REVIEW: Sky’s Billions set to be an epic pissing contest
Riding in on the bandwagon of the many finance-based dramas recently (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short) Sky brings us Billions. The show tells the story of billionaire hedge fund king Bobby Axelrod (yes, Axelrod) who butts heads with ruthless US Attorney Chuck Rhoades.
Well, “butts heads” might be putting it lightly. Rhoades is a notoriously cutthroat attorney with a passion for taking down showy, wealthy criminals who try to buy their way to freedom. On the surface, Bobby seems to be the perfect humanitarian, smart and charming billionaire. Having survived the 9/11 attacks when all of his colleagues did not, he funds the college tuition of all of their surviving children. However, underneath the smooth exterior, bribery and insider trading are providing Axelrod with his billions of dollars.
Rhoades suspects Axelrod isn’t quite the angel he seems to be and sets his sights on taking him down. His only problem? His wife, Wendy, works as a psychiatrist and in-house performance coach for “Axe Capital” and has worked closely with Axelrod for 15 years. So when Chuck tells his wife she might want to consider moving jobs, she’s not too happy about it.
This is what the whole series boils down to: power. Bobby explains to his sons why dogs urinate on the same thing as other dogs, telling them it is a “pissing contest” to assume dominance. Bobby and Chuck seem set to engage in an epic pissing contest.
Speaking of which, the show opens with Chuck tied up like a hog whilst an unidentified woman steps on his chest in a knee-high stiletto boot. Ooh err. She proceeds to burn his chest with a cigarette before “treating” the burn by urinating on it. We won’t spoil the fun by telling you who this dominatrix turns out to be, but it’s worth the wait to find out.
The main bulk of the show deals with Chuck’s initial reserve in taking on Bobby. With his unblemished record of prosecution for financial crimes, he wants to bide his time before striking. However, when Bobby learns of Chuck’s desire to take him down, he acts as any 5-year-old boy would in a playground fight and finds a way to figuratively say, “Bring it on!” by purchasing an obscenely priced beach house. Any indecision he has is extinguished as we’re shown the painfully obvious metaphor of Bobby’s lifeless dog after being castrated. Bobby is determined to prove he has the biggest balls of the two of them and he’ll stop at nothing to prove it.
Paul Giamatti, most recently seen as music manager Jerry Heller in Straight Outta Compton, takes on the role of Chuck Rhoades. His deep, resonating voice instantly endows him with the position of authority figure. However, opening the show with the image of him tied and wee-stained, we are left in no doubt that he can be vulnerable too. Damian Lewis plays hothead billionaire Bobby Axelrod and simply exudes power. His piercing stare almost bursts off the screen and we fully buy into his role as the overly generous, charming CEO with Rain Man-like smarts. For fans of The Night Manager, Lewis is not dissimilar to Hugh Laurie’s character in that as a viewer we are fully aware he’s the “baddie” but we can’t help that little devil on our shoulder that wants him to succeed.
Billions is quick-witted and bold with a dialogue to match. Lewis steals most of the best lines -“…being a billionaire, when you walk into a room, it’s like being a woman with a perfect set of tits” – but he pulls them off spectacularly. The show stands apart from recent dramas in that it is not particularly fast-paced, however, it’s actually a refreshing change that is supported with plenty of substance. Billions looks set to be a slow burner that will culminate in a raging fire.
Billions airs on Thursdays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic but you can catch the repeat of the first episode tomorrow (14.05.16) at 9pm on the same channel.