One of the cool things about having TV again is watching promos and getting excited. I mean, how much of your love for shows like 24 is due to the great promos? (This is completely the opposite of the end-of-show “next week” promos, which give half the episode away.)
Anyway, I have long been a champion of FX, which I consider just a step below HBO in terms of quality programming. The 5 Networks are many steps below that, at least in terms of average. When I first got TV the FX promos were for Dirt, which starred Courtney Cox as a Tabloid Magazine editor. Tons of sex and sizzle here, but I think the show was set up inherently flawed, and therefore forced to rely on gimmickry just a few episodes out of the gate.
The next big promo was for “The Riches,” which seemed to be about a family who is pretending to live the life of rich people. The previews definitely make it look like a comedy, sort of out the TRADING PLACES vein, one of the best comedies of the ‘80s and still eminently watchable. (By the way, this was only Eddie’s second movie, after 48 HOURS, when he was so small that he wasn’t title billed. Go back and watch Eddie; you can totally predict his rocket ascent.)
I didn’t catch the premiere of The Riches (Monday nights at 10 on FX, with several Encores through the week), only because I saw no compelling reason to watch a comedy rip off of TRADING PLACES. But last night I caught one of the encores just to see what was up, and whoa!
First off, it’s NOT a comedy. Oh, there are plenty of funny moments, but call The Riches more of a tragedy, at least the first episode. We begin with Eddie Izzard, and as Troy McClure would say, “It was the part he was born to play, baby!”
Izzard, playing Wayne Malloy, is walking down a high school hall way with his two daughters as they quiz him on year book facts. Wayne gets most of the “facts” wrong on who was voted Best Smile, most likely to succeed, etc. They get to the entrance of the gymnasium, looking over name tags of who didn’t make the 25th Class Reunion. Selecting one, the three enter, with Wayne Mallow now transformed.
Wayne works the room effortlessly, like he just stepped out of WEDDING CRASHERS, while his two daughters help liberate purses and wallets. Wayne gets so into the moment that instead of discreetly getting away (where his son has the RV waiting), Wayne gets up to make a speech!
I tell you the truth: never have I wanted to have a family more, just so we could go on the road as con artists.
If this were the show, over the top dark comedy, I might well have softened my original stance and gone for it. But when the family picks up mom Dahlia from Prison (played my Minnie Driver, in one of those roles written to tempt big movie stars into doing TV), The Riches takes a complete 180.
First off, Dahlia has drug/alcohol issues, and that’s the highlight. Then the family returns “home,” to a band of white gypsies living out in the sticks of Mississippi or Alabama (or one of those “inbred” states, we’re led to believe), in a scene three steps left of DELIVERANCE.
I would have been offended at the crass portrayal of white trash, but these people were so many leagues below white trash that it went from gross caricature to other species. So unbelievable was the scene (basically homeless people who live in R.V.s, and roam the land scamming people), that I’m tempted to think it’s actually real. It can’t be, but it made me want to believe.
True to the tribal nature of this meeting, the clan is “led” by an ogre of a man, cousin to Dahlia, and perhaps he wishes to be more than cousins? (If that very notion offends you, know this: it’s the least offensive notion in this part of the show, yet somehow the whole thing works. I have no idea how.)
Wayne, though, Wayne was meant for better things. Escaping with stolen money, an improbably accident leads the family to see two rich people dead off the road. (The dead guy is called Doug Rich.) Regular people are called “buffers” by the white gypsies (which I’m calling them until someone gives me something better), for reasons I’m not entirely sure of. Buffers between the gypsies and what?
Anyway, all of this leads the Malloy family to the Doug Rich’s new house, where it turns out (in a SHOCKING plot twist!) that no one in rich mansion land has met the dead guy or his wife. At this point you can figure out where they are going.
I have no idea if The Riches is going to keep up the Comic-Tragic (or is it Tragic-Comic?) tone, but that’s what kept me hooked. It was just utterly bizarre. Like nothing I’d seen in some time. In a way it reminded me of the first season of Six Feet Under, you know, before that show got so full of itself and depressing that it became virtually un-watchable.
Here’s the thing: since I have no idea where they are going, I can’t recommend the full season yet. But I absolutely must demand that you watch this first episode, at least if you are a fan of intelligent drama. The series is exquisitely acted, and if you think I gave away lots of plot twists, I didn’t. There is plenty in the pilot to savor.
You can watch the pilot over at AOL Television by clicking this link. If you do it today you can catch episode two tonight at 10:00, or catch one of the replays (tonight at 11:08, Wednesday at Midnight, Saturday at 10:00 or Sunday at 11:00)
I’m curious what people think of this pilot, whether they are too offended for words, or intrigued with the possibilities, so check it out and let me know what you think.