A know-it-all, outrageously merciless beast from the financial market and an ambitious, vehement attorney, who clash in a fatal battle – the premise of Billions could seem promising. Yet, a disastrous team of screenwriters, few misfires in the cast and lack of one, coherent vision – those are the reasons for one of the biggest disappointments of 2016 in terms of television.
Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) is the CEO of an capital investment company, which operates with enormous amounts of money in the financial market. Even though the publicity tends to see a half-god in his figure, the U.S. attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) decides to go after him and put behind bars. The two are willing to use every single way to fight back the opponent.
The successes of Wolf of Wall Street or TV series Suits were enough to encourage filmmakers to go deeper into the financial markets’ world. Unfortunately, there is huge obstacle, standing right on anyone’s way – the language used. Scorsese somehow managed to cover the ciphered in and outs of the financial slang with fantastic storytelling and dynamics of the story, Suits go for the atmosphere and character writing. On the contrary to both of these examples, the men behind Billions behaved as if they learned some foreign language and felt the craving to write a script using it. The plethora of absolutely never-spoken babblements is truly overwhelming, even for someone with knowledge of the hedge funds and legal vocabulary. Many of the over-the-top lines make you cringe, some will just leave you numb – either way, the trio Koppelman, Levien and Sorking should really re-consider writing the second season. In the end, Billions feels like a series about people talking to each other with words they would never use in a real world.
The cast of Billions is a troublesome gathering too. Giamatti, as talented as he is, does not possess the right appearance to be the unwelcome wrath and the merciless attorney. Sometimes, he is just cringe-worthy with this “seriousness pose”. He’s then accompanied by Bryan, a total meatball played by Toby Leonard Moore and a bunch of other, less important Rhoades’ spawns,who pop in from time to time on the screen, to talk with someone or just deliver their complicated lines.
The things are not better i the opposing team led by Bobby Axelrod. Over-the-top Damian Lewis reflects just too many stereotypes regarding the financial sector’s wealthy people, whilst his company’s crew reminisces strongly the ones from Wolf of Wall Street. Hence, these two sides of the fence are black and white, without seeking much of an intersection. Even though it’s again fault of a terrible script, the actors do their part too – they don’t fully understand the plot and sometimes seem to be lost in all the meanders of the links between each of the character. What a mess, right?
If there is anything that I particularly liked about this TV series, it would be its unpredictability. The writing remains consistent in terms of the titans’ clash and avoids digging into irrelevant side-stories. We get to know Axelrod and Rhoades quite well, which certainly allows the viewers to better understand their drivers. There were some ups in terms of music too – although the vast majority of soundtrack is extremely minimalist, there were few exceptions, like Townes van Zandt’s song used. Finally, few people deserve some recognition for their roles – mainly Maggie Siff for her portrayal of Rhoades’ wife, Wendy.
All in all, Billions possessed some decent amount of potential. The premise of the fight of wealthy people, over-ambitious and zealous, was at least a convenient starting point. The trend regarding the big corporations, ripped straight from our reality, was also a solid ground too – yet, this series is a failure, plain as it sounds. And if anybody tells me again, that Nick Pizzolatto is a snobbish, over-philosophical writer in regard to True Detective – I strongly recommend that person to survive one season of Billions.
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