Judge Adam Arseneau is scared of carnies. Circus folk. Nomads, you know. Smell like cabbage. Small hands.
Our review of The Riches: Season 2, published April 8th, 2009, is also available.
They're stealing the American Dream.
A little bit dark, a little bit twisted, and just a tiny bit disingenuous, The Riches is the unholy wedlock between the rags-to-riches absurdity of The Beverly Hillbillies with the high-stakes swindling of Hustle. Oh, and toss in a dash of Deliverance for good measure for The Riches: Season 1.
Facts of the Case
Wayne Malloy (Eddie Izzard, Ocean's Twelve) is an Irish Traveler. He and his family are gypsies, thieves, con artists. Their kind travels up and down the Eastern seaboard pulling scams and tricks, and eking a living from "buffers" (non-travelers, or us normal folk). Most people don't even realize they exist outside of urban legend, until it is too late. Suddenly, you find your wallet empty, your car missing, or your house cleaned out. They prey on the greedy and the stupid, living on crumbs dug out from the cracks of society.
After the mother's two-year bid in prison, the family travels in their RV to pick up Dahlia (Minnie Driver, Good Will Hunting) and head back to the traveler camp, a loose collection of inbred family members and fellow travelers to celebrate the return of one of their own. Surrounded by his kin, Wayne begins to suffer something of a mid-life crisis, questioning for the first time the worth of their lifestyle. He wants more for his family than he knows how to provide.
Deciding to put as much distance as possible between his family and his fellow travelers (much to the family's ire), Wayne heads south with his family to make their fortunes. But after a traffic accident, the Malloys find themselves at a serious crossroads, with a crashed BMW and two dead bodies in a car, and keys to a brand-new house in Baton Rouge. Curious, Wayne checks out the house, which is a beautiful mansion in a gated community.
Deciding to give his family a new life they could never afford, Wayne begins to plot out the most complex con yet: move into the new house sight unseen and take over the identity of the deceased husband and wife. The Malloys will become the Riches, pretending to be "buffers," and take the American Dream the only way they know how—by stealing it.
The Riches: Season 1 contains all thirteen episodes from the first season:
"Believe The Lie"
"Been There, Done That"
"The Big Floss"
"X Spots The Mark"
"This Is Your Brain On Drugs"
"Anything Hugh Can Do, I Can Do Better"
"It's A Wonderful Lie"
"Waiting For Dogot"
You gotta give points for originality. On paper, The Riches is a wildly clever and inventive serial drama, a show with limitless narrative possibilities for adventure, drama, and comedy. Even better, the show has its roots in reality. Travelers are indeed a legitimate phenomenon in the United States and Europe abroad (think Brad Pitt in Snatch), but to set an entire narrative show amongst their ranks is a first, at least for television. These are people who live off the grid and under the radar, poking their head up into our society now and again to refuel their trailers, pull a few con jobs, steal a few identities, and take off for their next undetermined location. They have no fixed addresses, no Social Security numbers, no legitimate identification. Theirs is a culture entirely removed from the modern world, yet oddly dependent upon its nooks and crannies to thrive, like grass growing up between cracks in the pavement. I mean, they're gypsies! And you're going to give these folk a television show? The narrative possibilities are near-endless, I tells ya!
All Wayne wants is the American Dream for his family, and he goes about solving the problem the only way he knows how, by lying and cheating and stealing. The family desperately tries to integrate itself into this foreign culture, attempting to blend in, but just ends up sticking out like a dysfunctional sore thumb. Luckily for the Malloys, they find themselves in good company in Edenfalls. As it so happens, the fundamental similarities between a nomadic scheming lifestyle and modern suburban living are commonplace, and a jump from conman to lawyer might not be such a far stretch as one might originally envision. The show is clever in its own little ways here and there, always inventing complex tumblings of happenstance ready to send the Malloys straight to prison, or worse, back to the Family, but always ends up solving the problem not by making the Malloys cleverer than the opposition, but by making the opposition (us normal folk) stupider, greedier, more unpleasant, and nastier than the con artists. Not much subtlety at work, if you catch my drift. The Riches stretches our credulity in favor of such darkly satirical social commentary, time and again emphasizing the inherent conniving, sleazy undercurrent that drives our capitalist society forward, the current of which is the only thing that keeps the Malloys afloat in a never ending sea of lies.
Some of the deceptions are pieces of pure brilliance straight out of Ocean's Eleven, twisting manipulations and long cons that are so implausible as to be utterly thrilling. The tension of constantly being in character, manipulating and playing a faux role, coupled with the ever-present anxiety of being discovered, gives the storyline in The Riches a palatable sense of tension and dread. In the pilot episode, the Malloys have already pushed father into a web of deceit than anyone would ever dare, and one cannot shake the inescapable realization that reckoning for the family is not too far away. But oh how we delight in their successes—every episode that Wayne and his family can keep up the charade in the face of increasing danger only endears us further to them. Wayne dreams of living a "normal" life with his family, but the RV is always less rust-coated on the other side of the fence, so to speak. The Malloys soon realize the cost of acclimating to a full-blown buffer existence is giving up the very freedom that all us normal folk us wish in our heart of hearts we had. The American Dream comes with a hefty price tag, and before long, the opulent gated community begins to feel like a prison for the once-free family.
Where the show excels is balancing its dark serious undertones—murder, drug abuse, depression, suburban malaise, and violence—with its surprisingly humorous execution and black comedy. On top of keeping up the lies, the Malloys have to deal with all the other problems that come with modern living. The mother, Dahlia, is desperately fighting a drug addiction problem picked up in prison. The eldest son is angry at abandoning his idyllic traveler lifestyle, rebelling at every opportunity. The youngest son, on the other hand, has some gender confusion issues and enjoys dressing up in women's clothing at every opportunity, which gets a bit more attention than the Riches are looking to generate. The biggest danger to the Riches stems from being discovered, and the traveler family, rooted in its complex Irish roots and peculiar traditions, takes serious umbrage at being left behind. They are looking for the Malloys, and once they find them, there will be serious trouble.
Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard affect their best Southern accents to varying levels of success, which is a bit funny if you think about it. You've got the two least southern American people in the world pretending to be something they are not—ironic, no? Having two talented actors driving the show works well for The Riches, with Driver affecting the perfect balance of tortured drug-addled recovery patient and bored Southern housewife. Izzard puts his effervescent comedic charms to good use here, belting out consistently impressive performances in every episode. The show would derail like a drunken freight train, were it not for his commanding presence driving the storyline forward. He is frighteningly believable and likable and untrustworthy in his role of traveler father figure, selling audiences on his performance like an Eskimo being sold a refrigerator. Maybe it's just that sly look in his eye, as if always working out the con a few steps ahead of everyone else. That's just how Eddie looks. At least, when he's not in drag.
The transfer is not too shabby, offering naturally balanced color saturation, deep black levels and good contrast. Some breakdown occurs during red and orange saturated sequences, but nothing inexcusable. The sound comes in a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround option only, with moderate bass response and clear dialogue. For a current TV show, the presentation looks great; not spectacular, but deserving more than a passing grade.
In terms of extras, two episodes ("Pilot" and "Waiting For Dogot") feature a commentary track with actor/producer Eddie Izzard and series creator Dmitry Lipkin. In addition, we also get seven "webisodes," tiny two- and three-minute mini episodes featuring the Malloys on the road as travelers, showing Wayne teaching the children the ropes of specific cons like the Pig in a Poke, the Burning Bill, the Short Change, the Mona Lisa, the Flattened Pickle, and others. Two small featurettes taken from the Fox Movie Channel are also included, "World Premiere" and "Casting Session" interview cast and crew and capture footage from (you guessed it) the world premeire of The Riches. The featurettes run about 15 minutes total. Toss in a gag reel to round up the material for a moderate offering of supplements.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As unique a concept as the show first appears, The Riches remains, in its core, a fairly typical soap opera-styled family drama. The husband and the wife fight and make up, the teenage daughter dates a sketchy looking guy, the older son gets involved with troublesome boys at school, etc. The majority of the subplots are straight out of situation comedies, except played straight for drama instead of laughs. Uh oh, the boss is coming over for a dinner party, but oh no, here comes my ex-convict friend! Social awkwardness ensues! Wasn't that an episode of Friends? Sure, the packaging is glossy with its own styling and atypical twists, but when you boil down the brass tasks, The Riches brings little to the party that we haven't seen before.
Where the show goes in its second season remains to be seen, but The Riches makes a surprisingly strong debut as an original premise combined with a perfect balance of drama and black comedy—a darn good offering from FX, and the show has the ratings to back it up. Now that the show has found its stride, I expect great things from its second season.
The Malloys themselves might be guilty of numerous petty offenses and misdemeanors, but The Riches are off the hook. Count me in for the show's sophomore season in March.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Eddie Izzard and Creator Dmitry Lipkin on Selected Episodes
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