‘Angie Tribeca,’ ‘Billions’ and ‘Baskets’ break through the new TV overload

Remember when TV shows premiered in the fall? That new-series smell now wafts over the entire year. As a viewer, it’s hard to keep up if you’re not dedicating your life to watching television.

Fortunately, or disturbingly, many people do dedicate their lives to watching television and reporting back from the trenches. (Or couches in this case.) Here’s a quick look at three fresh entries to the Golden Age of TV overload.

Hayes MacArthur and Rashida Jones star in the absurdist comedy “Angie Tribeca.”
Hayes MacArthur and Rashida Jones star in the absurdist comedy "Angie Tribeca."

“Angie Tribeca” — TBS


From the minds of creators Steve and Nancy Carell comes a show that makes goofy mayhem out of police procedurals. From the opening moments showing detective Angie Tribeca (Rashida Jones) beating her punching bag before moving on to destroy the rest of her apartment, the show is an “Airplane” ride through the precinct and onto the mean-ish streets of L.A. TBS, which ran all 10 first-season episodes on premiere day like a streaming service, has already renewed the series for a second season — or as they put it, 10 more seasons consisting of one episode each. Dorks.

Ups and downs: “One of the keys to the series’ success is its total commitment to the type of world being depicted,” writes Indiewire’s Ben Travers. “We all feel connected to this strange world, and the jokes land because of it.” Brian Lowry of Variety disagrees. “There’s only so far one can go on jokes that feel so well worn.”

Inside scoop: “It’s very dumb,” says star Rashida Jones, and that’s exactly why she signed on. “It’s exactly my type of humor. I love the visual gags, as simple as someone saying, ‘Take a seat’ and you pick up the chair; that stuff always gets me.” For all the rampant silliness, she says, as the straight woman, “I have to do my best to believe all of my circumstances when the nuttiest stuff is happening around me. In a weird way it’s more of an exercise in being a dramatic actor in the face of ridiculousness.”

Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti play a billionaire hedge-fund CEO and the U.S. attorney out to get him, respectively in “Billions.”
Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti play a billionaire hedge-fund CEO and the U.S. attorney out to get him, respectively in "Billions."


“Billions” — Showtime

This could have been called “Moneyballer.” This battle royale between a hedge fund CEO and the U.S. attorney who’s dogging him makes for high drama, created by Brian Koppelman, David Levien and Andrew Ross Sorkin. Damian Lewis plays Bobby Axelrod, who has come by his billions in a variety of shady ways — like everyone else. Paul Giamatti’s Chuck Rhoades is his relentless legal adversary. Wendy (Maggie Siff) is torn between the two, as therapist to the former and wife to the latter, while Lara (Malin Akerman) is the coolest trophy wife Staten Island ever produced.

Ups and downs: “Showtime has found a real winner here,” writes Washington Post critic Hank Stuever; the co-creators “have delivered a compelling and remarkably original story that is filled with florid, entertaining dialogue that ricochets from scene to scene.” But Time’s Daniel D’Addario says, “There’s an empty-calorie feeling here, as spectacle grows less thrilling without insight backing it up.”  

Inside scoop: The clashes between Axelrod and Rhoades make the earth beneath them tremble. “Each guy is so formidable as an opponent for the other that it gets them out of their comfort zone, and they start to make mistakes they wouldn’t ordinarily make against lesser opponents,” says Levien. Somehow, the show makes the complex legalese and hedge fund-ese comprehensible. “One of the great tools you have in telling stories this way is these actors,” says Koppelman. “The viewers invest in them.” The show gets very personal too. “We wanted to make an examination of long-term, faithful marriages with lots of pressures and challenges on them,” Levien says. “In premium cable now, fidelity is suddenly risqué.”

Zach Galifianakis plays a down clown in “Baskets.”
Zach Galifianakis plays a down clown in "Baskets."

“Baskets” — FX

Venturing beyond the cringe, Zach Galifianakis plays Chip Baskets, a wannabe French clown who suffers more fateful twists than a balloon dog. Living in Bakersfield, working as a rodeo clown, he adores his Parisian wife who treats him with contempt while barely acknowledging the people in his life who do care. Galifianakis also plays Dale Baskets, Chip’s more successful, less artistic brother, and he’s excellent in both roles. But the show’s breakout star is Louie Anderson as Chip’s mother, Christine, easily the most sensible element in this unclassifiable sitcom created by Galifianakis, Louis CK and Jonathan Krisel.

Ups and downs: The A.V. Club’s Allison Shoemaker finds the role “a perfect fit for Galifianakis’ sad-eyed, hostile demeanor, and the effect is reminiscent of the best of Buster Keaton,” adding the show becomes stronger as the season progresses. The Atlantic’s David Sims calls it “an incisive, absurd, darkly heartfelt show set not on the stage but in America’s dreary urban sprawl.” But not everyone goes for the joke. “Too often, ‘Baskets’ seems to try to succeed as a comedy by not trying too hard,” complains James Poniewozik in the New York Times.


Inside scoop: Anderson’s appeal as Chip’s mom “is a weird thing that we sort of stumbled upon,” says showrunner and director Krisel, who only fully realized what the show was about after putting the pilot together: “This is a family show.” Just not your average family. Or possibly an average family that’s been put through the wringer of absurdity. “The whole style of the show is different, it’s like a film about something that doesn’t deserve to have a film about it,” he says. “It’s a melodrama about boring people, which is what I think everybody’s life is like.”

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