Billions: Episode 1

Billions is my new favourite programme. If you didn’t see it on Sky Atlantic last night, you’re missing out. It’s fast-paced, intense and yet highly complex; but once the complexities have been explained, it’s exhilarating to watch. If you’re going to watch it, you have to commit; this isn’t one of those relaxed American dramas that can be enjoyed with a magazine in one hand and the TV remote in the other. It requires your full concentration.

From the start, the premise is made clear. Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) is a merciless (and kinky) U.S. Attorney who loves nothing more than to take down those who have evaded justice as a result of their enormous wealth. Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis), on the other hand, is an extremely wealthy hedge fund manager who happens to have averted the eyes of the law when it comes to his money-making schemes. Surely the plot is simple then, right? Rhoades simply needs to use his experience as a criminal lawyer to expose the Machiavellian techniques Axelrod employs? Not that simple. In the public eye, Axelrod is a hero. The people of New York see him as the nicest guy in town, and for good reason. The prospering mogul makes it his mission to give to charity, a notable example being the way in which he funds the schooling of the children of the victims of 9/11 (a tragedy Axelrod survived, unlike many of his colleagues). But when the tycoon sets his sights on purchasing an $83 million beach house, Rhoades decides that it’s time for something to be done.

Paul Giamatti presents an interesting complex in his portrayal of Attorney Chuck. He shows us both his fiery external dominance as well as his meek internal submissiveness. As viewers, we can probably empathise most with Chuck who takes on an uncharacteristically ‘heroic’ role. Maggie Siff is brilliant as Wendy Rhoades, Chuck’s wife and no-nonsense therapist who works for Axelrod’s company; a dilemma that is likely to cause rifts between the couple. In a similar way, Malin Åkerman, who plays Axelrod’s terrifying wife, is delightfully frightening in the role. She clearly has no mercy for those who do her wrong and acts as a great personification for the cut-throat nature of the entire Axelrod clan.

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Actors and actresses are often praised for being particularly likeable in a role, but it is incredible how wonderfully hateable Damian Lewis is as Bobby Axelrod. The British actor who appears to have made a bit of a name for himself playing villainous Americans (his character in Homeland is a good example) takes centre stage in this drama. Bobby Axelrod is sinister yet surprisingly warm, viciously political yet somehow understanding; these are traits that could only be taken on simultaneously by Lewis. I do hope, though, that Lewis doesn’t end up as another of those British actors that always play bad guys; he’s such a brilliant actor that it’d be a shame if he got typecast.

The extravagance, luxuriousness and speed at which the opening sequence of the programme is shot reminds me of a recent Baz Lurhmann film, and is a taste of what’s likely to come in the 12 part series. The dangerous relationship that’s burgeoning between Chuck and Bobby (that will most probably end in someone’s demise) makes for highly entertaining TV, so let’s hope that situations will continue to escalate.

I’m already hooked and in great anticipation of next week’s episode (19/05/16) which airs on Sky Atlantic at 9pm.