Billions is perhaps one of the best shows to come out this year. Based on a Wall Street-like premise, it is an awesome bit of TV. A great job by the creators Brian Koppelman, Andrew Ross Sorkin and David Levien.
Billions revolves around its two anti-hero protagonists, played by Emmy winners Paul Giamatti (John Adams, Cinderella Man) and the exceptionally talented Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers, Homeland) who play US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Chuck Rhoades and billionaire hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod. Anti-heroes because neither are extremely likeable.
Rhoades runs a very successful office and happens to come across Axelrod while pursuing other criminals. He has a conflict of interest though. His wife Wendy works as a shrink at Axe Capital, Axelrod’s firm. Axelrod is some sort of Robin Hood-like figure for the people. Or, to quote Rhoades, he’s a ‘man of the people’. Axelrod has an interesting history: he rose from humble beginnings and became a financial trader. On September 11, 2001, he happened to be out of office, which was located in the World Trade Center. Thus, of all his colleagues, he survived the terrorist attack. He pays the college tuition of all of his late colleagues’ children and does a lot of charitable work, which makes him immensely popular with everyone but Rhoades. Naturally, the protagonists clash in a battle of what Rhoades considers an equivalent to Good v. Evil. Rhoades pulls a variety of tricks to get Axelrod, who just happens to stay at least a step ahead all the time. The 12-part season brings up Axelrod’s past too, which is way darker than it seems.
The writing is strong. It has some genuine surprises and some predictable ones but it doesn’t fail, mainly because of the powerful players in the show. I cannot comment about how realistically the hedge funds and US Attorney’s office are portrayed but if they’re anything like they are on the show, they’re awesome.
The cast is terrific. There are no letdowns, which is why I liked Billions more than The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story (Cuba Gooding Jr as OJ Simpson? What?! And what in the name of dear god is wrong with Travolta?). Maggie Siff is the epitome of an empowered woman as Wendy Rhoades. Malin Akerman too makes a great impression as Lara Axelrod. Toby Leonard Moore plays Rhoades’ subordinate Brian Connerty very well.Terry Kinney and Glenn Fleshler as Axelrod’s fixer and lawyer respectively are just too good. Malachi Weir, Jeffrey DeMunn, Stephen Kunken, Condola Rashad, David Cromer and Kelly AuCoin all do a very good job but my personal favourite of all the supporting cast is David Costabile as Michael ‘Wags’ Wagner, Axelrod’s right-hand man. He is brilliant in each frame that he is in. Giamatti is calm but power-hungry as Rhoades. He soars in powerfully to claim second place in terms of performances. Damian Lewis is electrifying as Axelrod. He nails the American accent yet again, which makes it extremely hard to believe that he is, in fact, an Englishman. He portrays Axelrod as the wily criminal that he is. His eyes dance around madly as he firmly cements his position as the top performer of the show.
Billions should be on your watchlist, whether financial crimes interest you or not.
My rating for Billions: 9/10