Home Television TV: “Billions” Ends Season 1 with a Classic Showdown, “Vinyl” Finds Its...

If “Billions” isn’t the show to beat come Emmy time, I’ll eat my Kangol hat with ear muffs. The season ended tonight on Showtime like a great episode of “Dallas” (JR vs. Cliff), dipped in Shakespeare and John Wayne westerns. Paul Giamatti is the shoo in for Best Actor in a Drama as Chuck Rhoades, but that doesn’t mean that Damian Lewis as Bobby Axelroad is second rate. Far from it.

As the ten episodes have run along, creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien and their team have just kept ramping up the tension of Chuck (Cliff), Axe (JR) and Wendy (Sue Ellen) until it all reached the breaking point tonight. Malin Akerman is equal to all of them as Bobby’s with-it wife, sharper than you ever thought. This foursome will play a huge part in Emmy noms this year. And this final episode — with its shiny Maserati and S&M blackmail– cinched the whole deal.

“Billions” is what I would call a ‘clean’ show– not clean as opposed to dirty, but a clean watch, clearly delineated. You don’t have to know anything about high finance to follow it. It’s easy to root for both Chuck and Bobby at the same time, and you’re not sure who’s the hero or who’s the villain. The big show down at the end of the 10th episode was a hoot, too– like a great western or even Alexis and Krystal duke-ing it out in the pool. A summer run of “Billions” should turn it into a watercooler show. I’m already savoring the Season 2 return.

Over on HBO, “Vinyl” has had a lot of problems since its sensational two hour start with Martin Scorsese. Now Terence Winter, the head writer (and a great one) is leaving. I’m sorry to see him go. But for weeks, mostly, “Vinyl” went nowhere, there was no one to root for, and it was hard to care what was going to happen. Last week was an improvement but tonight’s “Rock and Roll Queen” episode suddenly crystallized the show.

Now in the penultimate episode of the season, they get it! This episode was actually about the music. It rang true. Before tonight, “Vinyl” felt like it was being made by outsiders. In “Rock and Roll Queen,” the chaos settled down. I absolutely love this character played by Annie Parisse– I can’t believe she isn’t based on someone I know from the music biz. Bobby Cannavale was finally allowed to stop snorting coke and having his eyes bug out. Juno Temple and Val Emmich are solid keepers. (I like the story of Jamie and her aunt (Jill Larson). James Jagger gets better and better. And Ray Romano and Max Casella run the show.

Some things bug me about “Vinyl.” The music is great, but some of it is so not of that period– doo wop, “Windmills of Your Mind,” etc. Last night when Jack Quaid discovered disco, and had the dj play that Philly Soul type song in the club, “Vinyl” sounded like they were in the right spot. They are trying to force punk (NY Dolls- Patti Smith etc) a little too soon, frankly. In season 2, they should be looking for “Pillow Talk” before they get to Blitzkrieg Bop.” All kudos to Carl Franklin and Deborah Cahn for “Rock and Roll Queen.” More like that, please. (PS They also started bringing the Finestras back together. Gotta be.)

One last thing–they got something very right tonight. In 1973, “American Graffiti” was huge. There was a big nostalgia wave for Fifties music. Paul Ben-Victor’s Maury Gold — who runs the show’s version of KTel Records– is the only one who knows what he’s doing. Nice touch.

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