A strong indicator that the plot of your show might be a tad underwhelming is when you feel compelled to make your opening scene an orgy of sadomasochistic torture. I won’t describe it. Just watch, if you dare:
**WARNING: EXPLICIT SCENES** (It is Showtime after all)
Well, at least she put the fire out.
The plot of Showtime’s Billions is that billionaire hedge-fund manager Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) has given reasonable suspicion that he’s guilty of insider trading. But U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhodes (Paul Giamatti) is hesitant at first to go after Axelrod, because “Axe” is the not only the biggest financial fish in the sea, but also Rhodes is incredibly conceited about his 81-0 prosecution record, and doesn’t want to see it tarnished.
Eventually he gets bullied into considering it, after a leftist reporter attacks him at a news conference:
**WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE** (Again...this is Showtime)
Rhodes: Once again, over 400 Kilos of cocaine, dozens of weapons seized, $2.8 million off the streets in this takedown. All defendants have been indicted and are also off the streets. All right. Thanks, guys.
Reporter: You're proud about small-time convictions of small-time players...Uneducated minorities with limited options. What about the hundreds of millions -- billions -- in fraudulent gains in the financial sector? Why aren't you prosecuting the investment banks and hedge funds for insider trading? You're bragging about netting minnows, but you won't touch a firm like axe capital.
Rhodes: My office is soft on financial crime. Go ask the 81 convicted felons of financial crimes currently serving time. But you have a very specific conflict of interest right in your own home. Growing up, I saw firsthand the corrosive power that big business can have, and I am determined to check that. Take Skip Wolkowska. Now, he has many influential friends, but their entreaties on his behalf were not entertained. As your own paper reported, Mr. Wolkowska will serve his full sentence, effective immediately. That's all the time I really have. Thanks. Who let the f*cking journal in with the blindsided questions?
Apparently, depriving gangsters of guns and drugs, with which they can then turn around and kill or poison minority kids, is not as big a deal as cracking down on the “corrosive power” of the guy who finds out the Florida winter freeze will adversely affect the orange crop and sells his shares.
But that’s what this show is. Bobby Axelrod’s tone, inflection, and accent is all Donald Trump. It’s a show dedicated to promoting the caricature of the “Robber Baron.”
In fact, Billions can’t even offer a fleeting defense of achievers without quickly reminding the viewer that “achiever” is really just slang for “slime ball,” as Axe defends himself and then throws an innocent competitor to the media wolves:
**WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE**
Axe: When did it become a crime to succeed in this country? America used to salute the guy in the limousine. They wanted to be the guy in the limousine. They still want to. But now they throw eggs at it.
Reporter: I only ever went egging once. Biggest house in the neighborhood, and they never gave out any candy, so they deserved it. We destroyed that place.
Axe: Once? You're an altar boy. That was every Halloween for me. You're from around here, right?
Reporter: Yeah, Grand Concourse. Then White Plains.
Axe: Yeah, me too. Well, Yonkers, but it wasn't nice back then.
Reporter: Hey, man, Yonkers used to be a place where you could really get your ass kicked.
Axe: You're a good kid for a f*cking Hack.
Reporter: And you're a good guy for a Bankster.
Axe: All right, f*ck it. I wasn't gonna give you this, but you're here for a story and now I like you, so...Steven Birch.
Reporter: Piedmont Capital.
Axe: Yeah. That swap deal he did on Arcadian Railroad... The timing is very curious.
Reporter: What kind of swap?
Axe: I'm not gonna write the article for you. Do an autopsy on the deal, you'll find yourself a Pulitzer in the carcass. Here's my cell. Don't call until the market closes. No voicemail. No e-mail.
Axe: Enjoy your lunch.
In other words, although entertaining, this show is so original that it has combined hardcore sex with greedy, class-warfare overtones and stereotypical “Robber Baron” Wall Street stereotypes.
In other words, it’s not that original.