Billions was so laughably bad that it was irresistible.

The TV Club, 2016

Billions Was So Laughably Bad That It Was Irresistible

The TV Club, 2016

Billions Was So Laughably Bad That It Was Irresistible
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Talking television.
Dec. 22 2016 12:00 PM

The TV Club, 2016

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Billions was so laughably bad that it was irresistible.

Paul Giamatti in Billions (2016)
Paul Giamatti in Billions.

Showtime Entertainment

Showtime Entertainment

Showtime Entertainment

My people,

Willa, since you started this round by talking about big swings that didn’t quite land, let’s talk about Billions. It was one of only two shows that kept me up past my bedtime because I couldn’t stop hitting “next.” (Orange Is the New Black was the other.) I was living for that Paul Giamatti–Damian Lewis scenery-munching showdown, not to mention Maggie Siff’s and Malin Akerman’s battle of the cold, calculating women. At the same time, I find it almost laughably bad—obvious where it thinks it’s mysterious and shallow where it thinks it’s deep. It works because of that self-deception: When characters spout deep thoughts, it’s clear they really believe they’re blowing minds even when they’re spouting apercus that belong inside a fortune cookie. The show is wrong about its profundity, but it believes in itself, and that sincerity warms my heart, even as the dialogue makes my eyes roll. (Speaking of Billions: A shout out to New York–filmed television’s greatest shape-shifter: Kelly AuCoin, who plays bombastic bigamist “Dollar” Bill Stearn in Billions and a man I can’t believe is still alive on The Americans, Pastor Tim.)

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This was the year of the dog that didn’t bark or the complaints that didn’t come (as far as I noticed). Middle-aged women got abortions on two CW dramedies—Xiomara on Jane the Virgin and Paula on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend—and the world kept on turning. Then Younger and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend talked about “period sex” without the nation’s television sets self-destructing. Will CXG’s habit of winning awards keep it alive when its terrible ratings would typically spell doom? God, I hope so. Prime time needs more filthy-dirty, funny songs and way more lead characters whose spouting of gender studies buzzwords is both amusing and right on.

Speaking of Friday nights, since Syfy has gotten so much love from Todd and Pilot, let me gush about my favorite space opera, Killjoys. It’s about bounty hunters who hop from planet to planet apprehending perps, and as entertaining as those weekly adventures are, relationships are where the show excels. Even when the focus is on the core three-person team—ass-kicking Dutch and buddy and sometimes lover, respectively, John and D’avin Jaqobis—they still manage to work through romantic relationship, friendship, and sibling issues. Add their friends, exes, confusing father figures, and sworn enemies, and it’s the dishiest, quippiest, sexiest Canadian soap opera since Degrassi.

Thanks for helping me to remember the great shows of 2016—and for adding a few to my to-watch list. Peak TV can leave viewers feeling like Jon Snow in “Battle of the Bastards,” overwhelmed and unable to breathe as the unwatched episodes pile up on your DVR. But really it’s a joy to watch.

Did we talk enough about Last Man Standing?

June

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.