IN THE SEASON 4 premiere of Showtime’s dark comedic drama “Billions,” traded-up hedge fund king Bobby Axelrod (Paul Giamatti) is helped by an unlikely ally: his new sister-in-law, Abby (Phoebe Waller-Bridge).
“Lie in the Meadow” is the story of that fateful meeting in Boca Raton, Florida, where Abby hooks up with Bobby. Once the ink on the prenuptial agreement is dried, Axelrod offers to build her a pool house on Sunset Boulevard. “People can read what the agreement says but you can’t read anyone,” Abby tells Bobby. But, and this is key, she can read him.
Bobby tells her, “Selling Sunset. That’s about it.”
There’s a funny moment in which Axelrod describes the investment strategy for sell-side hedge funds as “assets like Manhattan.” As he holds the book “High on the Hog” by jazz legend Chet Baker and riffs on the “tremendous power” and “suave swing” of the man whom he calls “one of the greatest saxophonists of all time,” he’s on his way to his new apartment. So much for “selling Sunset.”
The rhythm of the “Billions” premieres, on course for its third season in the fall, follows Axelrod, the prickly former U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Damian Lewis) and henchman Chuck’s son, Bart (Toby Leonard Moore).
There are similarities between their lives — both are arrogant, self-centered men who fear life will be constrained by the mere fact that they love loved one woman — but their personalities are very different. Chuck’s is irredeemable, Jimmy’s different.
Any resemblance that adults share with their children is a tenuous one, and a child is a mirror image of its parents. This means there are structural similarities between the adults’ worlds (an Ivy League education, significant careers) and the kids’ (Posh Spice T-shirts, taped-together cupcakes).
“Billions” is like an exotic deli table: best-of-in-the-world and not-so-good-enough, respectively.
This leads to predictable, small-scale little moments of resentment between characters. Axe and Chuck’s pugnacious and semi-dismissive boyfriends (series newcomer Eric Christian Olsen) make this clear when they argue at dinner over who doesn’t need the vegetables.
Characters regularly try to ramp things up, even though they rarely succeed. That happens with Bobby and Chuck when things get heated, as when Axe tells Chuck, “All you want to do is get back to me,” and Chuck says, “So do you want to be my assistant, my personal assistant, my assistant of …” when he’s making a flip remark. (He hadn’t thought about it.)
But “Billions” tells its stories in distinct ways. This season, that means the faces and personalities of the characters are getting deeper and more layered.
Both Bobby and Chuck have at least one long-standing nemesis. This season, that’s an asset. Last season, it was too clearly depicted as Jimmy McGill, formerly Deputy Director of the D.C. FBI. This year, it’s the lawyer who wrote the trade agreement with Abby — Gracie; she’s in real estate and is called “Gracie the Australian Octopus” — that creates the combustible situation for the hedge fund boss. (Also, if you were wondering why Ruth Madoff and the family are so elusive, it has to do with Gracie.)
But Jackie Sharp, Abby’s ex-boyfriend, and Granny Waller, the hedge fund powerhouse by name, are the catch. The former played by Paul Giamatti is Abby’s ex-husband’s brother; Granny Waller is the grand dame of Boca Raton, who controlled Bobby’s brothers; she’s paid a lot of interest for no gain. That makes Granny’s stalking tactics a threat to Axelrod, who’s dealing with the fallout from his last big secret.