Saturday, July 13, 2024

Sunday Cable: “Billions” Ends Run for the Faithful Viewers, “Gilded Age” Returns with Ups, Downs, and Healthy Numbers


“Billions,” the best show on TV, ended its seven year run on Sunday.

Ratings were low, as the show hasn’t been promoted or thought of by Showtime in years. A total of 245,000 viewers tuned, in, about the same as last week. The faithful watched a perfect series finale, written for the fans for satisfaction. It was a lovely ending, actually. I hope “Billions” will get a new life on Netflix or some streamer where it can find a new audience.

“The Gilded Age” is back on HBO. Sunday’s second season premiere had 450,000 viewers, which is not bad.

I’ve seen all 8 episodes, and they’re worth hanging on for even though the series feels like it’s been written to wrap things up with a tidy bow. In episode 7, something actually happens that would change other series and need five more episodes to unravel.

But “The Gilded Age” season 2 is constructed like a bullet train. There’s no room to breathe for stories or characters. Some people pop up in one episode and exit in another. The main cast is superior, but the supporting ones are wanting in every way. Is there a voice coach on the payroll? This is New York in the 1880s and many people sound like they’ve wandered in off the plains.

If your ears aren’t grinding from the mismatched dialects, then the music will kill you. “The Gilded Age” theme sounds like “Falcon Crest” meets “Bonanza.” The graphics in the opening come from “The Colbys” and the final card is an emblem worthy of “Game of Thrones.” In every episode, the theme plays through the whole show, never letting an actor or a scene develop dramatically.

Everything is telegraphed in “The Gilded Age.” I called the ending after one episode. It’s all so obvious, and except in Episode 7, no chances are taken. It’s really “Downton for Dummies.”

But not the cast. So many exceptional actors are given inferior material but do their best with it. The really good stuff is in the van Rijn house with Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, and Louisa Jacobson (aka Streep). The van Rijn’s below staff is great, too, although many are wasted,

Across the street — where it never rains, is never winter, has unchanging sky — Morgan Spector and Carrie Coon are the nouveau riche. Some say they’re based on the Vanderbilts, but the way they’re treated it doesn’t come off that way. There’s a distinct thread of antisemitism running through the series, and in the final episode Baranski’s Agnes finally lets loose. “Move Downtown?” she says, nose in the air. “With the Jews?”

Still, the sets and costumes are worth it all. Plus you keep hoping Audra McDonald and Michael Cerveris will just break into song. Will there be a season 3? It doesn’t seem like it, but by the end you kind of hope so. It’s just good goofy fun. But note to HBO: better during the summer. It’s a summer show absolutely.

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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