Siblings Become Lovers in 'Billy & Billie'

Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts
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Adam Brody and Lisa Joyce in 'Billy & Billie.'
Adam Brody and Lisa Joyce in 'Billy & Billie.'Credit: Courtesy
Michael Handelzalts
Michael Handelzalts

Way back in the not-so-remote past of 1948, about the time the State of Israel was making its first shaky steps on the international arena, a song was written and composed by Irving Berlin (aka Israel Isidor Balin), and then sung and danced by Fred Astaire (aka Frederick Austerlitz) in the musical movie “Easter Parade.” Its title was also the first line of the chorus: “Steppin’ out with my baby / Can’t go wrong ‘cause I’m in right / It’s for sure, not for maybe / That I’m all dressed up tonight // Steppin’ out with my honey / Can’t be bad to feel so good / Never felt quite so sunny / And I keep on knockin’ wood.”

The song’s lyrics and catchy tune came into my mind while bingeing on seven episodes (out of the existing ten, plus a sort of epilogue) of “Billy & Billie,” created, written and directed by Neil LaBute (on HOT Plus, Thursdays at 22.00, and HOT VOD).

The first Billy of the title is Billy Jones (played by Adam Brody), a 20-something editor of a fashion monthly for men entitled “Chisel.” He is bespectacled, slightly awkward in a handsome way, and seemingly a real babe-magnet, with young women throughout the series falling for him and more than willing to succumb to his manly charms. The other eponymous Billie, more than kin and less than kind, is Billie Smith (played by Lisa Joyce, whose onscreen persona in the series is vaguely reminiscent of Rachel in “Friends,” who was portrayed by Jennifer Aniston). She is slightly younger than he, a freelance illustrator, somewhat brash in her manner, uses language that “would make a sailor blush,” with “an ass that stops traffic at 50 yards” (says he; she makes him up the ante to 100 yards). And yes, they fall for each other, and into the closest bed (the first episode has them waking up after their first night together), although they are siblings. But fret not: not blood, but step-siblings. His father married her mother while Billy and Billie were in high school, and then they were sworn enemies. The series catches up with them when both live in New York; they hook up together by chance at a family reunion, and pent-up passion flares.

The Irving Berlin song goes on to say “There’ll be smooth sailin’ ‘cause I’m trimmin’ my sails / In my top hat and my white tie and my tails.” But, as the Bard told us, “the course of true love never did run smooth.” Billy and Billie, having lots of fun in bed, with her declaring out loud “I f----ing love you” (he is taken aback at her language, she claiming that’s the way she is and asking him to “deal with it”). He finally reciprocates, although what hovers in the air is both of them declaring, by their actions in both vertical and horizontal modes, that they both love f----ing each other.

Neil LaBute, an American playwright and director, has to his credit some very popular and successful plays and movies, all of them dealing mainly with the ways we perceive ourselves and others, and how the perceptions of others shape us and our ways. In his play “Fat Pig,” a love story between an overweight and charming woman and an equally charming young man falls apart due to the prevalent discrimination of the “gravity challenged” (aka fat). In his play and subsequent movie “The Shape of Things,” a young woman manipulates a young man into a veritable metamorphosis of body and soul just to prove a point that everything – shapes and emotions, body and soul – is in the eye of the beholder.

With “Billy & Billie” LaBute makes his characters face the toil and trouble of a budding relationship, while struggling to carry the additional burden of a very deep-seated taboo of incest, even if it is step-incest. Billy and Billie have to make the steep step from a “bro & sis” relationship to a consummation apparently devoutly but latently wished by both, and then face the music (and dance) with their family, friends and co-workers. (Yes, they get caught in flagrante delicto in one bed by the end of episode six; this is not a spoiler, as it is actually the premise of the whole series.)

“Billy & Billie” was produced by DirectTV, a satellite TV provider in the U.S., together with Contemptible Entertainment, LaBute’s production company, and was screened in the U.S. in 2015. It got fair to good reviews, not too bad, especially given the fact that the subject matter is not an easy one for the average American viewer to stomach. The first season ended in a way that would have allowed for a second one, with Billy and Billie fording their way upstream, with their friends and relatives trying to cope with their own feelings about the whole setup. However, it was not to be, for reasons left vague.

Considering ‘incesticide’

Instead of a second season – and LaBute was even musing about the possibility of a third – DirectTV and Contemptible Entertainment produced a one-hour mockumentary entitled “Incesticide.” Here, characters in the series ruminated on camera, in a series of quasi-interviews, about the premise of the whole series, with flashbacks from season one to illustrate some points that were raised. The title – and it is yet unclear if HOT will air that epilogue as well – sort of says that the notion of incest, even step-incest with no blood or genes involved, may very well kill the love.

The best way, in my view, of summing up my feelings about this sisterly bromance is the remaining portion of the lyrics of the Berlin song I haven’t quoted yet: “If I seem to scintillate / It’s because I’ve got a date / A date with a package of / The good things that come with love / You don’t have to ask me / I won’t waste your time / But if you should ask me / Why I feel sublime. // Steppin’ out with my baby / Can’t go wrong ‘cause I’m in right / Ask me when will the day be / The big day may be tonight.”