Sunday, October 23, 2016


Billions : Showtime Series
Aired on : Showtime (2016 - )
My Rating : 7 out of 10

Showtime, along with HBO, has become a channel to depend on for watching superb drama series. Whenever there is a new series on these channels, I am more than willing to invest my time watching it. Billions is their latest 2016 offering.

The main plot point of Billions is the clash between two ambitious male personalities. On one side is a billionaire hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis). On the other side is a New York State Attorney, Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti). Both are ambitious, egoistic and each has his own chip on his shoulder. Bobby has become rich from humble beginnings. He hasn’t forgotten his past, and who treated him well and who didn’t. He uses his money to make his point. Chuck is from a privileged background, and has a passionate hatred for rich who think they are above the law. He uses his legal authority to make his point.

Axelrod’s financial success has a troubling connection to 9/11. He is a ruthless manager. Supportive as well as manipulative, and vindictive towards those who betray him. He bends the laws, but is loyal to wife, and fiercely protective of his family. Chuck has the right ideas of bringing justice to financial criminals, but neither his motives not his means are all that pure. Both have egos bordering on petty. Their flaws and strengths, and their similarities and contrasts make the clash fascinating, otherwise it would turn into an uncomplicated good guy versus bad guy story.

Just to make sure that this is more than two alpha males fighting it out against each other, the story has two strong female characters, although not exactly in the lead roles. Bobby’s wife Lara (Malin Akerman) is a perfect cohort, tough and supportive. Chuck’s wife Wendy (Maggie Siff) is a very successful psychiatrist who makes a handsome salary because - get this - she works for Bobby Axelrod.

This is where the series pushes the envelope too far. Her motivational sessions with the employees are not that convincing. But the whole situation is unbelievable. The New York State Attorney who is eyeing for a public office in future has a wife that works for the same hedge fund billionaire who he trying to bring down. This kind of conflict of interest is unrealistic. The series tries to explain it away by informing us that, she was working there before Chuck’s rise. You decide, if you want to buy that as enough of a reason.

This is not a documentary, so some unrealisticness is not a problem, and the series does take such liberties. But this by far was the biggest one, which I think is a flaw. On the plus side, it does not take away the enjoyment, and in fact it allows the writers to add some interesting situations.

Overall. it’s not easy to relate to any of the characters, which I think is by design. It never gets intense as we are never emotionally vested into any character. We just watch with amusement and enjoy the fight.

A big part of that enjoyment is due to the strength of the performances, which are superb across the board. Not one bad acting performance. The pacing is fine, and the side stories of other characters don’t feel extraneous. The dialogues, on the other hand, feel overwritten on some occasions, and chuckle worthy on other occasions. 

This is an interesting series. I am looking forward to the second season. I don’t think this will win a Golden Globe or an Emmy, but if you watch it just for entertainment, I don’t think you will be disappointed. It’s correctly rated TV-MA and is not for children.

UPDATE : Season 2 review has been posted.

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