Monday, June 17, 2024

Review: “Billions” Returns for a Glorious Sixth Season, Plays a Little Joke on “Sex and the City”




So, at last, it’s the sixth season of one my all time favorite shows, “Billions.” Showtime has not been able to get them an Emmy nomination in all these years despite stars Paul Giamatti and Damien Lewis turning in performances every season as good as anything on quality TV. Ditto Asia Kate Dillon, Maggie Siff, David Costabile, Jeffrey DeMunn, Condola Rashad, and various guest stars like Nina Arianda, Danny Strong, and Daniel Cosgrove.

Season 5 was split in two because of the pandemic but it finally concluded with Lewis exiting the series as Bobby Axelrod. Lewis’s life is in London where he’s raising his kids since wife Helen McCrory tragically died last year from cancer. And who could blame him? Five seasons and not a nomination for anything. Time to go.

For Season 6, everyone else returns in fine fettle. If you worried a lack of Bobby would diminish the proceedings, we are ok: Corey Stoll’s Mike Prince bought Axe Capital, changed the name, kept the employees (some leave but they don’t go too far). Stoll is rocking right from the beginning. Piper Perabo is introduced as his sometimes-wife, and they cook up a plan in the first three episodes that may be the story arc for the season. They want to bring the Olympics to Manhattan for 2028.

You can only imagine how Giamatti’s Chuck Rhoades feels about that. With Bobby gone, Chuck needs new causes as New York’s Attorney General. In the opening episode this Sunday, Chuck — taking a break from work– runs afoul of a patrician neighbor at his country estate. Michael McKean is just perfect in the role, and I hope recurs later in the season. The frisson reawakens in Chuck a cause, to rid New York of self-serving billionaires.

“Billions” is a very meta show, as fans know. There is constant quoting, riffing, and reminding of famous movie lines, lyrics to Springsteen songs, tons of trivial pursuit. Everyone is witty and on their game. The whole show is a mental chess game, intellectually exhausting in the best way thanks to erudite creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien. They must have a writer’s room working double overtime, but somehow they’ve exceeded “Mad Men” and old Dennis Miller monologues as they build each characters’ rap.

Oh, yes, a little joke at the start of Episode 1, Season 6, on “Sex and the City: And Just Like That.” Wags (Costabile) is sweating on his Peloton. Long story, medics come thinking he’s had a heart attack. When he returns to the office, the gang is happy but skeptical. Wags– one of the best characters on TV– says to his dismayed friends, “I’m alive! I’m not Mr. Big!”

LOL since “And Just Like That” began with Chris Noth’s Big having a heart attack and dropping dead after a brisk ride on his Peloton. I’m told the “Billions” scene was shot last spring, but the line was added after “Sex and the City” aired their first episode. Nice dig. Very very “Billions” meta funny.

Maybe this is the year for “Billions,” let’s see some ratings and awards. Giamatti’s Chuck is sublime– they all are, and deserve some proper recognition. I don’t know what the problem is, but Showtime has to fix it.

PS Paul Giamatti looks even better than he did in Season 5, part 2. He’s lost weight, shaved off his facial hair, maybe did a little exercise. I’m jealous! He’s gotten younger! Congrats! I guess Chuck — who’s into BDSM — “whipped” him into shape!

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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