Friday, July 12, 2024

“Billions” Is Back Tonight, Better than Ever, And it’s Wendy Rhoades’s Season, Plus Vanity Fair Gets a Needed Plug


“Billions,” my favorite TV show, is back. Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s ode to Wall Street greed, with a dollop of “Dallas,” couldn’t have returned at a better time. It’s on Showtime tonight at 9pm.

I’ve seen four episodes, so I’m a little ahead of tonight’s excellent premiere. Damian Lewis’s Axe (JR Ewing, let’s say) and Paul Giamatti’s Chuck Rhoades (Cliff Barnes) are still dancing around Maggie Siff’s Wendy Rhoades (Sue Ellen, with a whip). Will they ever figure it out? Their maddening triangle ends with an ellipsis, not an exclamation point. And the acting is certainly Emmy worthy. All three of them should be getting awards.

This season, so far, we’re getting a lot of new characters but also the pumping of supporting players. Asia Kate Dillon as Taylor remains inscrutable and delightful, a pawn in the main game and a player at the same time. Taylor is always an X factor in the game between Axe and Chuck. One day, she’s (they) will just blow their brains out and take all the money.

But this is may be Wendy’s season, as she finally makes some independent moves. She’s waited a while to take the focus of the series. Maggie Siff, who was so good on “Mad Men,” is really coming into her own now here.

Let’s not forget the supporting players, though: David Constabile’s Wags is endlessly watchable. You’ll have to wait to episode 4 when he gets his moment. I guffawed out loud at some of his business. Real “Billions” fans will love it. Condola Rashad: what took you so long? Kate Sacker’s assistant DA (I think that’s what she is, they trade titles a lot), steps up in a big way. Of course, Jeffrey DeMunn as Rhoades Sr. is back, with a young wife and a baby. The wife looks like she might be causing trouble soon.

Our immediate new guest players are Corey Stoll, as Mike Prince, a billionaire who’s coming after Axe, and Julianna Margulies as a Yale professor whose all Rhoades lead to Chuck. There are many cameos from the creme de la creme of New York actors including a poignant scene with the recently deceased Mark Blum as a shrink. Broadway star Tony Yazbeck tap dances in from past seasons, as does Deborah Rush. Harry Lennix is back, too!

At Axe Capital, there are just too many talented actors including Sarah Stiles, Ilfenesh Hadera, Kelly AuCoin, Dan Soder, and Samantha Mathis. Koppelman and Levien and their team in the four episodes I saw have managed to give everyone a spotlight. This isn’t easy to do. But everyone gets a moment, a couple of lines, an indication. You could start a plot line almost in any direction. I think that’s why “Billions” reminds me a little of “Dallas.” Leonard Katzman was so good at using a large, vibrant repertory cast to support the main action that we looked for them week to week. Same here.

For New York media types, tonight we get one of those very Graydon Carter-esque Vanity Fair photo shoots with a group of billionaire warriors. Famed photographer Mark Seliger and Carter successor Radhika Jones get lines and closeups. It seems very nostalgic now.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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