'Billy & Billie': These step-siblings have bite

'Billy & Billie': These step-siblings have bite
Adam Brody and Lisa Joyce star in the DirecTV series "Billy & Billie. (Rob Latour / Invision / AP)

It's the same old story: Two disaffected young New Yorkers get drunk, have sex and the next morning it's a lot of awkward small talk, dancing around the real issue and never wanting to appear too willing to lay one's real feelings on the table.

At first it appears that's all that "Billy & Billie," the new series debuting Tuesday on the Audience Network, has in mind. Adam Brody is the guy, Billy, and Lisa Joyce is the girl, Billie, and at first blush all their "what did we just do and how can we avoid actually dealing with" talk seems a bit tiresome. But then you learn two things: One, this series is from writer-director Neil LaBute, so even when the terrain is familiar, it's still littered with rough patches; and two, Billy and Billie are step-siblings.

Though the show is being promoted based on this incestuous premise, the issue isn't ever said aloud until the very end of the first episode. A curious decision to hold back on the goods in an increasingly cluttered scripted cable landscape.

But no matter, the dialogue, as written by LaBute, is as sharp as anything he has done previously onstage or the big screen. And the characters are just as nasty to each other as ever.

Billy is a magazine writer for the lifestyle magazine Chisel and Billie is an illustrator and when the series begins, they've just reconnected at their parents' marriage renewal ceremony. Really reconnected. They may not have spoken much in a few years, but they made up for lost time in a big hurry.

While Billy is reserved and emotionally remote, his step-sister is a big raw nerve of bluster and insecurity. Of the two, Billie's tale is the more dramatic and therefore the more fun to watch.

This is LaBute's third series for DirecTV's Audience Network, following "Full Circle" and "Ten X Ten," and his second with Brody, but the real breakout star here is Joyce, whose intense nonchalance is a perfect way to mask the swirling feelings inside.

Despite the sitcom-like premise, "Billy & Billie" largely avoids the kind of wacky shenanigans or shock gags seen in something like a Farrelly brothers production. They produced the film "Say It Isn't So," which trod similar ground back in 2001.

Instead, what LaBute is doing is akin to a stage play, a series of largely static scenes taking place in bedrooms and diners across Manhattan, with each scene set off with a typewritten slug line, even further reinforcing the "written" aspect of the series.

And though the laughs may come through gritted teeth and a pained wince, they are there. It's an enjoyable series, at least for the three episodes available for review. Just don't expect these two to have a happy ending.

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