Fox // 2008 // 296 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // April 8th, 2009
It's a wonderful lie.
The Riches are back for a second and final season, a worthy follow-up to the first that sadly fails to provide any closure for fans of the show.
In the first season of The Riches, we were introduced to the Malloy family. For years, the Malloys were part of a group of Irish "travelers" (basically gypsies of a sort), making a living organizing various cons and picking the pockets of unsuspecting "buffers" (aka ordinary folks). However, when a tragic car accident killed an affluent couple, The Malloys decided to steal their identitie. As luck would have it, the couple (formerly known as The Riches) was about to move into a new home and hadn't met any of their neighbors yet. Perfect! That makes pretending easy. Or does it? The payoff may be big, but the game is extraordinarily challenging.
Wayne Malloy became "Doug Rich," his wife Dahlia became "Shareen Rich," and kids Di Di (Shannon Marie Woodward, The Haunting of Molly Hartley), Cael (Noel Fisher, Agent Cody Banks), and Sam (Aidan Mitchell, Simple Things) attempted to adjust to a buffer lifestyle. For a while, things seemed to be going well, but by the end of the first season, a man named Pete had discovered the Malloy family's dirty little secret and was determined to expose them. When the first season concluded, the Malloys were getting ready to hit the road. The second season begins at the very moment, and once again, things aren't working out as planned. The RV won't start. It seems that one of the parts has been removed by Dale (Todd Stashwick, The Air I Breathe), a meddlesome former associate of the Malloys who's determined to grab a slice of their success.
Dale discovers that Pete knows what he knows, and kinda sorta bashes his head in with a hammer in an attempt to keep him quiet. Wayne is furious and bewildered when he finds out about this. "But I've solved your problem," Dale protests. "You can go back to being the Riches again!" The only thing is, the Malloys have no interest in returning to that life. It's just too hard. Well, they're not interested until they hear that Wayne might be given an opportunity to participate in a business deal that would earn him no less than 13 million bucks. Perhaps they could force themselves to live as the Riches for just a few more months. As we launch ahead into the second season, there are more challenges that must be faced, more problems that must be sold, more lies that must be organized. Can the Riches keep their disguise long enough to ride off into the sunset with a great big pile of cash, or will everything come crashing down around them?
It's a real shame that The Riches has been cut short, because it was quite a stellar and original slice of cable programming. The program got off to a reasonably strong start ratings-wise during its first season, and everyone was ready to head into a bigger and better season two. Alas, the writers strike threw a wrench into things, turning 13 episodes into 7 episodes, and delaying the start of the season. It seems that a lot of folks didn't wait around, as the ratings were lower throughout the second season. For a while, the fate of the show seemed uncertain, and FX finally announced that they were just going to call it quits.
As I said, that's a shame, because this second season of The Riches is as engaging and involving as the first. There's a sense of paranoia and tension throughout that is well-balanced with a welcome sense of humor, and the characters are developed further and made a bit more complex than they might have been in the first season. Season two does a particularly good job with Minnie Driver's character, turning from an occasional liability into one of the program's greatest assets. Initially, my response to Driver's performance was not favorable. She was way too over the top, sporting an obnoxious southern accent and shouting far too many of her lines. However, she's gotten more layered and compelling as the show has progressed, and has some really strong moments in this second season.
There's a particularly compelling subplot that takes place over the course of the first couple episodes. Dahlia, Nina, and the kids are held hostage by an angry cowboy when he catches them attempting to steal his van. This situation does not turn into yet another simplistic, "How can we get out of this jam?" scenario, but serves as the launching point for a very thoughtful series of conversations and ideas. I particularly love Margo Martindale's dryly funny performance as Nina during this sequence. Nina initially decides that she want to abandon her suburban life and become a grifter just like the Malloys, and slowly but surely sinks into a deflated state as her various fantasies are shot down by shotgun blasts of reality. Great stuff. Martindale also steals all of her scenes during the final two episodes.
For me, the most engaging portions of the second season are those centering on Wayne and the business dealings at his job. In the first season, his primary goal was simply to con everyone into thinking he was a lawyer. No easy task, but he made it. This season, he's faced with more than just con games, actually being forced to make some very challenging business and ethical decisions. The big business deal he's working on comes at a cost; he may very well be forced to damage the lives of innocent people if he gives the investors the terms they want. If he does that, his assistant threatens to expose his game. If he doesn't do that, a particularly violent investor insinuates that Wayne's/Doug's life won't be very pleasant afterwards. Meanwhile, lots of entertainment is provided by the blustery Gregg Henry as Wayne's boss, fumbling his way through this season in some sort of drunken haze.
The image looks solid here, but it comes at a cost: The show is presented on those doubled-sided discs that so easily suffer from smudges and fingerprints. As much as I hate that, it does improve the image here. Rather than stuffing all seven episodes onto two discs, we only gets two episodes on each side (one episode plus a featurette on side B of disc two), allowing The Riches presented on DVD at a pretty high average bitrate. The result is a very sharp transfer, one of the stronger TV-on-DVD transfers I've seen in recent times. Blacks are deep, flesh tones are accurate, the level of detail is strong. Audio is also solid, with the sinister guitar-n-synth scores rumbling being spread around very effectively. Dialogue is clean and clear, and the generally subtle sound design gets the job done. The only extra is a 6-minute featurette that puts the spotlight on actor Eddie Izzard.
Though it's no fault of the people who crafted the second season of The Riches, the biggest liability here is the ending. It's a cliffhanger, and quite a cliffhanger at that. Alas, when the ending was created, it was thought that there would probably be a third season of the Riches (Eddie Izzard states in the aforementioned featurette that he hopes the series will go on some six or seven seasons). Izzard has vowed that all of the loose ends will be wrapped up in a made-for-television movie, but if that doesn't materialize, this is a very frustrating place for the series to conclude.
Additionally, a couple of nagging problems from the first season continue to cause problems here. First, I think that The Riches occasionally lets Wayne off the hook a little too easily. There are many moments when he is quite obviously telling a lie, and yet everyone around him seems to be completely oblivious. There aren't enough people around him calling "B.S." on a regular basis. Additionally, Dale and the other travelers are still painted with rather one-dimensional strokes. They become tiresome rather quickly, and more often than not feel like nothing more than dumb rednecks.
Though I wouldn't blame anyone for waiting to be sure that a conclusion is going to actually happen before diving into this set, the second season of The Riches offers seven episodes of well-made television drama. Too bad we have to say goodbye so soon.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 296 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated