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Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves: FX's "The Riches" Explores Suburbia's Oddest Family

Teehee. I may have found my new Monday night TV fixation, a night which I've found to be sorely lacking lately with any dramatic tension (don't even get me started on last night's lackluster episode of 24).

Looking for something different and a little dark? FX has got that in spades with its new drama, The Riches. The second episode of the series, which aired last night, put to right some of the problems of tone that the pilot episode had; instead of being darkly humorous or painfully bleak, it was all over the place. But that, boys and girls, is what happens when you smush two different pilots (from two different directors) into one single episode.

Quick recap: the Malloy family are Travellers, gypsies and con artists extraordinaire. When Dahlia Molloy is released from prison (the sight of Minnie Driver in cornrows is hilarious), the family takes off with some stolen cash from the Travellers and is forced to hide out in suburbia after they inadvertently kill a married couple, the Riches. With nowhere to go, they steal their identities and move into their new home inside an exclusive gated community.

Last night's episode ("Believe the Lie") found its footing instantly, giving us some sharp suburban angst, laugh out loud moments (I'm thinking here of the arm incident), and some genuine emotion. It also served to better place the "Riches" in their new atmosphere and underpinned the fact that, for most of them, they are completely out of place.

Dahlia freaks out about their rusty old RV getting towed, buries the stolen money in the ground, and tries to con her boozy neighbor Nina into giving her some more of those little pills, all while taking copious swigs of cough medicine straight out of the bottle. Meanwhile, Wayne decides that he's going to give his family the life he feels the deserve, by becoming Doug Rich, securities litigator. Whatever that means. To that end, he goes on a job interview that Doug had scheduled with a law firm but ends up accepting a job with the shady (not to mention certifiably insane) Hugh Panetta (Gilmore Girls' Gregg Henry), a man prone to shooting pictures of loved ones, neighbors, and Rush Limbaugh in order to lower his blood pressure.

The cast is superb: Eddie Izzard as visionary pater familias Wayne is tremendously charismatic to watch; it really does seem as if this guy does believe the lies he spins and it becomes impossible to take your eyes off of him. Minnie Driver turns in a deliciously OTT performance as Dahlia, but she's instantly made human because of her many, many foibles (ahem, meth addiction). As their kids, Shannon Marie Woodward, Noel Fisher, and Aidan Mitchell are perfectly cast. Each one of them brings something different to the table: Woodward's Di Di is tough as nails but there's an underlying vulnerability there as if she might just snap and deck her mother; Fisher's Cael is a tech-loving teenager whose calls to his girlfriend back home might just be their undoing; Mitchell's Sam is an adorably soft spoken gender-confused kid who will have to choose which sex he is very, very soon if they're going to blend in.

All in all, The Riches is the perfect way to start the week, offering its audience a dark, hysterical, and refreshing look at just what makes suburbia tick, from the point of view of the ultimate outsiders. And, if the second episode is any indication, this season is going to be a taut, scintillating, and dangerous ride. Just be sure to buckle your seatbelts in that there RV.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: NCIS (CBS); Dateline (NBC); Gilmore Girls (CW); America's Funniest Home Videos (ABC); American Idol (FOX; 8-10 pm)

9 pm: The Unit (CBS); Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC); Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search of the Next Doll (CW); Primetime (ABC)

10 pm: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS); Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC); Boston Legal (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8-10 pm: American Idol.

Tonight, the eleven remaining contestants compete against one another in a vicious cage fight to the death. Or, er, sing hit songs from the 1960s British pop invasion. And a special treat for Absolutely Fabulous fans: Lulu!

8 pm: Gilmore Girls.

I've given up on this once-great drama, but for the few of you out there still watching, here's what's going on. On tonight's repeat episode ("French Twist"), Christopher and Lorelai take GiGi to Paris to visit her mother and, gee, I wonder what happens there, while Rory's tenure as editor-in-chief of the Yale newspaper ends, leaving her floundering. Le sigh.

Comments

The CineManiac said…
Now I'm looking forward to watching both the pilot and this episode, knowing it gets better than the so-so reviewed pilot.
As for 24, you should have been prepared since this is the middle of the season for some boring episodes, as every year seems to starts off strong, gets weak in the middle and then bring it back for the last few episodes.
Anonymous said…
24...ugh. Don't get me started. Snoozeville. And, seriously - the ex-pres flatlines at the end of last week's ep, it's the cliffhanger moment, and no mention of him this week?

Re: Riches. OMG - that arm thing had me laughing so hard. Hilarious!

I love Sam. What a great character. I love the actress that plays DiDi. She was runner-up for a pilot we did once.

But....stupid fx and its long running shows! It cut off in the middle of the scene btw Wayne and Logan's dad. Was that the last scene? How'd it end?
Bill said…
I loved it. I didn't know the history of the pilot, but it did seem incredibly uneven. Eddie Izzard's charisma and a general interest of the premise had me back for this episode, which was fantastic. It was cool to see Sweet Dee in the episode to begin with, the arm thing on top of it was just awesome.

Spoilers for the very end of the episode below, so don't read on if you don't want to know how it ends.

Ally: Through the classic negotiating technique of fake russian roulette, Wayne gets Gregg Henry's character to hire him as an in-house counsel. The family celebrated in the pool in a nice bonding moment, and then they ended with a callback to the opening scene with Doug's phone ringing. Wayne picks it up but doesn't say anything, and a woman's voice says something like "Doug? Say something, I know you're there" while ominous music plays to make us think something sinister is going on, though I felt like she might've just been Doug's mistress. Or maybe the ominous music was just cause he'd promised Dahlia not to answer it. I'm not really sure. I think that was it for the episode, though.
Anonymous said…
Thanks, Darren!!
The CineManiac said…
ally if you want to see it for your self, it's on FX again late tonight (thankfully since I forgot to tivo it last night)
I didn't see the pilot but I really enjoyed last night's episode of "The Riches." It's not perfect but it is a truly original show and the performances by Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver are excellent. It may just tide me over while I wait for the return of my favorite dysfunctional family drama, "Big Love."
Anonymous said…
unlike the others here, i loved "The Riches" right from the first moment. it's an amazing cast and i love the dark humour and the weird idea that suburban angst and debt are what Wayne is chasing for his family, while leaving the life of the open road and catch as catch can income, that so many suburbanites think is the ideal way of living. i was hating monday night television since the demise (let's face it, it's dead, Jace!) of Studio 60. long live the Riches! i also enjoy the fact that the story line is as long as it needs to be and not crammed into 60 (47) minutes.

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