The week in watching: ‘Billions’ at its best, remembering 1969, and a Trump-less roast
Your TV GPS, Globe critic Matthew Gilbert’s guide to what’s on television, appears at the beginning of each week at BostonGlobe.com. Today’s column covers April 22-28.
‘BILLIONS’ AN OPERATIC STUDY OF POWER
Are you watching “Billions”? I’m loving this season, even when the storyline goes over-the-top-of-the-top, which is frequently.
I’ve complained about how absurd the twists can be, and about how unlikely the premise is, since Axe probably wouldn’t have trusted his secrets to his enemy’s wife. But at this point, there’s no reason to look for reality in “Billions”; it’s an operatic study of power, dominance, and submission — in business, in marriage, in friendship, and in government. The writers have given the script an irresistible rhythm, almost like a David Mamet piece, and the editing matches it precisely.
The writers have also wisely determined that, rather than withholding explosive chemistry, it’s time for the show’s parallel leads, Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis, to join forces and repeatedly share scenes. Their characters are unscrupulous together now, rather than against each other, and the result is irresistible fun. Their union has brought a sense that anything can happen in the entire show, that anyone can turn on anyone — and then turn back again. In the transactional world of “Billions,” turning on someone is de rigueur.
And a few wildly unexpected things have indeed happened since the season began, most notably Giamatti’s Chuck coming out publicly as a member of the BDSM community. The show made it clear: Coming out is coming out, with its challenges and its relief, no matter what you’re coming out as.
Meanwhile, Asia Kate Dillon is perfect as the newly empowered Taylor, and the decision to bring in their father, played by Kevin Pollack, and their loyal assistant, played by Samantha Mathis, was right. These new characters enable us to see more of Taylor, despite the poker face. As Taylor plays with morality in their war against Axe Capital, we see that they are vulnerable, too, when they go with emotion instead of logic. I love it that even when Lewis’s Axe is badmouthing Taylor, his new enemy, he never intentionally messes up the pronouns.
WHAT I’M WATCHING THIS WEEK
1. I’ve seen a few episodes of HBO’s new eight-part miniseries “Gentleman Jack,” and it’s — chef’s kiss — a treat. It’s the fact-based story of Anne Lister, a 19th-century lesbian who wrote diaries largely in code about her sexual affairs and her one true love. Played brilliantly by Suranne Jones, Anne is a practical, powerful, worldly landowner who breaks every gender rule in her town and insists on having a meaningful love life despite the impediments. It’s a brisk, smart production created by Sally Wainwright, the creator of “Happy Valley” and “Last Tango in Halifax.” It premieres Monday at 10 p.m.
2. In case you haven’t realized it yet, we are currently in a Baby Boomer sweet spot: The 50th anniversary of the year 1969, when all kinds of historic events occurred. (Warning: This summer, Woodstock think pieces will be coming at you fast and furiously.) ABC is on board for the celebration with a six-episode docu-series called “1969,” about the year and its many dramas, from the Manson murders and the Chappaquiddick scandal to Stonewall. It premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m.
3. CNN is hosting a town-hall-apalooza for a few of the many Democrats who’ve announced a run for the presidency, which doesn’t include Joe Biden, who has yet to utter the words. The channel will feature five candidates in back-to-back town halls on Monday.
• 7 p.m.: Senator Amy Klobuchar, with moderator Chris Cuomo.
• 8 p.m.: Senator Elizabeth Warren, with Anderson Cooper.
• 9 p.m.: Senator Bernie Sanders, with Cuomo.
• 10 p.m.: Senator Kamala Harris, with Don Lemon.
• 11 p.m.: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, with Cooper.
4. On Saturday at 8 p.m., HBO is airing three hours of the “2019 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.” This year’s inductees are Stevie Nicks (presented by Harry Styles, who sings “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with her), Radiohead (David Byrne), Janet Jackson (Janelle Monae), Def Leppard (Brian May), The Cure (Trent Reznor), Roxy Music (John Taylor and Simon Le Bon), and The Zombies (Susanna Hoffs). The traditional all-star jam at the end includes Steve Van Zandt, Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter, May, Hoffs, and members of the Zombies and Def Leppard.
5. Ava DuVernay and Greg Berlanti are executive producers on the new eight-episode drama “The Red Line.” It’s about three Chicago families whose lives intersect after the mistaken shooting of an unarmed black doctor by a white cop. The cast includes Noah Wyle as the grieving husband of the murdered doctor, Aliyah Royale as their daughter, and Noel Fisher — who broke through with his remarkable work as Mickey on “Shameless” — as the offending cop. It’s on CBS on Sunday at 8 p.m.
6. Uma, Netflix. Netflix, Uma. The actress is in a new Netflix series called “Chambers,” which is about a heart transplant recipient in Arizona who is haunted by bizarre visions and dark impulses. What to do? Dig up the truth behind her young donor’s mysterious death. Sivan Alyra Rose is the recipient, Thurman and Tony Goldwyn play the dead girl’s parents. It’s available Friday.
7. Enemies of the people might be particularly interested in this tribute to reporters and photographers who go to all lengths to cover stories. On Monday at 9 p.m., Starz is airing the 2018 documentary “Under the Wire,” which tells the tragic tale of war correspondent Marie Colvin, who lost her life covering the Syrian government’s brutal 2012 siege of the city of Homs. It has a very solid 75 on Metacritic.
There are seven 15-or-so-minute episodes in this comedy about a dominatrix who gets her gay BFF to help in her sessions. Netflix, Wednesday
After a two-year break, Pierce Brosnan is back for the second and final season. AMC, Saturday, 9 p.m.
“Being Mary Jane”
At long last, a two-hour series-finale movie. BET, Tuesday, 8 p.m.
The series finale jumps ahead 10 years. Fox, Thursday, 8 p.m.
An American entrepreneur becomes a drug lord in Mexico to protect his family in this Mexican series. Netflix, Friday
A new episode unfolds in real time, on the order of “24.” NBC, Thursday, 9 p.m.
DON’T WORRY, BEE HAPPY
The real White House Correspondents’ Dinner is on Saturday, and there will not be a comic this year, after Michelle Wolf offended a few people on both sides last year for her jokes about Sarah Sanders, who was in attendance.
“She burns facts then uses that ash to create the perfect smoky eye” was one of the lines that raised hackles — a line that, despite its reference to Sanders’s appearance, has only gained in truth since the release of the Mueller report. The keynote at this year’s event, which you can watch on C-Span 1 on Saturday at 9:30 p.m.: Historian and author Ron Chernow.
But fear not, viewers seeking a well-done D.C. roast: Samantha Bee is hosting her second “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” which will air Saturday night at 10 on TBS. Taped this coming Friday in D.C., Bee’s dinner will benefit the Committee to Protect Journalists, as it did the first time around, in 2017.
“I think journalism is in peril and the First Amendment is in peril,” Bee recently told Rolling Stone about the event. “It behooves us to have another party and speak truth to power and give [President] Trump the roast he deserves. The whole point is that the president is supposed to sit there, one night per year, and have someone say jokes to his face. That’s his job — or hers, someday in the future. Just sit there and take it for 20 minutes. That’s the social contract we’ve all signed.”