You have to take your hat off to Damian Lewis for his uncanny ability to pick a winner.
After his Golden Globe-winning performance as tortured marine Nicholas Brody in three series of brilliant spy thriller Homeland, he gave an acclaimed turn as a swaggering young Henry VIII in BBC2’s Wolf Hall, then decided to return to our screens last year in Sky Atlantic’s explosive Wall Street drama Billions.
Taking on the role of flashy, ruthless, morally bankrupt hedge fund king Bobby Axelrod was a huge departure, and a huge gamble, for Damian. But yes, once again, the show has been a big hit both here and in America.
It earned the highest ratings ever for an opening episode on the Showtime channel when it aired in the States, and became the most downloaded series from Sky Box Sets here in Britain.
SHOWTIME has a hit in its new series “Billions.” After only airing two episodes of a twelve episode season the show has already been renewed for another season. This is all as it should be since “Billions” has a first rate cast, a twisting and twisted plot, and production values that are comparable to well done movies.
The show focuses on a war of wills between an aggressive U.S. Attorney (Paul Giamatti) and a hedge fund giant (Damian Lewis). These two men, Chuck Rhoades and Bobby “Axe” Axlerod, play for high stakes with the winner taking all. Neither man is willing to give an inch and all bets are off as to who will be standing when all the dust clears.
“Billions” is very good television. How could it not be? Created by Brian Koppelman, David Levien (“Ocean’s Thirteen”) and Andrew Ross Sorkin (“Too Big to Fail”), it crackles with the self-confident repartee of those accustomed to high stakes and giddy heights delivered against backdrops that seem lifted from Esquire’s “Interiors We Love” issue. (If there were such a thing. Which there should be.)
More important, “Billions” pits Damian Lewis as Bobby Axelrod, a self-made billionaire, hedge-fund king and shark about town, against Paul Giamatti Chuck Rhoades, the equally ruthless if far less soignee attorney general who has sworn to have Axelrod’s scalp.
To which “Axe” (why name a character Axelrod if he’s not going to go by “Axe”?) replies: I double-dog dare you, dude.
Lewis and Giamatti are two of the best actors working —
No doubt they will soon be battling each other for an Emmy — and their presence together is great wealth of its own sort.
Axe is one of Lewis’ more voluble roles, but the actor maintains his power over stillness by allowing his character to say much while giving little away.
Giamatti may splutter and spit a bit more, but he is just as menacing, albeit much more human.
They are surrounded by a fine supporting cast, including a Machiavellian David Costabile as “Wags,” Toby Leonard Moore as Rhoades’ right-hand man and so many other white men in suits that it’s often hard to keep track.
Read the rest of the original article at the LA Times
Billions, money isn’t money, but a scorecard signifying a theoretically cold and objective qualification of bitterness and one-upmanship. The show’s dominating characters are too well-off for currency to matter to them in the visceral fashion that it does for most people. As a struggling investigator says to an inexplicably rich female co-worker at one point, “Only people with money forget about money,” and the woman in question presumably doesn’t have anywhere near the kind of capital that hedge fund king Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis) possesses.
Written By GingersnapComments Off on Review: Billions Delivers a Dose of Charisma to Hedge Fund Titans – Jan 15, 2016
Review: ‘Billions’ Delivers a Dose of Charisma to Hedge Fund Titans
by Heather Havrilesky – The New York Times – January 15, 2016
Damian Lewis portrays the hedge fund titan Bobby Axelrod in the series “Billions,” beginning Sunday on Showtime. JEFF NEUMANN / SHOWTIME
Men who make lots of money and growl at one another about profits and margins and winning and losing. Remember them?
Americans used to love watching stories about those guys, in the years before the excesses of Wall Street spawned a great recession and before Bernie Madoff brought abject fear back to personal investing. Once their shortsighted shell games toppled the world economy, though, it was a little harder to get into that high-capitalist gambling spirit.
Damian Lewis as Bobby “Axe” Axelrod in “Billions” on Showtime. (Jeff Neumann/Showtime)
“Billions” is rooted in an intriguing triangle. It follows crusading U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), who’s made his name going after Wall Street and has set his sights on hedge fund Bobby Axelrod (“Homeland” veteran Damian Lewis), a working-class guy who’s acquired great wealth, but retains a strategically deployed rough edge.
Bobby’s closest employee and one of his best friends is Wendy Rhoades (a terrific Maggie Siff, rescued from the purgatory of “Sons of Anarchy”), Chuck’s wife and the in-house psychiatrist at Bobby’s firm. The setup puts Bobby and Chuck in competition not just for professional power and preeminence, but for Wendy’s loyalties.
Great TV always scratches some deeper itch in the culture. And, in the last three decades at least, that itch has often been connected to money.
“The Sopranos” explored the gangster soul of capitalism and the profound emptiness even in its winner’s circle. “The Wire” showed how the drug trade in Baltimore was not that different from the business done on Wall Street. “Breaking Bad” started from the premise of a middle-class teacher who turned to making illegal drugs to provide for his family after being diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Given that history and the six hours I have seen of Showtime’s new Sunday-night series “Billions,” which premieres Jan. 17, I’m feeling like we might be looking at greatness here.
The drama about a ferociously ambitious U.S. attorney and a high-flying, regulation-breaking hedge fund king features two great actors in Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis. Giamatti plays the attorney, Chuck Rhoades, who sees the prosecution of Lewis’ character, Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, as his ticket to higher office.
As the chief federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, which includes Manhattan, Rhoades has enormous power over the great financial institutions of American life. And while he speaks in the high-minded rhetoric of civic reform and “servant of the people,” he comes from a world of privilege and lives a life of compromises, contradictions and look-the-other-way lies.
His arrogance in the workplace is unbounded. If he’s the good guy here, he’s not a very likable one.
“When I bring an action, it’s not some county or even state,” he warns. “It’s the United States versus. Don’t give me a reason.”
Or how about this lovely quote: “My father always taught me ‘mercy’ was a word p—— used when they couldn’t take the pain.”
He revels in his power, except in the bedroom, where he’s the “M” partner in an S&M marriage.
The series opens on one of the most intense and graphic S&M scenes I’ve ever seen on mainstream TV — even premium cable. But in its exploration of sex as power, it is artistically righteous. I was rooting for “Billions” from the opening bell for going there so fearlessly.
Rhoades’ wife, Wendy (Maggie Siff), is just as complex a character. She works as an in-house performance coach at Axelrod’s Axe Capital firm. She goes way back with Axelrod and is one of the few people in his uber-competitive boiler room in whom he seems able to confide.
Siff is superb as an ambitious professional using her psychological training to carve out her own territory of control as she navigates between these two male combatants. You might remember her as Rachel Menken, the department store heiress and Don Draper love interest in “Mad Men,” another great drama that was all about money, power and desire.
In the hands of lesser dramatists, the obvious conflicts of interests involving this marriage might derail the series.
I can imagine someone reading this and saying, “Wouldn’t she have to quit her job?” Or, perhaps, “Given her job, wouldn’t Rhoades have to recuse himself from the case his office is trying to build against Axelrod?”
Both questions are valid. There are wisely scripted and convincingly played scenes in which those questions are raised, debated, worried over, and raged against at work and home. This being a very, very contemporary marriage, Mr. and Ms. Rhoades throw the conflict in each other’s face when it suits them.
It’s great stuff. But Bobby Axelrod is the character you can’t take your eyes off of.
“Axe is no ordinary billionaire,” Rhoades says. “He’s an icon of the wealth of our age. And he’s a fraud. So when he falls, he’ll hit the ground hard.”
Given the anger that remains over how few of the men and women who drove the economy off the cliff in 2008 were ever prosecuted, it would have been easy for the producers to make Axelrod the target of all that enmity.
Damian Lewis as Bobby “Axe” Axelrod and Paul Giamatti as Chuck Rhoades in Billions (Season 1, Episode 1) Photo: JoJo Whilden/SHOWTIME
If you are immune to the many charms of Paul Giamatti’s work, and the endless ways in which his “Billions” character displays intelligence and irritation through a series of perfectly deployed glares, this tale of high-powered hedge-fund players and the lawyers they battle may not be up your alley.
Giamatti plays Chuck Rhoades, a well-to-do U.S. Attorney for New York who feels compelled to rein in Wall Street excesses, with Damian Lewis as Bobby Axelrod, a hotshot mega-billionaire who can’t resist throwing his might and money around in ways that make for bad P.R., and bring scrutiny from law enforcement.
That description raises the question of whether you’ll be able to work up any sympathy for the one-percenters locked in combat in this slick series.
Many regular folks who’ve witnessed the frightening fallout of some of Wall Street’s high-stakes games may find that the subject matter itself is a dealbreaker. Just about every character in “Billions” has, at the very least, a trust fund and a few million in the bank — but many have substantially more.
Whatever their headaches, the day-to-day lives of these hedge-fund guys, especially Bobby, make Don Draper’s lifestyle look like a monk’s.
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Too Big To Fail: You’re Going to Love to Hate Homeland’s Damian Lewis in His New Showtime Series
by Joanna Robinson – Vanity Fair – August 11, 2015
No matter how bad things got with Congressman Nicholas Brody on Homeland, there was a part of us that was always supposed to love him a little. Sure, he was a terrorist, but such a gosh darn likable one! Well all that likability is out the window for actor Damian Lewis in his new home on Showtime.
Billions—which co-stars Paul Giamatti, Malin Akerman, and Maggie Siff—is about the privileged class enjoying their privileges and the one man struggling to take them down. From New York Times financial columnist and Too Big to Fail author Andrew Ross Sorkin,Billions promises to scratch that Wolf of Wall Street itch you didn’t realize was bugging you.