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 in 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, the pilot 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 Malloy 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 they 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.

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Jace is an LA-based television development and acquisitions junior exec who watches way too much television for his own good and would love a TiVo for every room in the house. (He’s halfway there.) His blog, Televisionary, can be found at televisionary.blogspot.com.