for the show's finale.
- Billy Bond (Ashley Walters - Series 4) - a young rookie, whom the writers devised to take on the role of Warren's character for the fourth series - astute, with a talent for short-cons, though his backstory reveals him to have prior involvement with drug dealing and street gangs. Despite his past, he is a likeable character amongst his peers, with a deep respect for Blue and a passion to learn what he needs about the long-con. While Walters decided not to return for the fifth series, the writers wrote off his character without any explanations of what became of him afterwards, though speculation by fans is that he joined with Blue and Monroe in the States; while Walter's character did not appear for the show's finale, it is unclear whether the production staff asked him to reprise this role again.
- Sean Kennedy (Matt Di Angelo - Series 5-8) - a talented young man, and one half of a duo consisting of himself and his sister Emma, Sean originally inspired to be an actor, but later chooses to be an understudy of Mickey and learning to be the 'inside man', with additional mentoring by Morgan. Created as a replacement for Blue, after Warren chose not to return for the fifth series, his backstory shows him to be eager, yet overprotective of his sister, while having a firm hatred of his father for abandoning his family when he was young, the emotional impact further increased when he and his sister were put into foster care after their mother died.
- Emma Kennedy (Kelly Adams - Series 5–8) - a talented woman, and the brains behind the duo consisting of herself and her brother Sean, Emma endured to be the stronger of the Kennedy children after they were put into foster care. Like Di Angelo, Adams' character was created by the writers as a replacement for Murray, after she chose not to return for the fifth series, with her character having the same role as Monroe. In her backstory, alongside having no love for her father, she originally held a previous relationship during her childhood and maintains a firm dislike for men who are sexist, being skillful at drinking games.
- Eddie (Rob Jarvis - Series 1–8) - the owner and proprietor of a local London bar frequented by the team, who use it for planning cons and/or using it for them, Eddie is somewhat gullible and at times deluded over his skills, is somewhat shy when talking to women he likes, yet maintains respect for Mickey and the others and adopts an attitude of ignorance over what they are doing, sometimes helping out if needed. Despite the team playing tricks and short-cons on him, usually to get out of paying drinks or winning money off him, the team hold deep respect for him and occasionally help him out when he's in trouble.