On the Neil LaBute scale of interpersonal dysfunction, “Billy & Billie” – his new DirecTV series, about a romance (if you can call it that) between two stepsiblings – rates about a 6. Featuring Adam Brody and Lisa Joyce as the conflicted duo, who drunkenly fall into bed together, then wonder where to go from there, the half-hour follows “Full Circle” in the screenwriter-playwright/satellite service relationship, and also showcases his characteristically acerbic writing as well as a rather static stage format. For LaBute’s admirers, it’s surely worth a look; for everyone else, it’s probably advisable to think about seeing other shows.
The series takes some getting used to in part because of the way it begins, as we meet Billie (Joyce) and Billy (Brody) in morning-after mode, each clearly feeling a bit comfortable and ambivalent about what transpired.
Granted, as the series progresses the second-guessing seems a little more pronounced – or overt – for Billie, who keeps lashing out at him, than the more restrained Billy, who works at a magazine and, if the local diner’s waitress is any indication, has no problem finding women eager to bed him. (Since they’re stepsiblings, nobody can blame the too-cute title and those sound-alike names on their parents.)
Even in more laid-back mode than his more biting works, LaBute inevitably delivers plenty of tart lines, and populates this indie-film world with the usual assortment of miscreant characters, including Billy’s idiotic, sex-starved coworkers. So when the central pair argues and he says, “I’m not trying to be stupid,” she quickly shoots back, “I guess you’re just a natural then.”
Still, this is a decidedly narrow construct, seemingly made possible as much by its low-key approach and modest budget (most scenes just involve two people sitting and talking) as its merit. There’s also such a chilliness to the interactions that while there’s some debate and uncertainty over whether the protagonists will wind up together, there’s less reason to care.
That said, the show represents a credible twist on the familiar romantic-comedy notion of characters being drawn to each even when they shouldn’t be, assuming that viewers can get past the “ick” factor of Billy introducing Billie as his sister before she corrects him.
“Love is relative” is the coy marketing line, which at least serves as a mild improvement over “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Thanks to LaBute’s jaundiced world view, “Billy & Billie” really doesn’t have to apologize for anything other than perhaps its premise, and it’s certainly in keeping with a fairly robust niche of small-scaled series (from HBO’s current Sunday roster to FXX’s “Man Seeking Woman”) infused with darkness and an understated, off-Broadway sensibility.
As for whether this latest addition to that genre merits a commitment in light of everything else that’s out there, that, too, is relative.