Monday, January 18, 2016

Nine Zeroes

Billions, a new drama, just debuted on Showtime. ("Showtime--if you can't make it on HBO, bring your show to us.") Created by Brian Koppelman, David Levien and Andrew Ross Sorkin, it's about the world of high finance.  This is a world that fascinates me, but not Hollywood.   Maybe that's because the financial stuff is too complex, or maybe because it's hard to build up sympathy for people marinating in money.  So what Hollywood invariably does is make the rich people crooks and turn things into a crime drama--something they're more comfortable with.

So far, it seems Billions is traveling down that path. As far as I can tell after the pilot, there are two equal leads--Damian Lewis as Bobby Axelrod, a hedge fund manager who knows how to get good press, and Paul Giamatti as crusading U. S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades, who is trying to bring down Axelrod.  Did Axelrod do anything wrong?  At the very least, he seems to be involved in some insider trading, but it takes a lot to make a case, so I suppose the season will show the battle of wits between these two.

The hour starts with a dominatrix having her way with Chuck.  Ah, premium cable.  So far this aspect of his life doesn't seem to have anything to do with the plot, but perhaps it will later on.  Eventually we find out that Chuck is a crusader who's good at what he does--his office has a perfect record--but he can be harsh and borders on the self-righteous.  More care is taken to show Bobby Axelrod, head of Axe Capital, as a good guy.  He's a caring family man, a tough but fair boss, a savvy businessman and big into charity.  I suppose they need to do this because so many will automatically resent him anyway, or suspect he's a criminal.

Both Chuck and Bobby have a wife and two kids.  Bobby's wife Lara (Malin Ackerman) has risen up from the poor side of town, and doesn't plan to go back.  Chuck's wife Wendy (Maggie Siff), in a plot twist almost too convenient, is an in-house counselor (she says she went to medical school so I guess she's a psychiatrist) at Axe Capital, which leads, arguably, to a conflict of interest.  (She also seems to be the dominatrix, in a plot twist that probably makes things less interesting.)

It's just the pilot, so both leads are circling each other.  Early on an SEC official brings in some evidence that may lead to Bobby, but Chuck is wary--he doesn't just want Bobby to pay a fine, and also doesn't want to ruin his perfect record. (Which reminds me, at one point one of the government lawyers quotes Warren Buffet to one of the business lawyers, saying "If a cop follows you for 500 miles, you're going to get a ticket"--I'm not sure if the government lawyer gets the full meaning of that quote.)

One of the big plot points is Bobby's purchase of an expensive mansion on the beach.  Chuck warns Bobby the purchase will lose him a lot of good will, and figures if Bobby ignores him, somehow this means he's a crook. I don't get it either.

The show is a bit odd in that you don't quite know who to root for.  (Well, I didn't.  Maybe I'm just confused.)  I've never been much of a fan of Lewis, but both he and Giamatti seem up to the task.  It's good enough for a second viewing, but doesn't make me stop thinking that the next season of Game Of Thrones can't get here fast enough.


Blogger New England Guy said...

Axe Capital?

The cologne-y smell of that office must be unbearable

5:14 AM, January 18, 2016  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

Are you Guys fans of Wolf Hall? Pretty solid production values, as always from our fellow English Speaking Peoples.

12:31 PM, January 18, 2016  
Blogger New England Guy said...

I read the book, liked it, and saw the first episode before life got in the way. I should watch the whole thing- thanks for recalling me to it

3:10 PM, January 18, 2016  
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