Why Do TV Writers Keep Trying to Kill Major Characters With Pelotons?

A character on "Billions" went into cardiac arrest after getting off his bike

A poster of characters from Billions.
One of these characters nearly died this week.

Another episode of television, another major character put in harm’s way by the world’s most famous exercise machine.

In this season’s premiere of Billions, which aired this week on Showtime, Mike “Wags” Wagner (played by David Costabile) goes into cardiac arrest after finishing a session on his Peloton. It’s a minor heart attack, though, and he survives. If this sounds at all familiar (except for the surviving part), that’s because it’s eerily similar to the premiere of the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That, in which John James “Big” Preston dies after a ride with his favorite instructor, Allegra.

Coincidence? Apparently. Speaking to USA Today, the producer and co-creator of Billions, Brian Koppelman, claimed: “That was all in the show, written a year ago and shot in April.” He says that after Big (played by Chris Noth) died in And Just Like That, “our phones blew up from everyone on the show texting each other.”

While Wags lives on to navigate the drama of the sixth and final season of Billions, Peloton is left grappling with yet another wave of random, negative press. The brand is now responsible for two casualties on high-profile shows in the last two months. For a company that’s currently dealing with incessant lawsuits and overproduction issues, another fictional old man nearly dying from a tabata ride is less than ideal.

This isn’t Peloton’s fault. This is the fault of formulaic writing. Koppelman says that the show was written and shot in the spring of 2021 — Peloton was ascendant at the time, as the darling of the work-out-from-home movement.

It’s unsurprising that in a bid to appear “with it,” writers’ rooms shoehorned Peloton into their premieres. As for the violence that the bikes inflict, the writers were likely A) looking for shock value, and B) failed to understand that high-intensity workouts don’t cause cardiac arrest. In fact, over time, they drastically lower your risk of having one.

Perhaps the most confusing component to this saga is Billions decided to reference the And Just Like That death in their show. They added a line, recently, where Wags walks triumphantly into the office and says: “I’m not going out like Mr. Big.” Really? Why even touch that? The executive producer of the show, Beth Schacter, played it off as a creative flourish: “It would be completely out of our character not to take a swing. It’s too good. We’re going to make the joke.”

But it’s not “too good.” It invites uneasy introspection into an identical fictional plotpoint that was picked clean weeks ago. They added the line because they knew their hands were tied.

Peloton, for its part, seems officially done with being the punching bag here. Its response to Big’s death, a cheeky commercial produced by Ryan Reynolds, ended up exploding back in its face when Chris Noth was accused of sexual misconduct (Peloton took the commercial down from all platforms). This time around, it released a pair of statements — the tweet embedded above, and an extremely similar one through a spokesperson:

“We get why these fictional TV shows would want to include a brand that people love to talk about, but Showtime’s use of Peloton’s Bike+ and reference to a Peloton Instructor was not a brand, product, or instructor placement, and we did not agree for our brand and IP to be used on this show or provide any equipment. As referenced by the show itself, there are strong benefits of cardio-vascular exercise to help people lead long, happy lives.” 

They’re done with this. And TV writers should be done too. Find a more realistic way to send your characters into cardiac arrest, and please stop discouraging a dangerously sedentary society from getting a workout in.

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