Updated: Mar 9, 2020
I always seem to catch onto these sleeper hit shows when I’m channel surfing, looking desperately for something to watch.
And Billions is, so far, definitely a hit.
Set in the city that never sleeps, New York City, Billions follows the lives of US Attorney Chuck Rhoades and blue-collar hedge fund billionaire Bobby “Axe” Axelrod as recent events & power plays transpiring in the financial world bring these men to each other’s attention. The show shines because of the complexity of ALL the characters, whether main or supporting, and the smart storytelling of the writers and cast.
Paul Giamatti is brilliant as the shrewd, intelligent and at-times conflicted U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades; in recent years, we’ve seen Giamatti take on more serious and complex roles from being just a supporting wisecrack role, and he is commanding on-screen as Chuck Rhoades. Chuck has a very strong sense of justice and desire to do his job to the best of his ability, which often means he has to put aside his humanity and be the hammer for the State. We’ll see over time if he becomes able to temper Chuck the US Attorney with Chuck the human being, husband, and father. For now, though, I revel in the moments when Rhoades is on his game, and his intensity and wit make him a force to be reckoned with….which is a good image to have, in order to make all criminals, financial or otherwise, think twice about getting in his crosshairs.
On the other side, we have Damian Lewis as the hedge-fund king Bobby Axelrod. First off, the way Lewis is able to mimic an American accent is just TOO GOOD! I had no idea he was a Brit until I watched some behind the scenes stuff on the show (and double-checking on IMDB)! Lewis is sooo good as Axelrod, the smart billionaire with blue collar beginnings, a foundation that, we find, greatly influences power moves he makes. He works hard and plays harder in order to stay on top. His conflict in the show is whether or not he’s a “bad guy” because he engages in insider trading and has people working for him who do things he would be censured and get in lots of trouble for, all to make sure he never loses what he has and what he’s built, while being a humble man who remembers where he came from and gives back to those who aren’t as fortunate. And that’s the rub: how to temper the working class man with the cutthroat finance marvel.
Giamatti and Lewis are greatly complemented by stars Maggie Siff, who plays Wendy Rhoades, Chuck’s wife and Bobby’s longtime friend and in-house performance coach for his company, and Malin Akerman, who plays Bobby’s wife and partner Lara Axelrod.
Wendy is equally smart and shrewd, and uses her knowledge of human nature to help Bobby and his employees excel at what they do; the complication is that with her boss’ activities getting on her husband’s professional radar, will her relationship with Bobby become a conflict of interest? Also, with her knowledge and understanding of how people feel and what motivates them into action, Wendy has a considerable amount of power. How she UTILIZES it, though, is another complication we get to see in the series, and how well she can balance that with being a great wife, mother, lover….
…and kink partner for Chuck. And as someone familiar with the workings of BDSM relationships and arrangements, I have to say…I’m VERY pleased with how the writers have handled Wendy and Chuck’s D/s dynamic.
Lara is Bobby’s blue-collar counterpart, growing up in a working class Irish family of policemen and firefighters from Inwood, NYC. So she shares a lot of his blue collar values, even while attaining the rich status they have. She supports and inspires Bobby in his endeavors, and like Bobby, will do whatever it takes to take care of and protect her family, and isn’t afraid of letting that Inwood girl peek out every now and then to put people in their place. I think that might be the complexity that comes into play for Lara in the show: being the nurse, the girl who didn’t come from money who now has access to that world.
All in all, Billions is an awesome show, and I will be tuning in to see what happens next in this cat-and-mouse game btw Chuck and Bobby, and see the effects on people around them!
Billions airs on Sundays at 10pm EST on Showtime!