TV review: Billions – Sky Atlantic
Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti lock swords in new high risk high finance drama
They say money makes the world go round, yet despite the banking crisis, various recessions and the ever growing economic gap between the rich and poor the world of finance hasn't featured heavily in TV drama. Sure we get rich people on TV, from Dallas to the Kardashians, but the nitty gritty of high end business is a difficult sell. Billions attempts to sex up the figures (quite literally, the opening scene finds Paul Giamatti trussed up like a hog before some light S&M and watersports).
Giamatti is US Attorney Chuck Rhoades out to make a name for himself by bringing down Hedge Fund manager Bobby 'Axe' Axelrod (Damian Lewis). A billionaire financial whizz with surprisingly high public approval ratings after surviving 9/11. The first two episodes find them circling each other, squaring up for what is sure to be a dirty fight. Rhoades life further complicated by a conflict of interest as his wife (Sons on Anarchy's Maggie Siff) happens to work as the in house psychiatrist at Axe Capital.
Billions hits a speed bump when it gets down to business, some of the financial jargon is impenetrable, they might as well be speaking ancient Aramaic, but manages to power through with two charismatic leads. Giamatti is angry, uptight and paranoid, Lewis is cool, calm and cut throat. You can skim the fine print, accept the bigger picture and just go with the flow. It's a little cold and aloof, it could do with a dash of Wolf of Wall Street style humour. Reminiscent of House of Cards, revelling in morally ambiguous characters, it's difficult to differentiate the heroes from the villains. Lewis makes Axelrod far more likable than he deserves but it's hard to genuinely identify with this ultra-rich world of mega-millionaires.
Billions starts on Sky Atlantic, Thu 12 May, 9pm, with all episodes available the same night via Sky Box Sets.