- Buy the DVD
All photos © FX
Reviewed by Will Harris
ust when it seemed that all hope was lost for Eddie Izzard to ever score mainstream success in America, along comes “The Riches,” which – ironically – is a series about a family scoring mainstream success. Oh, sure, they achieve it through lies, deception and chicanery, but they achieve it nonetheless.
FX is a network that’s become known for producing programs that are, either by their initial premise or their gradual evolution, decidedly outside the box from traditional network television. That “The Riches” follows this tradition is no surprise, but what’s oddly subversive about the series is that, at its heart, it works because it utilizes a longstanding bit of television plotting: the ongoing attempt to maintain a charade. The classic example is “Three’s Company,” where Jack Tripper successfully spent eight seasons living alongside two gorgeous female roommates solely by perpetuating his landlords’ belief that he was gay. Here, however, things are arguably a bit more sinister.
“The Riches” is the story of a family of Travellers: Wayne and Dahlia Malloy, and their children, DiDi (Shannon Marie Woodward), Sam (Aidan Mitchell), and Cael (Noel Fisher). It might seem too cruelly on-the-nose to call them a bunch of con artists, but, well, let’s just call a spade a spade. After all, when we first meet the family, they’re infiltrating a high school reunion, with Wayne (Izzard) pretending to be an alumnus while the kids run through the place, swiping wallets and jewelry. Dahlia (Minnie Driver) isn’t on hand for this particular event, though, owing to her just wrapping up a stay in prison. (A valid excuse, I think you’ll agree.) Once Dahlia reunites with Wayne and the kids, they all pile into their RV and return to the base camp for the Travellers. This quickly results in Wayne’s disillusionment with their nomadic lifestyle coming to a head; he promptly “liberates” some cash from the Travellers’ stash and he and his family make a mad dash for freedom.
There are only two problems:
- They come across another Traveller family who gets suspicious, resulting in Wayne kicking the guy’s ass in a truck stop restroom.
- The family comes after them, resulting in a high speed chase that climaxes in another car crashing.
The accident, caused by the other family (who immediately hightail it off into the horizon), results in the death of a husband and wife named Doug and Cherien Rich, who had been on their way to their new house in Baton Rouge, LA. Wayne decides to take the family to investigate the situation, and when he realizes that no one in the city has ever actually met the Riches, he sees the opportunity to give his family a fresh start by taking over the life of the Riches. It’s the most elaborate con Wayne and his family have ever attempted, mostly because Wayne’s portrayal of Doug actually requires him to practice law, but there’ll be a hell of a payoff if they can just make it work.
“The Riches” is a rollercoaster ride of comedy and drama. There are moments of broad slapstick in most of the episodes, generally involving Wayne’s attempts to keep the charade going, but the show has a dark side that rears its head with equal regularity. Dahlia’s emergence finds her carrying a meth addiction, which doesn’t exactly make her the best person to maintain the illusion of being the matriarch of a well-to-do family. She’s also battling with the issue of her true identity, with the person she thinks is sparring with the person she wants to be. The kids are dealing with their own problems as well: the teens have more or less the same problems as every teenager (in particular, Cael’s love for a girl back in the Traveller camp really screws the pooch for the family’s new life), but it must be said that Sam’s predilection for dressing like a girl is something we don’t usually see with pre-teen television characters.
The acting trifecta that really powers “The Riches” is Izzard, Driver, and – most enjoyably – Gregg Henry, who plays the part of Doug’s boss, a smug Southern son of a bitch, about as well as it can possibly be played. There are other strong supporting players, including Margo Nightingale as the Riches’ sex-starved neighbor, Nina, and Todd Stashwick as the family’s nemesis, Dale. But it’s Izzard, Driver and Henry who keep things going on an episode-to-episode basis, each for different reasons. Driver provides most of the legitimate drama of the series, given all that her character is going through, while Henry is always good for an immediate laugh. Izzard, however, ends up running the gamut, regularly scoring chuckles with one-liners while managing to instill Wayne’s sometimes-ridiculous actions with the constant reminder that all he really wants is to create a future for his family.
You wouldn’t think that a premise built on such a house-of-cards would be able to hold up for longer than a season or two – one false move, and the whole thing comes tumbling down – but in the case of “The Riches,” the unfolding story is always throwing you something new. Indeed, there’s so much evolution within the characters and events during the course of Season One that you just want to hold on, enjoy the ride, and see what comes next.
Special Features: There are a pair of enlightening commentaries from Izzard and show creator Dmitry Lipkin on the first and last episode of the season, as well as a gag reel and some making-of featurettes, but what proves most enjoyable are the prequel “webisodes,” providing a look at Wayne’s education of his kids in the art of the con. The camaraderie between the actors is great, with Izzard clearly relishing the opportunity to riff on the various subjects at hand.