retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Sunday night always has been a good night for television, going back to the days of Ed Sullivan and "Bonanza" when I was growing up, to more recently, when one has been able to count on programs like "Homeland," "Downton Abbey," and "The Sopranos." (Mrs. Content Guy has a thing for 'Madam Secretary," and I must confess that she's drawn me in on this one. Me, I can't wait for John Oliver to come back to HBO in February, at which point he'll apply needed sanity and sarcasm to a crazy world.)

We may live in a time when we all can watch what we want whenever we want, but there's something to be said for "appointment television," which prompts one to find a television when a program is first aired. People still go to work on Monday morning wanting to talk about this program or that, and it is tough to be left out of the conversation.

"Billions" debuts this weekend on Showtime. I'm pretty sure we'll be able to add it to the list.

The show is essentially a battle of two heavyweight actors - Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti - playing two heavyweight characters, hedge fund billionaire Bobby Axelrod and Chuck Rhoades, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York (which used to be Rudolph Giuliani's job). Axelrod's wealth may be ill-gotten, and Rhoades wants to prosecute ... though, because he has his eye on higher office, he only wants to do so if he can be guaranteed a win.

Complicating their lives is Wendy, played by the wonderful Maggie Siff, who is married to Chuck but works for Bobby in a high HR position. And I suspect that her role will become ever-more pivotal and interesting as time goes on.

The writing may be a little soap opera-ish, but the talent in front of and behind the camera is first rate, with what appears to be a real understanding of what makes people like this tick. I suspect that as episodes go by, the plot will thicken and the context will deepen, and we'll all get involved with this political, financial and emotional battle.

And Sunday nights will continue to offer us what NBC used to call must-see TV. "Billions" has the potential of being a new "Sopranos," populated by characters just as repulsive and irresistible.

I wasn't entirely displeased by yesterday Oscar nominations, and I'm always happy when I've seen most of the Best Picture nominees; in this case, there only are two I haven't seen, Room and The Revenant. I do have some catching up to do when it comes to the performance nominees ... I've only seen two out of five Best Actor nominees, one out of the five in the Best Actress contest, and one of the five Best Supporting Actresses. (I've done better in Best Supporting Actor - four out of five.)

I do think that the film industry has to be concerned about the general lack of diversity, with only white people nominated in the major categories. (I can only imagine what Oscar host Chris Rock will have to say about this.) Few businesses can survive in this day and age if they have that lack of diversity, and the film business isn't an exception.

On the other hand, it is important not to make too much of the Academy Awards. They are, to a great degree, a popularity contest that doesn't measure real excellence in a meaningful way. I loved Rocky as much as anyone, but in 1977 was it really the Best Picture when compared to the other nominees that year - All The President's Men, Network, and Taxi Driver? (It was probably better than Bound for Glory, a largely forgotten but underrated biopic about Woody Guthrie.) The Oscars are fun, and that's enough.

That said, last year was a pretty good year for movies, with The Big Short and Spotlight my personal favorites so far. I'll make my picks when we get closer to Oscar night, February 28.

That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

KC's View: