People love money, so it’s no surprise that TV shows and movies about the uber-wealthy are basically a genre of their own. Oliver Stone’s Wall Street and Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street are two hallmark films, honing in on opulence and the corruption that always seems to tag along, but Boiler Room and Margin Call are two other entrants in the subgenre we might call “finance thrillers.”
Bernie Madoff, the newest poster boy for Wall Street corruption, received a 150 year sentence for cheating his investors out of $18 billion. It’s a sensitive subject that has a mass effect. Enter Billions. New York Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin helped create the TV show to further dramatize the seductive world of finance. With Showtime’s all-time highest series premiere and its cast of dynamite performers, Billions presents a slice of premium cable even Madoff won’t miss.
Here are the 10 Things You Need To Know About Billions:
10. Starring Damian Lewis & Paul Giamatti
The casting in this show is precise and perfect. Paul Giamatti is our generation’s preeminent character actor, and in Billions, he takes on the thankless life of bull-hunting U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades. He’s the matador of scurrilous hedge-fund managers, and Giamatti imbues the character with his signature blend of vulnerability and outrage. Damian Lewis, having recently come off Homeland, gets to sink his teeth into Bobby Axelrod, one of the richest players in the Wall Street game.
In Billions, these two thespian titans get a chance to square off. We’re only five episodes into the first season, so Lewis and Giamatti have faced off only once. Their first encounter inspired the line, “Then again, what’s the point of having f*** you money, if you never say f*** you?” It’s only a matter of time until the gloves come off and fight night begins.
9. It’s Wall Street vs. The Fed
As Wall Street regulations increase, and as the presidential primaries roll on, watching a show about power and money could seldom be more timely. If absolute power corrupts absolutely then Billions absolutely makes corruption look fun. In many ways, the show is like an upstairs/downstairs drama, where the Federal agents and US Attorneys live in pursuit of the corrupt, while their targets enjoy the good life.
Chuck Rhoades’ job is to end to the parties and wade through the innocent to identify the guilty, however few and far between they may be. Sure, Billions paints Wall Street with broad strokes, but it remains difficult and undesirable for any network show or film to capture the true banality that most of Wall Street embodies. That’s why Bobby Axelrod is an anti-hero worth watching. He has the right amount of good and bad to make him compelling.
8. Episodes Directed by Neil Burger, James Foley, Neil LaBute
Billions has some top-shelf directorial pedigree. From playwright extraordinaire Neil Labute, to sci-fi thriller master Neil Burger (Limitless, the Divergent series), and James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross, House of Cards), Billions employs top creative and professional talents to help further the narrative of Bobby Axelrod and Chuck Rhoades. Like the very best insider trading, it pays off.
Each episode moves breezily with equal doses of drama and comedy, utilizing the Mamet-like writing to full effect. Multiple storylines are seamlessly juggled, while an impressive amount of characters are developed in tandem. Episodic storytelling continues to match and even eclipse the quality of feature films, and Billions advances the game.
7. Co-Stars Malin Ackerman & Maggie Siff
Behind every great man is a great woman, and Billions takes no characters for granted. The women of the show are arguably as motivated and conniving as the men themselves. Between Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff) and Lara Axelrod (Malin Ackerman), respective wives of the pursuant and pursued, we get a fairly compelling look at high-stakes power couples. Add the twist that Wendy is the in-house psych at Axe Capital by day, bedfellow of the U.S. Attorney at night, and you get a conflict of interest that will only get more interesting with time.
Beyond their professional designations, as a restaurateur and dependable psychiatrist, both women hold tremendous power over their husbands. From the opening scene throughout the first five episodes, Billions shows Paul Giamatti in places you’d have never imagined.
6. Created by NY Times Finance Guru Andrew Ross Sorkin
Billions came from the Too Big to Fail brainchild Andrew Ross Sorkin. No, he’s not related to that Sorkin, but he has an undeniable knack for language in his own right. As a New York Times best-selling author and contributor, Andrew Ross Sorkin applied his Wall Street acumen to creating Billions, a series multiple years in the making.
He has acknowledged the intentional blend of finance with the legal world, noting the juggernaut success of shows like Law and Order. His Showtime-led program is an amalgam of our favorite recipes. He and his co-creators have aimed to ground the show in reality, “I want people who live in this world to see certain scenes and go, “Oh, yeah, that feels real.”
5. Metallica Guest Star
Watch Billions and get Metallica thrown in along with it. This is the guest star the countless creative teams and writers would hope to achieve, but only Aaron Ross Sorkin and Brian Koppelman were able to execute. As long time fans of the heavy metal moguls, the writers wrote Episode 4 with Metallica in mind. Bobby Axelrod is a rock star in his own right, but even he balks in the company of Metallica, who let the hedge fund manager and his old friends watch their warm up routine.
That’s the kind of sway Axe has in this fictional world: want a quick jaunt up to Quebec to catch a show? No problem. We’ll use my jet. After enjoying their private performance of “Master of Puppets,” Axe asks Metallica how they do it. The frontman simply replies, “I just play, man.” That’s the kind of advice that Bobby likes to hear. Even if he goes deaf during the concert
4. The Rise of Toby Leonard Moore
If you’ve watched John Wick, Daredevil, or The Pacific, you’ve watched Toby Leonard Moore move from supporting actor to venerable star. As the right-hand man to US Attorney Chuck Rhoades, Bryan Connerty (Moore) gets to flex his Federal muscles. Throughout the twelve-episode series, audiences get the opportunity to watch Toby Leonard Moore at work.
He’s quite at home in a white-collar environment, showing his confidence with verbiage and his sly, dictatorial spirit. He attracts the attention of multiple employees in the U.S. Attorney’s office, loves eating food with Rhoades, whether it’s knishes or sushi, but his favorite meal is bringing down corrupt hedge fund managers. Toby Leonard Moore is a talent from the land down under. With the success of Billions, he’s about to rise up and get some true name recognition.
3. Lots of One-Liners
David Mamet may not be in the writer’s room, but Billions has the nuts and bolts of a Glengarry Glen Ross or Sexual Perversity in Chicago type of script. That’s highly appropriate, given the Glengarry director, James Foley, has already been at the helm of several Billions episodes.
The show is highly quotable, as Aaron Ross Sorkin clearly intended it to be. The dialogue is straight out of the Gordon Gekko lexicon, offering such one-liners as, “My cholesterol is high enough, don’t butter my ass.” If you like zingers and verbal machismo, Billions will be right up your alley.
2. Original Score by Eskmo
For TV suspense, it’s all about the bass. Classic orchestral scores are old school, and it’s becoming increasingly hip to let music groups lay down tracks for TV and film. M83 did it for Oblivion and the Nine Inch Nails guys have helped elevate David Fincher’s movies to the next level.
Musical artist Eskmo has been around for a while, but his musical talents are best captured in the underbelly of Billions. His light instrumental and electronic flair give this show a trendy feeling, moving it past the tried-and-true ambience of the Wall Street genre, making it something more modern. It’s almost like carefully orchestrated background noise. In Billions, Eskmo is subtly effective in driving home the most crucial parts of the story.
1. Showtime’s Best Performing Premiere
Showtime has had a lot of successes lately, between Ray Donovan, Masters of Sex, Penny Dreadful and the anti-terror mainstay, Homeland. The Claire Danes-lead series has managed to renew itself without Damian Lewis, becoming a progressively more intense and culturally relevant piece of media. Despite all of their successes, Showtime found its greatest premiere opening night with Billions.
Thanks to its brilliant marketing strategy that involved many forms of social media, Billions captured a large audience in a short amount of time and demonstrated the lively interest in the genre. It also solidified Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti as venerable stars. This is a show worth checking out and was recently renewed for second season. Get on board.
Can you think of any more reasons to watch this show? Let everyone know in the comments!