Bobby Axelrod, Master Of Puppets

Last week, Bobby Axelrod wore a Metallica shirt. This week, in ‘Short Squeeze’, we get the real thing. He takes three childhood friends to see James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo play live. His phone, however, hardly ever leaves his hand.

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Deer Hunter
The fourth episode of Billions opens with Axe Capital employee Mick Danzig (Nathan Darrow, House of Cards), walking across his lawn in the middle of the night, drunk, carrying a gun. Not just any gun. A big automatic machine gun, if I had to guess. Those annoying deers, that just eat, shit, repeat, they have to go. So he fires away like that’s the thing you do in a situation like that. He misses. Underneath the scene, Andrew Bird’s nice mellow song ‘Oh No’ is playing. One of the lines that keeps repeating is: ‘Oh, arm in arm, we are the harmless sociopaths’. It’s not long before the police moves in, puts him down. Not long after that, Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) gets a call, who calls Hal (Terry Kinney), who’s got some sort of leverage with the police; Mick’s free to go. Bobby tells him to go to work like nothing happened.

The Trouble With Wendy
That’s it for Mick this week. Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff) gets even less screen time. For some reason, she drives Chuck (Paul Giamatti) to work. She coincidentally spots Pete Decker (Scott Cohen) walking by, and asks her husband about him. She must know these kind of things are off limits in their marriage; that’s one of their rules, to avoid any conflict of interest and displaced loyalties. So why does she ask anyway? To include her in the episode? It sure seems like it. At the end of ‘Short Squeeze’, Chuck apologizes for pretending not to know what Decker was doing there, and Wendy apologizes for asking. To me, these two meaningless scenes prove my point. Wendy’s got the role of an outsider. She’s not pivotal to the story, so until she does become part of Chuck and Bobby’s cat and mouse game – and she will, at some point – it’s hard to find ways to include her in the episodes (other than putting her high heels on her husband in the bedroom).

Everything But The Girl
Bobby’s out with his longtime friends, one of which is Noah Emmerich (The Americans, White Collar, The Truman Show). And when I say out, I mean out. They’re on a private jet on their way to a Metallica concert. Wow. They’re still together? Apparently so. Most series would just incorporate some live footage, but it looks like they shot the band themselves and the characters were actually there. That’s very cool.
Inside the stadium, a girl (Kerry Bishé, Halt and Catch Fire, Scrubs, Public Morals) starts hitting on Bobby, before and after the show. He respectfully declines. He’s married, and it’s actually ‘a real thing’. A real gentleman he is. I couldn’t help wondering if it was all a setup. Putting him in bed with another woman, in order to blackmail him later. There’s no evidence of that, though (yet), but that’s what this series does. It makes you wonder and anticipate. That’s what good drama is all about.

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Glitch
Meanwhile, Chuck and Bryan (Toby Leonard Moore, Daredevil, The Pacific) are grilling Decker. The man doesn’t know much. He’s never been part of Bobby’s inner circle. He explains the day-to-day business of Bobby Axelrod, which is something other shows would’ve done right away. In the pilot. With a voiceover, if need be. Not Billions. Time to give detailed information about the inner workings of Axe Capital comes when it’s the appropriate time in the story. People say this series doesn’t know what it’s doing, but it knows exactly what it’s doing.

I’m sorry about that. It seems like we suffered a minor Marco Rubio Glitch right there.

Decker shares what he knows, but it’s even less than Chuck was hoping for. He does give up one name: Bill Stearn. A tiny lead to push the case forward. I thought it’d be a long term thing, but the mole inside Chuck’s office – Tara Mohr (Annapurna Sriram, South of Hell) – is discovered. Another great move by Kate Sacher (Condola Rashad). Tara confesses and Chuck makes a play, trying to flush out Mr. Blackmail, but Hal’s smart enough not to bite. Bobby’s feeling the heat, coming from all sides – Chuck’s father (Jeffrey DeMunn) is also actively going after him – and tells his right hand man Mike Wagner (David Costabile) to subtly ‘sell everything’. Everything? Everything. This way, everybody will think he’s out of the game. I’m sure he’ll remain master of puppets.

Blindspot: Pilot

The fall pilot season has finally come, with more new shows than you can count. We already took a look at FOX’s Minority Report (and hated it), today it’s NBC’s Blindspot. They’ve built this series using all the cool ideas from all the shows that came before.

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Recap Blender
It’s not an adaptation, sequel, or reimagining of anything, but it comes close. Blindspot has been constructed with the leftover parts of 24, Prison Break, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Kyle XY, Alias, FlashForward, Numb3rs, American Odyssey, John Doe, The Blacklist and so on and so on. It’s like watching an hour long recap of the last fifteen years of television drama, but it is a coherent recap. It’s not fragmental; it’s got a clear concept. It doesn’t feel like the writers have been consciously picking their favorite action series ideas, just for the sake of putting them in their new show. It’s more like they came up with a simple concept into which they could organically incorporate familiar action series elements.

The Concept
So what’s that concept all about? Think Michael Scofield who suffers from total memory loss, teaming up with Jack Bauer, deciphering Riddler-esque clues, running all over town (New York City) like John McClane, to stop a bomb/madman, while unknowingly being followed by a mysterious looking guy, who seems to know everything.
Actually, that could’ve been the precise pitch creator Martin Gero (Stargate: Atlantis, Bored to Death, The L.A. Complex) gave to NBC.

The Beatles
Jane Doe, the female Scofield, is played by Jaimie Alexander (Kyle XY, Thor, The Brink). Tattooed all over, she’s dropped in the middle of Times Square, inside a sports bag. Her amnesia’s pretty extensive. She can barely remember what ‘music’ is. Imagine waking up with no memory and having to go through the complete Beatles anthology.
That’d be awesome.
But no, in Blindspot there isn’t any room for the positive aspects to having no past; everyone’s deadly serious about triggering Jane’s memory – and even more about what her tattoos mean.

Kurt Weller, FBI
The biggest one is on her back, saying ‘KURT WELLER FBI’. When she meets Weller (Sullivan Stapleton, Strike Back), they don’t recognize each other. They’ve never met before. It’s clear somebody wanted her at the FBI, and the first clue to why is behind her left ear. A date and address in Chinese. Luckily, the date’s today and the location’s right there in New York City, so Jane, Kurt and two other agents, Tasha (Audrey Esparza, Public Morals, Black Box) and Ramirez (Rob Brown, Treme), are on their way.
In charge at the Bureau, is Bethany Mayfair, who’s played by Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Broadchurch, Private Practice, Without a Trace). It’s not the easiest thing to pull off, being the head of a special unit. We’ve seen many actors fail at figures of authority (for example Mykelti Williamson in the 8th season of 24), but Marianne Jean-Baptiste has got a fierce, tough, CCH Pounder-like quality to her.
Also, Sullivan Stapleton is great in the male lead as Weller. He’s got the right amount of tough- and seriousness; we sure were in need of one of those again. Him being serious, without any wisecracking, actually feels like a breath of fresh air . There’s no weak link on the show – so far. Jaimie Alexander’s doing a perfect job, portraying the woman who, at the end of the Pilot, does get a few glimpses of her pre-sports bag era.

The Wildest Possible Theories
The address leads the team to somebody who wants to blow up the Statue of Liberty. Jane discovers she’s got bad ass fighting skills, she also shoots the bad guy, bad guy gets killed in the hospital by Mystery Man #1 (Johnny Whitworth, The 100) and it’s on to the next tattoo-clue on her body, come episode 2.
There is a lot of mystery surrounding the plot of the show, and that could potentially be its downfall. Viewers are going to be guessing – the wildest possible theories – and when the truth is finally revealed, it might not be as exciting as all the options people came up with while watching. We’ve seen it with LOST, a couple of seasons of 24, the fourth season of Prison Break, so Blindspot had better be very careful, peeling off its layers. But right now, judging by the Pilot, this show’s definitely going to find an audience. It will, however, get steep competition next week from another new show with a female action heroine lead, namely Quantico. Despite the fact the two series will air on different nights (Quantico, starring Priyanka Chopra, will air on Sundays), the audience might choose one over the other anyway.

Public Morals: Family is Family

‘Nobody gives me any shit’, is the first thing Rusty (Neal McDonough, Arrow, Mob City, Band of Brothers, Boomtown) says and he’s not kidding. Apart from picking out guns, he’s not afraid to use them, too, coldblooded.

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Reversed Typecasting
Some actors get typecast as the villain, bad guy, terrorist, mobster and any kind of other scum of the earth, and have made a career out of it. Their looks just make them the perfect antagonists. The odd thing is, Neal McDonough’s looks don’t exactly say ‘I am a bad man’; he comes across as a sympathetic guy, actually. Still, more often than not he’s cast as amoral businessmen, gunslingers and psychopaths. On Public Morals, Rusty tries to be smart, tactical, restrained, but fails in every department.

A Kaleidoscopic Inside Look
We’re dealing with the aftermath of the murder of crime boss Mr. O (Timothy Hutton). Terry (Edward Burns) tries to put the pieces together. His uncle had a lot of enemies, so the list of suspects is a long one. The investigation is at the heart of the episode, but then again, it’s not.
Public Morals has a way of luring you into its house and showing you every room, in a nice, welcoming manner. It’s what many other shows easily get wrong, but Burns’ personal intertwined cop and mob family project hits all the right notes. A kaleidoscopic inside look into every corner of Terry’s family, the Public Morals Division and many, many more characters – all played by terrific, seasoned actors – is a recipe for boredom (it’s extremely hard to pull off a show with such a big ensemble cast, and make every storyline evenly interesting), but the series offers so much in pace, tone, dialogue, camera work, direction and art direction, that it’s a feast for one’s eyes.

A Romantic Take
This show makes the Beetle car look like the coolest thing you could ever drive. Also, when did we stop wearing hats like that? The way the houses, bars and police precincts are furnished and lit. The way men and women dress, in general. The other cars, the music. The way children are brought up, fair and just. The series must be a highly romantic version of the 1960s, but I love it.

The Would-Be Witness
Rusty’s killed Mr. O and tells Joe Patton (Brian Dennehy, Dynasty, Rambo: First Blood, Romeo + Juliet), the guy presumably at the very top of the mob food chain, he’s going to take care of it. The Robin to his Batman is Tommy Red (Fredric Lehne, American Horror Story, the pilot on Con Air and the marshall escorting Kate on LOST). His first idea is to cook up a witness. A witness who saw nothing. They rehearse the story he’s going to have to sell to the police, but can’t tell it straight – and gets strangled by Rusty.

Suzie
Then, he pays a visit to the only real witness. The hooker who ‘saw the whole thing’, Suzie (Erin Darke), who’s just about to leave town, but then Rusty appears outside of her house. I would’ve sworn Suzie was played by Jennifer Lawrence. The heavy makeup and Darke’s physique make her almost identical to Lawrence’s part in American Hustle.
When Rusty offers her a ride to the train station (but we all know that’s the one place he’s not going to take her), she blurts out she’s not going to tell a soul about what happened. Without a second thought, he shoots her, then and there, on the sidewalk, and leaves her lying there.
(I’m not sure about his reasoning, but I guess she needs to be found by the cops next week, to drive the story forward.)

Binoculars
The show really stands out in the way it’s shot. There are long shots, the camera moves very organically through a scene, the colors – even though there are lots of different brown tones – are spectacular, maybe there’s a bit too much darkness around the edges of the frame, as if we’re watching through binoculars, but other than that, the image alone makes for a greatly entertaining hour of television.

Guest Stars
Another thing that shouldn’t go unmentioned, is the short scene between Terry and his father Mike (Peter Gerety, The Wire, The Job, Brotherhood, Brothers & Sisters, Sneaky Pete and the 1996 comedy called… Public Morals). It’s a very mature, lovingly, realistic conversation between a grown man and his dad, both being their own man, able to talk about whatever issues they used to have in the past.
Okay, maybe not so realistic, but a father and his son, treating each other as equals, you don’t see that very often in drama series.
Speaking of guest stars, Mr. O’s widow’s played by Michele Hicks (whom we all know as Shane Vendrell’s irrational wife Mara). Harry Hardware, a character who seems to have his fingers in a lot of Hell’s Kitchen pies, is played by Al Sapienza (Person of Interest, Brotherhood, Mikey Palmice on The Sopranos and Philly Falzone on Prison Break).

Public Morals: A Fine Line

There’s a lot on the line for Edward Burns, with his new TNT show Public Morals. Indeed, his show, because he created, wrote and directed it. Assembled a bunch of terrific actors to go back to the 1960s with him, found a network to back it up, and even got Steven Spielberg involved (as executive producer, which, we all know, means he’s not very involved at all, but still: Steven Spielberg).

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The Business of Comfort
It’s fair to say TNT has lost the game against USA. It’s hard to say exactly why, but TNT does seem to have an affection for easygoing, middle of the road product. People should be able to watch their series and stay comfortable in their seats, while USA isn’t afraid to put you right on the edge of it. Public Morals certainly falls in the former category, but that doesn’t disqualify it; staying comfortably in your seat can be a nice thing.

Breathe
The show’s got a resemblance to TNT’s short-lived, quickly-aired Mob City, but that’s just because of the time period, men in suits, hats, and Robert Knepper (Prison Break, Heroes), as well as Burns himself. All in all, it looks great. No funny business with sepia tones or abysmal lighting, like The Astronaut Wives Club and especially Aquarius. The series is perfectly lit, dressed and designed, with a director on board who knows what he’s doing and takes his time, which enables the show to breathe.

The Gap
Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan, 15 Minutes, Confidence) came up about the same time Ben Affleck went down. He counted as the perfect Affleck substitute, the pretty boy leading man everybody was looking for. But while Hollywood was way too occupied trying to fit Affleck the square into a round shape, Burns was never called back. He could’ve easily filled the gap left by the pumped up image of Affleck, but it just never happened.
He may not have wanted to, decided to sharpen his craft as writer and director. And now there’s Public Morals, the accumulation of all of his talents.

The Business of Management
The series deals with a New York police department, starring next to Burns and Knepper, Michael Rapaport, Wass Stevens and a young actor who’s going to go far, Patrick Murney. Why? Just a hunch. Prostitution, gambling and alcohol are prohibited. The cops aren’t cops, they’re managers. Donald Trump would be proud. They’re keeping the peace, turning blind eyes, until that peace is broken: a body washes up on the shore with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.

Tasty Dish
That body’s Timothy Hutton (Leverage, Kidnapped, American Crime). Burns has got ‘a few ideas’ who could be behind it. It seems this murder is what sets everything in motion. It’s at the very end of the episode, so what have we been watching for an hour? If the first interesting thing happens right before fading to black, everything that came before must’ve been pretty boring, right? Not right. Public Morals might not serve up an explosive dish, but it’s a tasty one.

Lyndon Smith
There are other storylines woven through Burns’ work and private life, too, but it’s way too soon to tell where they’re all headed. One thing that must be mentioned, though: Lyndon Smith (Parenthood, Extant, 90210) is playing a minor part, and you don’t want to miss her in anything she’s in. She’s the Girl with the Most Amazing Jaw Dropping Hypnotizing Eyes on Television.