Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Rags to "Riches": Not Quite a Cinderella Story

IMDB bills The Riches as, " A family of crooks assume the identity of an upper-middle-class suburban clan in the Deep South." Maggie and I were discussing this show the other day, and why we both (initially) gave it a pass. Nothing about it really grabbed our attention. Plus, I thought it would be a ridiculous farce with Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard pretending that their British accents were fake, "faffing about" with a supporting cast of hillbillies.

3.8 million viewers for the pilot and one Emmy nomination later, and it still took a friend's recommendation to get me interested in this show. I don't know what my problem was. After watching my first episode, in which the Malloy family barely manages to pull off a huge con and the audience is made to feel sympathy for a sex-addicted former sports hero, I knew there was something special about this show. After watching my second episode, in which a little boy dresses in drag to a dinner party and illicit drugs are snorted off a terrifying woman's chest, I knew I was hooked.

Stealing the American Dream, one hapless victim at a time.

I should have remembered that Driver shined as the female lead in Gross Pointe Blank, one of my favorite black comedies of all time. And no one can have as whimsical a stage persona as Izzard without harboring a secret dark side. He probably refuses to recycle and hunts kittens for sport. Incidentally, the idea that the youngest son of the family, Sam, likes to wear his sister's dresses (reportedly) predates Izzard's involvement with the project.

"You there - cake or death?"

The Riches is actually a deeply disturbing and wholly engrossing send-up of the All-American Good Life. The Malloys, modern-day gypsies, are cast out of the caravan in a power struggle with their fellow 'travelers.' After being involved in a fatal car accident (well, fatal for the real Riches), they are presented with the opportunity to attempt life as 'buffers' - ordinary people. The family is resistant to the idea, but they follow their struggling patriarch on this madcap adventure because they don't even consider doing anything else. Their devotion to one another (amidst death, destruction and the cynicism of other travelers and buffers alike) is like an unexpected hug. Heartwarming.

I have no idea what's going on here...
but I can't wait to find out.

And there's so much more to this show that I haven't even mentioned - the beautiful music, the colorful traveler terminology, the amazing cast. So Netflix season one and mark your calendar for season two (Tuesdays at 10pm on FX, starting March 18th). You can't afford to miss The Riches.

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