TV's new heroes are antidote for lean economic times

In the season-two opener of TNT's popular caper "Leverage," an honest banker is concerned his employers are trying to hoodwink the government for a less-than-honest bailout loan.

Encouraged by his daughter to call the police, the banker soon receives a violent education from the crooks on the dangers of going to the well-intentioned but overwhelmed authorities.

Luckily for the banker, Nate Ford (Oscar-winning actor Timothy Hutton) and his team of professional crooks-gone-good step in and save the day with a clever con that lands the banker's dirty boss in handcuffs.

While all of these popular, often highly rated shows have unique back stories, locales and characters, the overarching themes are the same: atonement and altruism. Acting as guardian angels, the men and women who headline these operations don't require payment most times because helping the innocent find justice is recompense enough.

"Those shows and others reflect what is going on in the mind of many Americans today," says Richard Verrone, a pop-culture historian and undergraduate research coordinator at Texas Tech University. "And that is less dependence on and trust in institutions that have held steady for much of the population. Big business and parts of the government have broken Americans' trust and forced them into a new reality. The theme of 'sticking it to the man' consistently has rung true in American history and does so especially now."

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