Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Setting And Suspension Of Disbelief Save The Riches Season One!

The Good: Good acting, Interesting story
The Bad: Some plot predictability/Problems with the character arcs
The Basics: The Riches began as a story of a family that lucks into a scam opportunity to instantly become upper class, but they find it fraught with danger in the first season.

Ticking clock shows are a tough sell for me. More than the literal ticking clock of 24, many television shows are structured around an event that is inevitable based on the set-up of the series; soap operas, especially, use this conceit (poorly). In the case of The Riches, the show is set-up as a house of cards. The series is all about liars lying and given the magnitude of their lies, the show is structured around the threat to the protagonists that the lie will be exposed.

The Riches was a two-season television show that aired originally on FX and was a vehicle for Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver. The cable network created a show with gypsy characters, which is something that network television shows have not, to the best of my knowledge, ever done. Given that the entire show is about a scam, The Riches is a series that seems destined to lead to a fall and in that regard, the show is very much a ticking clock story. The first season of The Riches works hard to elaborately construct the house of cards before starting to menace that . . . and leaving the Malloy family in peril (but not the peak of peril) for the climax of the season.

After lifting wallets at a class reunion, Wayne Malloy and his children – Cael, Di Di and Sam – drive their RV to pick Dahlia up from prison. Dahlia has been serving two years for a crime that went bad and that Wayne probably bore more responsibility for. When the Malloys meet up with their extended gypsy family, who is celebrating Dahlia’s release from the slammer, one of the powerful members of the family tries to force Di Di to marry her idiot son. Stealing the family’s kickback money from the safe of the incapacitated family patriarch, the Malloys flee. At a rest stop, the Malloys run into an associate of Wayne’s who wants in on the opportunity that has left them with enough money to fuel their RV. Fleeing them, their adversaries initiate a car accident that leads to the death of Doug Rich and his wife, Cherien.

Wayne sees the death as an opportunity. He convinces the family to check out the life the Riches were moving into and that leads them to Eden Falls. After doing some research on the gated community and its residents, Wayne realizes that Doug Rich and his wife were completely re-establishing themselves in the area. Pulling off getting a job at Paneco with the villainous real estate mogul Hugh Panetta, posing as Doug Rich, lawyer, Wayne assumes Doug Rich’s identity. While the kids get enrolled in school, Dahlia assumes the life of Cherien and battles her personal demons (and drug addiction) while trying to hold the family together.

Given that Wayne and his family are stealing another family’s identities, the whole premise of The Riches is based around the Malloys living in fear of their true identities being exposed. As such, the show has complications internal and external. Internally, the family members – especially Wayne – struggle to define their alternate identities and blend in at work and school. For Wayne that means fudging his way through being a lawyer and that only happens as a result of his paralegal assistant as Paneco, Aubrey. Dahlia very briefly works as a dental hygienist, but for the most part, her conflicts are related to the drug addiction she got in prison.

Externally, the conflict comes from Dale. Dale is in the process of asserting his dominance over the extended Malloy family back at the gypsy camp. Dale begins hunting down Wayne and when he makes it to Eden Falls, he takes up with a spiteful woman who hates the “Riches.” With Hugh threatening the cover “Doug” has made and Dale hunting the family, Wayne constantly has to adapt to his family’s welfare being menaced.

Part of what makes The Riches more average than extraordinary is that Wayne Malloy is not an incredible character. In fact, the show has a troubling fault in the suspension of disbelief. In order to make The Riches a viable, realistic show with characters one can truly empathize with, one has to believe that Wayne can effectively sell himself as Doug Rich. The problem is that Wayne is not as smart as he needs to be to viably be a lawyer or a good con artist. Troublingly, Wayne vamps extensively whenever he is confronted. While it is amusing the first time he tries to make a speech on the fly and he just keeps dragging out the question, circling rhetorically until he can come up with something to land on. The problem is he just keeps using the same technique and he never really has a substantive plan, lie or point to what he is saying. While the misdirection works a little bit, it is frustrating to watch episode after episode.

Similarly, Dahlia’s drug addiction comes off a bit more clich├ęd than vibrant and realistic to the character. While Minnie Driver plays Dahlia well, Dahlia seems dim compared to Wayne and there is very little in the way of on-screen chemistry between Driver and Eddie Izzard (Wayne). Izzard is good as Wayne, though he is not able to play the role with as much humor as most of his other roles (or his stand-up).

The Riches Season One utilizes its young actors well. Noel Fisher plays Cael with sufficient substance that makes it easy to see how he was cast for the similar role on Shameless now. Shannon Woodward is mature beyond her years in the role of Di Di. The real powerhouse performance from the young actors comes from Aidan Mitchell, who plays Sam. Sam is a transvestite and early in the season, Sam has to choose which gender he is going to identify with in order to pull off the lie. Sam’s character journey is a heartwrenching one and Mitchell makes it easy to empathize with his character through his quiet portrayal of the internal torment of Sam.

The cast is fleshed out with wonderful supporting performances by Gregg Henry (Hugh), Todd Stashwick (Dale), Margo Martindale (Nina, the Rich’s neighbor) and Bruce French (Jim, Nina’s husband).

But the show gets repetitive even in its first season. The menace is interesting, but because the characters are not exceptional to begin with, The Riches Season One is more of a novelty than a great or enduring season of television.

For other works with Minnie Driver, please check out my reviews of:
The Phantom Of The Opera
Ella Enchanted
South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut
An Ideal Husband
Princess Mononoke


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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