Pity the 1 per cent. The world is a tough place for the richest of the rich right now. With economic inequality and corporate malfeasance on the rise - not to mention a certain self-proclaimed rich guy currently nudging the Western world off a cliff - there is more public emnity for billionaires than ever before. Yet we cannot look away.

Which is part of why Billions is such a fascinating watch. It charts the high-stakes game of brinksmanship between hot-shot billionaire hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis) and US Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), whose all-consuming passion is to put Axelrod in jail.

There are extreme contradictions in both men: Rhoades is driven by a crusading sense of justice, but is more than willing to bend the rules if it means seeing Axelrod behind bars - and at the end of last season showed he was prepared to suffer great personal loss in his pursuit of that goal.

Axelrod, on the other hand, is a ruthless businessman who came from humble beginnings. He will happily destroy multiple lives with a single trade, yet often displays flashes of considerable humanity.

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So why do we as a culture remain so entranced by the super-rich?

"We have long been fascinated by his question," Billions co-creator Brian Koppelman tells Weekend. "Why characteristics like great intelligence, wealth, charisma, ambition stand in for true character in our society so often. And we wanted to display that in the show, and ask that question in dramatic context.

"I think the dramatic device that is being used here is that if you give people enough need, desire, want, viewers enjoy that," adds Lewis. "Viewers enjoy watching the desperation, the compromise, and the ambiguity that it throws up in their lives. And what are they going to do to go get it? That's where the dramatic stakes are. The fact that shysters do shystery things doesn't make you like them less, weirdly, within a dramatic context."

The end of season two saw Axelrod arrested after illegally sabotaging a business that Rhoades and his family were investing in. The whole affair was a trap engineered by Rhoades, who lost almost 30 million dollars in the gambit, but considered it a small price to pay to see Axelrod in handcuffs.

"I like many things about the character," Giamatti tells Weekend. "But it was interesting to me that last season, when I tanked everybody - I tanked my best friend, my father - everybody lost their money, and I felt it was very interesting that Chuck didn't really care about money."

Axelrod was bailed soon after his arrest, but is facing major indictments as season three begins. Smack dab in the middle of these two alpha males is Chuck's wife Wendy (Maggie Siff), who happens to work as Axelrod's most trusted in-house confidante and motivator.

"The whole conflict within the character has been not wanting to be stuck between a rock and a hard place between these two guys," Siff says. "Yet the season starts out, and she's back between these two men but, in her mind, in a very different way and on very different terms."

Also introduced in season two was a brilliant young financial analyst at Axelrod's firm named Taylor, a gender-fluid, non-binary character played by gender fluid, non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon. A breakout recurring character last year, Taylor has been upped to series regular for season three.

Dillon - who like Taylor, identifies by the pronouns "they" and "them" - says they were thrilled by the character's positive reception.

"I didn't know what the response to Taylor was going to be," says Dillon. "I hoped people would love them, and it turns out people did. And the range of responses that I got from people of all ages all over the world, saying, 'Just by having you as a representative, I feel less alone,' to parents with kids, who say: 'My kid is a non-binary, gender fluid trans, and I was having trouble figuring out how to relate to them, and Taylor helped me do that'.

"On Twitter, someone tweeted at me recently: 'I'm 65 years old. I'm a Republican. I'm a white man. I'm cis-gendered. I'm straight, and I was transphobic until I learned to love Taylor on the show Billions."

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Billionaire hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis) is the latest in a long tradition of ridiculously rich television characters.

If you like watching rich folks, remember these TV shows and films that came before.

DALLAS (1978-1991) J.R. Ewing

Oil, cattle, Texas, big hats, big hair, white smiles, white lies and lots of stinking rich, white folks. "A conscience is like a boat or a car. If you feel you need one, rent it," said J.R. Ewing to his lawyer and lover, Anita Smithfield. JR: Got shot. Survived. RIP Larry Hagman.

DYNASTY (1981-1989) Blake Carrington

If you said "Colby" to most people now, they'd think you were talking about cheese. And you couldn't get more cheesy than the Colbys - and the Carringtons - on Dynasty. Just as Dynasty was the Pepsi to Dallas' Coca-Cola, Blake Carrington (John Forsythe) stood forever in the shadow of his fellow oil titan J.R. Although not quite as evil, Carrington certainly had his moments of villainy. Played by Grant Show (Melrose Place) in the current Dynasty reboot.

THE SIMPSONS (1989-) Mr Burns

Nuclear energy magnate Mr Burns, voiced by Harry Shearer on iconic animated hit The Simpsons, has relentlessly evil intentions that often go unfulfilled. Gets his ice shipped in from the Arctic. Once blocked out the sun.

EAT THE RICH (1987)

Miranda Richardson, Bill Wyman, Robbie Coltrane and Dawn French are among the stellar cast. Also includes Jools Holland and Koo Stark - remember her? She once went out with Prince Andrew. A chef falls on hard times and decides to cook ... you guessed it.

WALL STREET (1987) Gordon Gekko

Corporate raiders, unscrupulous stock brokers and the mantra "greed is good". Gordon Gekko is so 80s and so now also. Oliver Stone's critically acclaimed movie is a classic and it won Best Actor Oscar for Michael Douglas. It starred a young James Spader. It earned $43.8 million at the box office. Ca-ching.

THE O.C (2003-2007)

First world teen problems in Orange County. Outsiders struggle to cope in ritzy Newport Beach. A cultural phenom. Also memorably featured New Zealand. Sort of: Summer Roberts: "Remember when the boys made us watch that movie about the gay guys on the mountain?" Marissa Cooper: "Lord of the Rings?"

DOWNTON ABBEY (2010-2015)

Writer Julian Fellowes created a gem, featuring toffs in gorgeous costumes, grappling with politics and war (and that's just the help!) Chronicled the demise of the aristocracy, old bean. Won a stack of awards.

EMPIRE (2015-)

A family fights for their right to party with the empire's fortune. Hip-hop, Taraji P. Henson and ... the bling!

BATMAN (1966-68)

A billionaire industrialist played by Adam West in the original Batman series, Bruce Wayne was the toast of the Gotham City social scene, despite rarely ever being seen in the clubs. Lived with a younger man named Dick.

THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (1962-1971)

A humble backwoodsman who hit the big time when after striking oil in his Tennessee swamp, Jed Clampett (Buddy Ebsen) subsequently moved to California, where his new life was chronicled in The Beverly Hillbillies. A constant source of stress for his bank manager, who lived next door.

- Additional reporting: Sarah Daniell

Lowdown

Season 3 of Billions premieres on SoHo on Tuesday, 8.30pm.