Tuesday, March 13, 2007

TV: The Riches

FX has a pretty good track record with their original series. I still lament the cancellation of their first original sitcom, Lucky, which was fantastic. As was their prematurely ended war drama, Over There. As far as shows still airing go, they've got The Shield, one of the best dramas on TV, and they've got It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, one of the best sitcoms on TV. They've got Rescue Me and Nip/Tuck -- neither of which I watch, I admit, but I at least know that they're well-made. They've got a track record with original series rivalled only by HBO, which makes every new FX program worth checking out. Which brings us to The Riches, the new series starring Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver.

As I often have been with FX shows, I was a little bit surprised with what I got when I watched the pilot episode of The Riches. The show is about a family of Irish gypsies, or "Travellers," who make their living as con artists and thieves. The head of the family, Wayne Malloy (Izzard), is sick of the camp life they live, and of being controlled by the leader of their little Traveller clan, and he wants a bit more out of life. And when his wife, Dahlia (Driver), is released from prison after two years, Wayne tries to get that better life by stealing the clan's money and fleeing. When a subsequent car accident kills a rich couple who have just bought a house in a wealthy community, Wayne decides the Malloys are going to assume the identities of the dead couple, and move into their luxurious home. It's the American Dream, Wayne says, and they're going to steal it!

What surprised me was how little humor there was in the show. The promos from FX had led me to believe it would be falling squarely on the comedy side of dramedy, as did the premise -- gypsies steal a mansion! Culture clash hilarity ensues! -- and the casting, primarily that of Izzard, who is still known more for his stand-up comedy than his acting. But the pilot episode was exceedingly dark, with only a few light moments scattered here and there. I was expecting more of Wayne playing golf with his new smarmy bastard of a neighbor, Hugh (Gregg Henry, Gilmore Girls' Mitch Huntzberger), but instead it was weighted more along the lines of Dahlia struggling with the heroin addiction she picked up in prison, or dwelling on the horrible deaths of the rich couple (including the husband impaled on a tree branch).

But once I adjusted my expectations, I found myself enjoying the show a great deal. Izzard and Driver are great in the lead roles (though Driver is far better at her American accent than Izzard); Izzard is an intelligent, effortless charmer, and I've always loved Driver (though, frankly, she's looked better than she does here, say, passed out and covered with cough syrup -- another addiction). And, now that moving into the new house has been established in the pilot, I expect the show will settle into a rhythm it didn't quite find with all the roaming about in this episode. I'm keen to see how the Malloys (or, as they are now known, the Riches) will integrate into high society (or any kind of settled society), and to see how the fallout from Wayne's theft of the Travellers' camp will reach them.

The Riches isn't a complete success right out of the box, but it has two strong leads and a premise with a lot of potential, and is well worth watching.

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