‘Billions’ Reviewer: Season 6 returns to its original formula without sharpening an axe

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With the dumping of one of its main characters, the Showtime drama has essentially hit the reset button and returned to its outline, pitting an aggressive prosecutor against an equally cantankerous billionaire financier. However, season six also emphasizes the entire billionaire class, in a more focused look at income inequality and all that goes with it.

The surprise departure of Damian Lewis as Bobby “Axe” Axelrod left a hole in the show that was cleverly filled by Corey Stoll as Mike Prince, the rival who effectively outstripped Ax and took control of his company, sending shockwaves through the entire organization sent.

But Prince achieved that victory with the help of New York Attorney General Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) only to dupe him and rob him of the high-profile conviction he was desperate to secure.

Never one to shy away from a fight, Rhoades has naturally moved on to fighting Prince, while Prince must go through the process of swallowing a group of dogged high-flyers revered at the altar of Ax and viewing him with understandable skepticism.

Both of these scenarios unleash a whole lot of inherent drama, in a way that has reinvigorated a show that, frankly, was a little stale. The storytelling suddenly feels tighter, driven in part by the return to a Clash of Titans backbone.

“Billions” also benefits from the sharpness of its writing style, which discards lines that reference movies like “Trading Places,” presents alpha males who bond over Harry Chapin’s song “Cats in the Cradle,” and Chuck gives lines like, referring to his public admission that he’s been in a domination-submission relationship, “No more skeletons in my closet to shake. Just let them try to tip me.”

The new season works in some amusing cameos, one capitalizing on Prince’s love of using basketball philosophy to motivate troops (he’s a big fan of coach John Wooden’s pyramid of success), and another involving journalist Olivia Nuzzi from the real Life is involved with the threat of a harmful leak dangling over someone’s head.

After starting out scorching hot, the Billions star has cooled and (rightly) been eclipsed by Succession as the standard-bearer for premium TV investigations of the rich and powerful.

Nonetheless, Rhoades’ campaign against a city ruled by a “cabal of billionaires” and his rant against “plutocrats” put the “trillions” kind of hanger from “Hold” back into the “strong buy” column.

“Billions” begins its sixth season on January 23 at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.

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