For 'Leverage,' Round Two of 'Destroying' Evil Businessmen

“Leverage,” TNT’s anti-business caper drama, returns for a second season July 15 and the only question is which businessmen and industries it will find to malign this time around.

In it’s first season (released on DVD July 14), “Leverage” took swings at insurance companies, military contractors, bankers, hedge fund managers, housing contractors and real estate developers who were depicted as embezzlers, thieves and killers.

A sneak peek at the second season revealed that even criminals think of themselves as the heroes now. In the first episode, hacker Alec Hardison (played by Aldis Hodge) is praising Ford for helping rescue a man and his daughter and says: “That’s what we do. We help people.”

The premise of “Leverage,” as advertised for its first season, is that “sometimes bad guys make the best good guys.” Those bad guys are a team made up out of loner criminals -- hacker, thief, hitter and grifter -- brought together by Timothy Hutton’s character, Nathan Ford: a former insurance investigator who quit after his company refused to pay for medical treatment for his son. Media reviews of the show characterized Ford as a heroic “Robin Hood.”

Together the five scam companies, executives and suits to get revenge and money for regular Joes who were wronged in some way.

As Ford put it in the very first episode, “People like that. Corporations like that. They have all the money, they have all the power and they use it to make people like you go away. Right now you’re suffering under an enormous weight. We provide leverage.”

That is the resounding message from “Leverage:” that Ford and his team of bandits are the good guys, regardless of the crimes committed to exact revenge and with no thought to the innocent businessmen and women in the world.


Media Like TNT’s ‘Robin Hood’

“Leverage’s first season was well-received. A USA Today headline described Hutton’s role on the show as taking “a stand.”

The New York Times review described the show as having “a certain prescience.” “The series (beginning on Sunday on TNT) devotes itself to the deflation of fat cats who have stolen, burned, bribed, defrauded: capitalist victimizers who are pierced each week by the slings and arrows of a band of independent hackers, thieves and grifters suddenly bound together to rectify the wrongs of economic disparity,” the Times said.

Media coverage of “Leverage” leading up to its second season from Wired Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, The Oregonian and the Boston Herald has also been favorable.

A review of the show’s first season on EW’s Web site called it a “fun new caper series” and described Hutton’s character as “a morose Robin Hood, heading a crew that steals from the rich to give to the needy.”

EW also noted that “The series isn't shy about its agenda: Big business — especially in league with big government — can be bad.”

Kristi Turnquist at The Oregonian also described Hutton’s character as a “Robin Hood” and the team’s job as a “do-gooding-con-artist game.”


Businesspeople are more dangerous than the mob, terrorists

“Leverage” is like many other television dramas that are more likely to portray a business negatively than the mob or terrorists.

A study by the Business & Media Institute found that TV dramas consist of negative plots about business and businessmen by almost a 4-to-1 margin. BMI also found that according to primetime TV, you are 21 times more likely to be kidnapped or murdered at the hands of a businessman than the mob. Businessmen also committed crimes five times more often than terrorists and four times more often than gangs.

In 10 of “Leverage’s” 13 first-season episodes, businessmen in some industry (banks, housing, real estate, insurance, defense) were portrayed as villains taking advantage of the powerless. Two of the remaining episodes were about the mob and one was about a crooked judge.

Oscar-nominated films and even television news also emphasize the misdeeds of businesspeople much of the time, according to two other BMI Special Reports. In fact, the news media often attack legitimate business practices or put companies on defense over accidents or even someone else’s crime.

ABC’s Brian Ross has portrayed businesses and CEOs negatively in many of his investigative reports. In 2008, he turned Roanoke Firearms into the villain on multiple ABC programs after a college student went on a shooting spree at Virginia Tech. Ross also went after UBS in an undercover piece at a “lavish art festival,” but implied in his report that the company was guilty of wrongdoing.

According to The New York Times, “The businessman villain has been a film archetype since before the talkies.” On Oct. 20, 2008, the Times said that “As they have watched their 401(k)’s shrivel in recent weeks, entertainment executives have started to grapple with how best to reflect the global economic crisis in movie and television story lines, or whether to bring the topic up at all.”

Certainly, “Leverage” has been taking a cue from current events.

The show’s director, John Rogers, told iF Magazine, “nicely for us, between first and second season, the international monetary system collapsed. Bad for everyone, but good for a show based on corruption in the monetary system.”

Rogers also admitted to having done “our fair-share of Madoff variations” in the first season.

As for season two, businesses have reason to worry. Hutton told that “it's going to be a fun season of the team really enjoying punishing the hell out of the bad guys, even more than the first year. If they took a sledge hammer to a piece of balsa wood last year, this year it's a wrecking ball to a piece of balsa wood. They just want to destroy anyone who's wronged someone else. Destroy them.”