I have a feeling Billions is going to be my new “love to hate.”
Between the unintelligible financial jargon, the shameless displays of wealth, the profanity-laced dick-measuring contests, and the heavy-handed symbolism, there’s a lot to hate.
The first two episodes introduced the primary characters and conflict. Damian Lewis (late of Homeland) stars as Bobby Axelrod, one of those people with an embarrassment of riches—looks, money, an all-neutral wardrobe—that you just love to hate. Malin Akerman, who was so good in HBO’s sorely-missed The Comeback, plays Axelrod’s wife, the requisite piece of arm-candy who unconvincingly keeps alluding to her hard-scrabble upbringing on the mean streets of Inwood.
Paul Giamatti is U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhodes, a man given to overblown prophecies of doom for Axelrod, unwieldy metaphors alluding to same, and whose biggest accomplishment so far seems to be the amount of scenery he’s able to chew. Maggie Siff plays his wife, Wendy, who works as some kind of psychotherapist at Axelrod’s firm and who, for some unknown reason, has a sadomasochistic relationship with her husband. (The opening scene of the first episode features Wendy extinguishing a cigarette on her husband’s chest and then peeing on the wound. The show goes downhill from there.)
OK, so maybe that’s how high-powered douchebags really talk and behave in real life. It still pains me to hear the stilted dialogue coming out of these actors’ mouths, especially since I know they’ve all had better material.
Which brings me to Shameless, Showtime’s other Sunday night offering.
Shameless is what you might call the flip side to Billions’ excess. Shameless deals with the Gallagher family, an unwieldy brood living on the south side of Chicago in white-trash squalor.
To say that the Gallaghers are dysfunctional would be like saying Hitler wasn’t very nice to Jews. The amount of dysfunction on this show can make it painful to watch at times. I mean, I’ve heard of schadenfreude, but this is ridiculous!
Let’s see, where do I begin?
The patriarch, Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy), is an alcoholic on his second liver, who just ended an affair with a woman who had cancer and committed suicide at the end of last season. His ex-wife, Monica (Chloe Webb), was a manic-depressive. His oldest daughter, Fiona (Emmy Rossum), is sleeping with two men at the same time—Sean (Dermot Mulroney) and Gus (Steve Kazee, from Broadway’s Once), whom she’s married to—and is now pregnant but doesn’t know who the father is. His 15-year-old daughter, Debbie (Emma Kenney), is also pregnant, but is determined to keep the child despite the overwhelming evidence around her that she should not. His youngest son, Carl (Ethan Kutkosky), just got out of jail and is now selling guns in school and sporting cornrows and an 18-year-old black friend he met in juvie. His next youngest son, Ian (Cameron Monaghan), is also manic-depressive (like his mother), as well as gay, and has been reduced to working as a janitor at his brother’s college after getting fired as a waiter at his sister’s restaurant.
All of which makes Lip (Jeremy Allen White), the oldest son who’s attending college and is sleeping with one of his married professors, seem like a model of success.
(Another daughter, Sammi, is no longer on the show. I guess the house—and script—got too crowded!)
There’s also an interracial couple—Veronica and Kevin Ball (Shanola Hampton and the hunky Steve Howey) —who are the Gallaghers’ neighbors and are raising two small children of their own; and a lesbian couple who are supposed to symbolize the gentrification of the Gallaghers’ neighborhood and have lately gotten into an ongoing battle with another neighbor.
The only thing that’s a slight consolation is that there’s a lot of male (and female) nudity. A lot!
In just the last two seasons, we’ve gotten to see the asses of Mulroney (who will forever be fixed in my mind as the best-looking AIDS victim ever in Longtime Companion), Kazee (thank you!), Howey (thanks again!), and Macy (no thank you).
Another one of the highlights of last season—for me, at least—was the relationship between Ian and Mickey Milkovich (Noel Fisher). It gloriously destroyed any stereotypes one might have of all gay men being effeminate.
I’m not sure where all this is going but, if nothing else, after watching this show, you’re bound to feel that your own life—no matter how shitty it is—is somewhat less shitty.