Billions “Pilot” Review (1×01)

17 Jan


Billions is not the next prestige drama. That’s something that needs to be recognized before diving into Showtime’s new series, because going in expecting something Mad Men-level will significantly lower the enjoyment you can obtain from watching these characters. The show operates in a heightened state of sorts, utilizing soap-operatic qualities to its advantage as it pits rich people against each other with fervor. It’s far from the most complex and nuanced series out there, but it knows how to entertain.

For all the jargon that gets thrown around in the show, there’s still a refreshing simplicity to the plot that makes it more accessible (and therefore more fun to watch). It all centers around the Bobby Axelrod vs. Chuck Rhoades conflict, and Lewis and Giamatti wholeheartedly throw themselves into their roles as the two characters circle around each other. When they finally clash near the end of the pilot, it’s a ferocious exchange of verbal jabs and angry faces that anticipates more of what’s to come. The opposites drawn between the two are in no way subtle–the calm, cool, collectedness of Axelrod vs. the neuroticism of Rhoades–but again, it’s fun to watch for now. It would serve the writers well later on to delve into the shades of grey of the series, but the pilot does a fine job of introducing the characters.

The most interesting character might just be Maggie Siff’s Wendy Rhoades, introduced via motivational therapy session at Axe Capital and later revealed to have already been introduced as the dominatrix. Siff is a great actress who had been stuck in a weak role in Sons of Anarchy for a while, so it’s nice to see her get a character to shine through. The overlying conflict is Axe vs. Rhoades, but in the middle of it all is Wendy, in a complicated position as the men on either side of her battle it out. However, what makes her so compelling is that she can obviously go toe to toe with both of them.



-Criticism: Some of the dialogue is very very cringeworthy. It’s hit and miss with this style at times.

-It wouldn’t be Showtime without a dominatrix/peeing scene, now would it?

-Looking forward to seeing Malin Akerman’s character grow.

*I most likely will not have time to cover this–or Shameless, for that matter–regularly this year. With Vinyl up on the horizon, I’m thinking that I’ll make that my first Sunday priority (provided it’s good and that I have enough to say about it). I might return to Billions at the end of the season or for a particularly fantastic episode.

Photo credits: Showtime, Billions

3 Responses to “Billions “Pilot” Review (1×01)”

  1. JustMeMike January 18, 2016 at 12:15 pm #

    Personally, though I intend to watch every episode of Vinyl – I think that Billions might be more relevant given its time and place – at least for me and IMHO. As for Vinyl, Bobby Canavale is always worth watching, and Scorsese is involved so it will likely have high production values. But for me the turning point is that the 70’s NYC music scene hasn’t the same grip on me TODAY. I lived in New York in the 70’s, and while I had no real part of the music scene other than listening to the radio, that’s why it has lesser appeal to me now.

    As for Billions I really think that there’s a strong likelihood that this show will likely attract more 30’s and 40’s than will Vinyl which will likely capture an older crowd. Plus I worked on Wall Street for many years.

    As for the two lead females in Billions I think they are the real keys to the show’s success. We pretty much know what to expect from Lewis and Giamatti. The script pretty much revealed its long term game plan by the reference to the dog marking his territory.

    But the role of the two women – that should be exciting. Siff’s position in two camps and her strong presence as an authority figure. Meanwhile Akerman reminds me of a mother tigress protecting her cubs.

    As she said, she came from a poor Irish family – so for her everything will come down to survival instincts, or said another – street rules apply.

  2. Mel January 18, 2016 at 7:10 pm #

    So far what I’m seeing is a show who’s actors are above the writing. Great performances but so so dialogue.

  3. peggyatthemovies February 5, 2016 at 1:01 am #

    Agree completely with this review.. We are into the 3rd eps. and it’s a lot of fun.. is it the best show out there..noooo.. not by a longshot & it’s no Homeland etc.. but it IS damn good entertainment. Looking forward to Vinyl also! 😀

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