Showtime gives us drama twists by the billions

During the rare, blessed times when cable gives us something for free, it tries to show off its best stuff. Now it's Showtime's turn, with a free weekend Jan. 15-17 ... and this time, it definitely has good stuff. The movies "Imitation Game" and "St. Vincent" are first-rate, but the real gem is "Billions," debuting at 10 p.m. Sunday. I have zero interest (or less, if possible) in Wall Street, and I don't even pretend to understand the characters' techno-speak. But I love great drama and the "Billions" episodes I've seen -- six so far -- are terrific. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA -- As our techno-TV
world gets more complicated – and more expensive – there are
temporary pauses.

One is coming now:
“We're making Showtime available to over 70 million households for
a free preview weekend,” said David Nevins, the channel's

That's on most cable
systems Friday through Sunday (Jan. 15-17). It's a stretch that was
chosen to display the channel at its busiest, led by the “Billions”
debut. At night, it has:

-- Movies at 8 p.m.
Friday (Bill Murray's quirky comedy-drama “St.Vincent”) and
Saturday (the Oscar-nominated “Imitation Game”).

-- Boxing, with
Deontay Wilder defending his WBC heavyweight title against Artur
Szpilka at 10 p.m. Saturday.

-- “Shameless,”
the ragged comedy-drama. It reruns its sixth-season opener at 8 and
10 p.m. Friday, then has the second episode at 9 p.m. Sunday.

-- “The Circus,”
a weekly look at the political season. It startts at 8 and 8:30 p.m.

-- And “Billions.”
It debuts at 10 p.m. Sunday, with Wall Street titans colliding.

On one side is the
district attorney, who keeps putting people away for insider trading.
“I actually looked at this guy and thought, 'Wow, I play the guy
who wins a lot,'” Paul Giamatti said.

And on the other is
Bobby Axelrod, a Wall Street trader who may be unbeatable.

“Bobby is a
blue-collar guy who ... lives by a code of honor, a set of street
rules, if you like,” said Damian Lewis, who plays him. He's from
“communities where loyalty is fiercely protected and people are
dispatched with ruthlessly.”

His wife shares
those roots. “The money wasn't given to them,” said Malin
Akerman, who plays her. “And they fight fiercely for it.”

This may remind
viewers of Lewis' “Wolf Hall” role last year, as an English king,
battling a sharp lawyer. “The defining difference ... is that Henry
VIII was born into quite a lot of power,” Lewis said.

And power is
something these characters lust for. “You think about money,”
said Andrew Sorkin, a “Billions” producer. “But I think, at
some level, it's as much about power and really about pride.”

Sorkin knows that
turf; he's a financial reporter whose “Too Big to Fail” book
traced the Wall Street collapse. Now he has two very big forces who
assume they're too big for failure.