Lunchtable TV Talk: Billions

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We got rid of Nicholas Brody in Homeland, which could not have come sooner. It saved Homeland, and in exchange, we got Damian Lewis as self-made billionaire and financial wizard/criminal Bobby Axelrod in Billions. (FYI: Lewis is okay, but he is the least interesting thing about the show.) Is Billions great, on par with lauded fare like Mad Men or Breaking Bad? No. But is it interesting? Yeah, more than marginally. We get Malin Åkerman, who was so mercilessly set adrift after Trophy Wife was canceled, and she is unexpectedly fantastic as Lara, the bitchy, cutthroat, scheming, fiercely loyal wife of Bobby. We also get doses of Maggie Siff, who is always great (Mad Men, Nip/Tuck, Sons of Anarchy), as Wendy Rhoades, the person who is actually closest to Bobby, who has worked for him for an eternity and kept him “sane”, and who happens to be (improbably) married to the man who has made it his life’s mission to destroy Bobby. That man is US Attorney Chuck Rhoades, played by Paul Giamatti, who is also always great, especially because he does fundamentally unlikable and complicated so well. His role here is no different, even if his character’s more stubborn than a dog with a bone – so hellbent on some kind of twisted sense of justice that he will let it destroy his marriage, his peace of mind, possibly his career and sanity, taking along with it his entire life and everything he values (taking a page from Les Misérables’s Inspector Javert, chasing this “villain” for his entire life – villain or no, the moral of the story – since there always is one – is that he only hurts himself in his dogged and endless pursuit).

There are other stories, characters, actors here, but there four form the real core of the show, what drives it forward and what keeps me watching. The rivalry between Bobby and Chuck – the stupid bravado driving both forward with what seem petty motivations in many cases, and the damage this does to everyone around them – from colleagues and employees to their families and loved ones – is the real driving force of the show. Also why I will continue to consume another season when it returns.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Bradley Whitford, TV’s Everywhere Man

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Thanks to my curiosity and love for connecting the dots, I discovered a recurring column on The AV Club website that features interviews with actors and pops questions to them about random roles they have played. I stumbled first onto the Bradley Whitford column because, while I had seen a steady Whitford presence on TV for years, lately he suddenly appeared everywhere in almost everything I was watching: the canceled-too-early Trophy Wife, the delightful and poignant Transparent, the acerbic and churlish HAPPYish, the hilarious Brooklyn Nine-Nine and satirical Alpha House. I don’t much need to highlight his presence in The West Wing or its short-lived Aaron Sorkin follow-up Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

A number of other actors turn up in these random role articles – some favorites, like Allison Janney – and others who turn up positively everywhere but whose real names elude me but whose faces show up everywhere. Bradley Whitford is not exactly one of those name-on-tip-of-tongue guys, especially because his roles, however small, hold such sway. His cynical realist role in HAPPYish, in particular, has been a perfect foil for Steve Coogan and exactly the counterbalance needed. Even in a guest role, such as playing Jake Peralta’s absent asshole father in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, is winning. Same applies for Whitford’s role in Transparent. It’s not big, but he makes the memorable most of it. This is why I love Mr Whitford and hope he keeps popping up everywhere. (News flash: while I was writing this I happened to be watching the film CBGB – and who appears out of nowhere? Bradley Fucking Whitford! Was not expecting that. Or his Trophy Wife trophy wife, Malin Akerman as Debbie Harry…)

Scandinavian Women on English-Language TV?

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I wrote up a whole list of Scandinavian male actors who dominate English-language TV but am having trouble thinking of any Scandinavian women on TV at all. And the two who do spring to mind are far

Connie NielsenThe Following / Boss / Law & Order: SVU

Malin Akerman – Trophy Wife / Suburgatory (both RIP)

Connie is Danish but her acting career seems to have been mostly English-language – and Malin was born in Sweden but grew up in Canada.

Who am I missing?