Sometimes you just need to look at a new TV show’s cast list to decide if it’s going to be any good. Billions, Showtime’s new drama premiering Sunday, January 17 at 10pm, stars Homeland Emmy-winner Damian Lewis, Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti, Sons of Anarchy‘s Maggie Siff, Malin Akerman and veteran character actor David Costabile (who’s had major recurring roles in The Wire, Damages and Breaking Bad). So yeah, it’s worth watching.
The new drama is set in the financial world of Wall Street, with Lewis playing hedge fund kingpin Bobby Axelrod. He came from humble beginnings and is beloved by the masses, but that doesn’t stop U.S. district attorney Chuck Rhoades (Giamatti) from trying to take him down. And that’s Billions at its core, a cat-and-mouse game between two men engaged in a battle of wealth and power.
Needless to say, Lewis and Giamatti are equally excellent. They’ve created two wildly compelling and complex characters, driven by a need to exert their dominance over any and all who oppose them.
However, the real star of the show is Siff, who plays Rhoades’ wife and the in-house psychologist for Axelrod’s company. The latter is an obvious plot convenience and conflict of interest that places her squarely between both powerful men. She’s in a position to understand the motivations and psychology of the two opponents and works very hard to avoid either side’s destruction. It’s a tough balancing act, but on a show that basically boils down to a pissing contest between two alpha men, she’s the calm center of the storm.
There are also plenty of other strong supporting performances throughout Billions. Toby Leonard Moore (most recently seen as Wilson Fisk’s right-hand man on Netflix’s Daredevil) plays Rhoades’ equally ambitious associate while Axelrod’s number two is played by Costabile, one of those immediately recognizable character actors who always delivers his A-game.
Finally there’s Akerman, a typically comedic actress who takes on the role of Axelrod’s tough, no-nonsense wife who is just as good as her husband at destroying the lives of those who stand in her way. In many ways she’s reminiscent of Claire Underwood from Netflix’s House of Cards, which is no surprise as Billions is very similar to that drama, only with the focus on the financial sector in NYC instead of politics in D.C.
The one advantage Billions has over House of Cards is that it focuses more on both sides of the story. While House of Cards is largely the story of Frank Underwood’s unchecked quest for power, obliterating any obstacle before him, Bobby Axelrod isn’t as unbeatable. Rhoades is every bit as prominent of a character, if not moreso, turning Billions into a genuine struggle.
Showtime sent out the first six episodes to critics and the great news is that, unlike the network’s most recent new drama, The Affair, Billions doesn’t slow down. It doesn’t start off strong and then slowly decline, it stays fresh and exciting as the battle escalates and the two men suit up for war. It’s a drama filled with compelling, expertly acted performances. It doesn’t get bogged down with dozens of unimportant subplots, the focus stays on these two men as they both play to win.
There have been a few moderately successful Showtime dramas in recent years (The Affair, Penny Dreadful, Ray Donovan, Masters of Sex), but Billions immediately establishes itself as the network’s best new drama since Damian Lewis’ last program, Homeland, more than four years ago.
(Image courtesy of Showtime)