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dimanche 17 mars 2019

The Rundown: Oh Heck Yeah, It’s ‘Billions’ Time, Baby


The Rundown is a weekly column that highlights some of the biggest, weirdest, and most notable events of the week in entertainment. The number of items will vary, as will the subject matter. It will not always make a ton of sense. Some items might not even be about entertainment, to be honest, or from this week. The important thing is that it’s Friday and we are here to have some fun.

ITEM NUMBER ONE — The boys are back in town

Oh heck yeah, it is Billions time again, baby. The Showtime series about despicable hedge fund boys and the morally bankrupt government officials who are chasing them is back for a fourth season this weekend. I’m so amped up about it. I love this show so much. It’s a little messy and very fast and I hate every character on the show and you can put it all straight into my veins. You know how you feel about Game of Thrones? That’s how I feel about Billions. Billions of Thrones. I don’t know how I should feel about that but I stand by it.

I’m not joking about hating every character on the show. Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) is a sociopath who will trample anyone or anything if it means making a single extra dollar. Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) is a goon who will do the same for a conviction. They’re flip sides of the same coin, really, one a broken wealthy man who came from nothing and fills the hole in his soul with money, the other a broken public servant who came from wealth and fills the hole in his soul with influence. I’d happily spit on both of them if I saw them on the street.

I also love them. Look at the way Axe drinks water.


Look at Chuck going full Giamatti.


God, they’re so intense and terrible. I must know all of their stories.

It’s not just them, either. Everyone else on the show is a borderline irredeemable jerk, too. Wendy is occasionally the show’s moral center but also seduced Mafee and framed an oncologist to avoid jail time for something she very much did. Wags is a charming heathen and David Costabile is a damn prince but that character would run you off the road if he was late for a Knicks game. Taylor is at least semi-conflicted but is still kind of a jerk. Dollar Bill is a huge jerk. Sacker is a jerk. Connerty is a putz and a try hard but also a jerk. Even Mafee, my sweet gangly boy, is a proud lacrosse doofus who failed his way into a seven-figure finance job, which makes him a jerk by definition. I’m sorry. These are the rules.

In fact, you could make an argument that the only non-jerk on the show is the Russian oligarch played by John Malkovich (John Malkovich is on Billions!), because at least he wears his evil nature with pride.


I’m very sure this character has a name. I am also very sure I will never remember it because Malkovich is just doing the Teddy KGB accent from Rounders and my brain can’t do all the math necessary to keep these things separate.

You know what my favorite thing about Billions is? I’ll tell you. There are exactly two kinds of conversations on the show: ones where two people are trying to ruin each other and ones where two people are conspiring to ruin an off-screen third party. It’s delightful. Sometimes the people they’re ruining are innocent civilians, too. Or at least as innocent as anyone gets on Billions. At one point in the show’s run, Wags leaked a lawyer’s affair to the New York Post just so he could swoop in and steal a burial plot from him. At another point, the entire trading floor whooped into a rowdy cheer upon seeing a rocket explode during launch, because they had shorted the SpaceX-style private company that bankrolled it.

Pretty rough, huh? Well, get this: Those two points I mentioned were separated by about 11 minutes of screen time. They were in the same episode! And the fake Elon Musk who ran the fake SpaceX, the character who blew up and died in the explosion, was played by James Wolk, who played Bob Benson on Mad Men and Jackson Oz on my beloved Zoo. Some kind of career that guy has. Shoutout to James Wolk.

It’s weird. The people are all awful and their actions are almost relentlessly deplorable. I am personally against everything everyone on the show stands for. And yet, it’s one of my favorite shows. I’m not being tongue-in-cheek, either. Maybe a tiny bit, but that’s it. It’s the same thing I feel when I watch Succession. There’s a voyeuristic quality to it, watching these privileged goons rip each other to pieces. It’s cathartic at times. And fun. And sometimes Paul Giamatti gets wrapped up in leather bondage gear and dominated by his wife, which is a heck of a thing to see if you don’t know it’s coming. And the show moves at about 300mph so there’s not really any time to stop and question your feelings about any of it. Sometimes that’s all I ask for out of a show, you know? Fast mean fun with people I despise. Gimme.

Billions, baby.

ITEM NUMBER TWO — Ahhhhhhh, nuts


Netflix canceled One Day at a Time this week. It sucks for a bunch of reasons, starting with the fact that the show was good and fun and so full of heart it was at constant risk of exploding. The Logic Boys came out in force when it happened, saying things about how the show didn’t make money and how it was owned by a non-Netflix entity and therefore was more expensive to keep around. They were just generally being the worst about it all, as the Logic Boys will do. Sometimes things still suck even when there are justifiable reasons for it. Be quiet. We’re grieving.

Netflix did not help matters with this.

Or this.

The sentiment here is very off. “It’s very important to tell these stories and to make people feel represented by art but only if it’s profitable for us, the multibillion-dollar behemoth that is handing out nine-figure deals to every showrunner under the sun and greenlighting 40-50 new show a week.” Come on, guy. You don’t get to have it both ways here. You either get to be the bean-counting Billions villain who axes the poor-performing but beloved show or you can be the bleeding heart who chooses to keep the show afloat as a loss leader for sentimental reasons. Doing it this way backfired and kicked dirt in people’s eyes a bit. It could have gone better.

I admit that we can all get a little silly about canceled shows. Sometimes a show you like goes away and it’s generally better to just roll with the punches because it’ll probably happen again soon enough. And One Day at a Time got three full seasons out there that aren’t going away, which is nothing to sneeze at. The Leftovers only got three seasons, too, you know? There are tiny silver linings in there if you wanna poke around for them. Mostly it just sucks, though, and no amount of logic is changing that today.

ITEM NUMBER THREE — Matthew McConaughey’s emails are exactly like you think they are

Getty Image

If you have access to Getty’s archive of photos, or know someone who has a login and a generous spirit (not me), I really must recommend diving back in time to look at pictures of the pre-McConaissance Matthew McConaughey. There are so many pictures of him at the beach, many of them with Lance Armstrong. This one above is probably my favorite. Your first instinct upon looking at it is probably that he’s doing a push-up. Fair, reasonable. But let me put this little worm in your brain: What if he’s whispering words of encouragement to the sand? It’s at least as likely. Especially given this next thing I’m about to show you, which was actually the reason I dove back into the picture archive anyway.

From a GQ profile of Harmony Korine, who just got done directing McConaughey in the upcoming film, Beach Bum.

Korine’s new film, The Beach Bum, stars Matthew McConaughey as a poet named Moondog—a guy not unlike McConaughey’s Dazed and Confused character, if that character had moved to Key West and discovered acid, typewriters, and the freeing powers of matching short sets patterned from top to bottom in flames. The film is less a linear narrative than a character study, an extended hang with an extraordinary man. In an e-mail, McConaughey told me, “Moondog’s a verb. A folk poet. A character in a Bob Dylan song dancing through life’s pleasure and pain knowing every interaction is another ‘note’ in the tune of his life. His bliss of being high, hammered and freshly fucked, he’d rather shoot the lock than use the key. Not interested in the truth, he is inconsiderately ruthless in his quest for transcendence.”

This is perfect. The man is this way all the time, even in text-based communication. It’s incredible. Someone give me Matthew McConaughey’s email address. I am not joking. If you have it, give it to me. I want to send him so many questions. Simple ones. I want to ask him if he likes French fries and get an 800-word reply that refers to potatoes as “the noble spud.” I want to ask him what wireless company he uses and get a long anecdote about an eagle instead of an answer. It’s not fair. Why don’t I have Matthew McConaughey’s email address? Ugggghhhh, come on, give it to me!

ITEM NUMBER FOUR — Operation Varsity Blues is like oxygen to me

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Man, look. I am usually a huge softy when it comes to these types of things. I sit here and twist myself into a pretzel about it all, how there are real people involved who are hurting and deserve a chance to defend themselves before we all rush to judgment. I tsk-tsk the online pile-on. I am, for better or worse, that guy. Which is why it was very surprising to me that I find Operation Varsity Blues to be completely fascinating and even a little delicious. I can’t stop clicking on things, even today, even right now, when I’m supposed to be writing this blurb about it.

What’s your favorite part of it all? Is it the “ruh roh”? Not a lot of people have ruh rohed mail fraud, I bet. Or was it the thing where Lori Loughlin’s daughter was on the yacht of a USC board member when the news broke? Or the photoshopping? I did enjoy the photoshopping. But I think, at this particular moment, my favorite part is that the whole house of cards came tumbling down because a Yale dad turned snitch to avoid a stiff sentence in a pump-and-dump stock scheme. How perfect is that? So perfect. It’s almost too perfect, really. I keep expecting another shoe to drop at some point that ties it all into Our Current Political Situation and vacuum seals the fun right out of it. I’ll be so mad.

Treasure this one, people. It’s been a while since we had a fun, juicy scandal like this, one that does not involve political posturing and the potential end of democracy. There aren’t even any good guys in it to morally conflict you. Because even when you start thinking things like, “I mean, it looks bad, but they were just trying to help their kids and I’m sure it was common enough in their circles that they viewed more like ignoring the speed limit than committing federal crimes,” then you remember that some of them gamed the disability accommodations process to get extra time and the hand-picked proctor who would help the kids cheat, and that feeling floats away.

Give me a 10-part true crime podcast about this and then turn that into a television show. Oh, and a couple of books too. I want it all.

ITEM NUMBER FIVE — 9-1-1 put a shark on the dang freeway

This is a promo for Monday’s season premiere of 9-1-1. Yes, that is a shark attack that takes place on a freeway. Some of you are probably looking at it and thinking, “I can’t believe this show is going to have an episode about a shark attack that takes places on a freeway.” This is an understandable impulse, to think like this. It’s folly, though. The correct response to this clip, which I am qualified to give as one of the nation‘s leading experts on nutty shows where weird things happen a lot, is “Wow, I can’t believe it took this show 21 episodes to get to a shark attack that takes place on a freeway.”

What I’m saying that this kind of thing was never an “if.” It was a “when.” And that when is this Monday night. Congratulations to everyone involved.


If you have questions about television, movies, food, local news, weather, or, like, whatever you want, shoot them to me at and put “RUNDOWN” in the subject line. I am the first writer to ever answer reader mail in a column. Do not look up this last part.


You can greenlight a limited series (one season, 8-10 episodes) about any event from history. From the dawn of time until today. What do you choose, what channel is it on, and who stars in it?

Matthew, this is easy. I greenlight a season of American Crime Story about Watergate and John Travolta stars as Richard Nixon. I have two reasons for this:

  • Watergate is endlessly fascinating to me and I will consume any information about in any format, from All the President’s Men to the Slow Burn podcast to some loon yelling on a street corner about it.
  • I really want to see Travolta as Nixon.

Now I’m mad I don’t actually have this. I want to watch it right now. Dammit, Matthew. Stop toying with my emotions.


To Arizona!

By now, we are all probably aware of the woman who was attacked by a jaguar at the zoo because she got too close to the enclosure while taking a selfie. I hope we are, at least. Go Google it if not. Or just watch the video up there. That’ll get you most of the way there. And when you watch the video, please note what happens around the 0:30 mark, when the woman in question says “I was in the wrong for leaning over the barrier,” but does so in a way that strongly implies there’s a “BUT…” coming, and then goes ahead and says it.

Did you see it?

Did you see the reporter’s reaction?

Here, I’ll isolate it for you.


What an immaculate reaction. Even if I hadn’t shown it to you, even if they never cut to him and just stayed in tight on the lady’s face, I bet this is exactly what you would have pictured anyway. It somehow combines surprise with suspicion with curiosity with borderline disdain. It’s a facial expression that says “Hoo boy, I’m not exactly sure where you’re headed with this one but I’m gonna let you go ahead and get all the way there before I start talking and ruin this moment.” It’s the same face I bet you made when you got to the end of the first sentence of that McConaughey email, the one about Moondog being a verb. It’s also a Hall of Fame reaction GIF that I invite you to save right now and use the next time someone texts you a questionable assertion. Just devastating. My gift to you. You’re quite welcome.

Although I suppose the real credit here goes to the lady who got too close to the jaguar. Without her, none of this is possible. We should throw her a parade.


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