Thursday, January 21, 2016

Pilot Review: Billions

Billions (SHO)
Premiered January 17 at 10pm

When reviewing pilots, I often find myself noting that it’s hard to find an original show these days. Fortunately, Showtime seems relatively immune to this problem, regularly offering new, creative programming, and this show is just that. We’ve seen legal thrillers before, and I’m pleased to report that, based on this pilot, this show is a very worthwhile exploration of two immensely complicated characters and the web of intensity that connects them. Their connections are complex and intricate, and there’s no simple way for any of it to be resolved without plenty of people getting hurt. This pilot started by bluntly showing Paul Giamatti’s U.S. attorney indulging in a submissive fantasy, and ended by revealing that the dominatrix in question was actually his wife, who just happens to be a top employee of the billionaire that Chuck is going after. Damian Lewis’ Axe has his own layered backstory, the lone surviving partner at his company after September 11th and a man not able to back down from a challenge, especially when it involves money. It’s great to see Lewis back on TV, and on Showtime, after he jump-started his career on “Homeland,” and, though I’m not sure she’s as well-suited for the role, I’m pleased that Maggie Siff from “Sons of Anarchy” has a solid follow-up gig. Also in the cast are Malin Akerman, David Costabile, and Tony Leonard Moore, reliable faces who have all graced the television screen recently, on “Trophy Wife,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Daredevil,” respectively, among others. Giamatti is clearly an excellent fit to play Chuck, and he was pretty terrific in the scene where he showed up to work after his client committed suicide and he delivered a stirring speech about hard work rather than a eulogy. This show feels like a fitting companion to “The Affair,” a drama with two distinct sides that often feel black and white and which is propelled forwarded by the intrigue of its plot and the strength of its characters and the actors who play them. I’m in.

How will it work as a series? Chuck has done enough to begin to wage war against Axe, and now it’s just a question of how the dominoes fall. Both men have close confidantes who should be loyal partners for them but just as many underlings who may be eager to screw them over. Watching all that play out with Siff’s Wendy in the middle should be fascinating.
How long will it last? Before I saw an official ratings press release, I figured that streaming this early and positive word of mouth would probably assure its success. Then I read on The Futon Critic that this show "delivered the biggest premiere numbers ever for a new Showtime series across platforms." Yeah, I’d expect a renewal for this one to go with the “Shameless” season seven pickup that came last week pretty soon.

Pilot grade: B+

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