The Riches: Season 1 (DVD)

Once upon a time, Hollywood Brits were distinguished by their sneers; these days, it’s accents. Bob Hoskins, Hugh Laurie, Michael Caine and now Eddie Izzard have all found pots of transatlantic gold courtesy of the dodgiest accents this side of Noo Joirsey — yet the Yanks seem to love it, so who are we to complain?  

The Riches has done well enough on FX in the States to justify a second series, so it can’t be bad and it isn’t. The plot concerns a family of travelling grifters called the Malloys, on the run from their gypsy-like clan after Daddy Malloy runs off with the family silver. A car accident leads to them discovering the bodies of a couple about to move into their plush new home in Eden Falls. Identities duly stolen and bodies disposed of, the Riches assume their new life in the 'burbs. The first 12 episodes show the family’s early struggle with the morality of their actions and the practical implications of living a lie, a junkie wife and three kids, the youngest of whom seems to be a transvestite. And there’s much to love about this series, most specifically Minnie Driver as the newly-paroled mum. Driver continues to put down consistently excellent performances in everything from Alan Partridge to Grosse Point Blank, and here she adds depth and conflict to almost every scene she’s in. Story wise, the series resolves a single domestic issue per week (school, work, troublesome exes) while the wider arc slowly creeps over the series, as forgotten relatives and friends of the real Riches show up to make things more complicated. But at the end of the day, it’s how you like Izzard that determines whether this all works for you.

And for me, it really doesn’t. Izzard remains one of the world’s best standups apparently breaking his back to be just another mediocre Hollywood actor, and although this is his best ‘straight’ performance so far, it’s hard not to imagine a hundred Americans doing it a whole lot better. Somehow he fails to convince as either a father, bullshitter or even American. No, the accent doesn’t help, interfering with Izzard’s natural ability for lateral improv, which is clearly the reason show creator Dmitry Lipkin wrote the part for him. Sometimes, you see flashes of the mercurial genius he used to be, but sadly it’s a talent still awaiting transfer to the screen. It’s also tantalising to think what the likes of Steve Martin might have made of the same role. Don’t get me wrong — The Riches is always watcheable and the performances generally engaging. And by the excellent final episode, you really do want to see what happens next (and now you can — the first instalment of season 2 can be seen here).
However, a premise that could so easily have turned into a non-violent, white-trash Sopranos, never achieves anything like that greatness. Izzard may be likeable, but head of a family he ain’t!

EXTRAS ** There’s a couple of short featurettes, a gag real, two episode commentaries from Izzard and Lipkin and some rather dull PR frills and casting sessions. Not a lot, really.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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