The Beautiful Lie of The Riches

I've been eagerly awaiting the start of season two of The Riches, and tonight the wait is over. When we left the Malloy family, their new bourgeois lifestyle was threatened by the arrivals of Pete (the real Doug Rich's best friend), and fellow Traveller, Dale. They were just about home free after slipping Pete a roofie and bolting for their RV, only to find that the engine had been sabotaged by Dale and wouldn’t start. Something tells me that Edenfalls isn’t done with this bunch, and with pill-popping, nosy-but-nice neighbor, Nina, on their side, I think they might stand a chance of staying on.

FX seems to theme their original programming around anti-heros. At first glance, the Malloy family seems to fit right in with the corrupt cops on The Shield, ruthless attorneys on Damages, and morally questionable plastic surgeons on Nip/Tuck. The Riches, however, is not nearly as dark as some of FX's other programming, providing more opportunities for comic moments and more sympathetic characters. In the grand scheme of things, the Malloys aren't really hurting anybody who isn't begging for it.

The Riches gives us twin portraits of two American subcultures: the Travellers, modern Irish gypsies who make a living by pulling cons, and suburban upper class "McMansion" communities. If there's one overarching theme to the show, it's that everyone is pretending to be someone they aren't, including the so-called upstanding citizens the Malloys con. Nina and Jim have a seemingly normal marriage, except for the fact that Jim is gay and more interested in his alpacas than his wife. Hartley, the self-appointed, one-armed queen of the homeowners' association is married to a man three times her age, and has an eye for the hired help.

Equally compelling are the reactions of the three Malloy kids to their new life. Cael, the oldest son, thinks they are betraying their Traveller roots and wants to go back to their old life. Di Di embraces the upper middle-class lifestyle and wants to go to college. Sam, the youngest, also likes their life in Edenfalls, but the double life can't be helping his confusion about his gender identity.

The acting on The Riches is phenomenal. A few months ago, I cited Minnie Driver's performance as Dahlia as one of the best of 2007. Eddie Izzard, formerly well-known for his stand-up work, is a revelation as Wayne, a guy who wants to do what's best for his family but also can't resist the rush of the perfect con. Noel Fisher and Shannon Marie Woodward manage the difficult task of making Cael and Di Di mature but believable teenagers. (Although Woodward looks so much like Damages' Rose Byrne I'm sometimes not sure which FX show I'm watching.) As Sam, Aidan Mitchell provides an innocent center for the show. His cross-dressing is portrayed with sensitivity and understanding. Not surprising, considering that he has Izzard, who identifies as a transvestite and usually appears in drag at stand-up performances, on hand to consult.

(Incidentally, if you only know Izzard from his acting roles and aren't familiar with his comedy work, you owe it to yourself to check out his DVDs. Trust me. You'll laugh for days.)

The Riches puts the "original" in original cable programming. With its mix of drama, comedy, and cultural commentary, there's nothing else like it on TV. The Riches airs on FX on Tuesdays at 10:00 EST, with multiple reruns throughout the week.

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Amy Kane spends as much quality time with her television as possible, when she's not busy at her day job as a cube dweller.