Riviera is another addition to an ever increasing lineup of original content being developed by Sky Atlantic to compete with Netflix, Amazon and other TV channels. With more and more viewing options popping up these days it's taking something special to stand out from the crowd. Sky developing their own programming is another way of stepping up their game and fighting for ratings in an overcrowded market. Recent efforts include Idris Elba in Guerrilla and Tim Roth's Tin Star, both of which were met with positive if not spectacular reactions. Their winning template seems to be to have an attention grabbing lead star, in this case Julia Stiles, and build success from there. It certainly works for the first episode but is there enough here to keep your attention for an entire season?
The 10-part first season follows Georgina Clios (Stiles) in the beautiful and sunny setting of the French Riviera, full of fast cars and rich men and women all vying for power and attention. Married to billionaire husband Constantine (Anthony LaPaglia) she's living the high life as an art curator, looking for the most impressive pieces worldwide to add to their collections for love and profit. The Clios' seem happy and in love with both of them contributing their own unique personality traits and attributes to form a successful relationship. She has the beauty and knowledge while he has the money and local connections. But what may seem all rosy on the surface is not necessarily as perfect as it seems, much like the setting this mysterious tale takes place in.
It doesn't take long for Georgina's life to be turned upside down. While looking to bid on some new art she leaves her husband to his own devices and let's just say he isn't exactly honest about his whereabouts when he's on the other end of the phone to her. She's unaware of the fact he's on a yacht staring at a stunning younger lady in a bikini, but she soon finds out where he was when she returns to be notified that there was an explosion on the yacht and Constantine is presumed dead. This is a catalyst for her entire world unwinding, her trust destroyed and everything she thought she knew suddenly under doubt.
Constantine doesn't just leave behind a widow but an entire family. His ex-wife Irina (Lena Olin) is an intimidating and fearless woman determined to remain successful despite the loss of her husband. She's clearly not a fan of Georgina and has never wanted her to take her place in the family. Game of Thrones fans will recognise Iwan Rheon aka Ramsay Bolton as Adam Clios, the eldest son in the family, thankfully far less creepy and sinister than his Westeros efforts. His sister Adriana (Roxane Duran) has her own troubles coming out of her family drama and losing her father sets her off down a dangerous path while brother Christos (Dimitri Leonidas) is put in charge of the family business but proves himself to be a questionable choice for the role.
There's no doubt that the cast is exceptional. Olin manages to steal every scene she's in effortlessly, while Stiles holds the show together with a vulnerability becoming of a woman scorned. Both women manage to juggle the determination and strength of their high powered characters with an emotional range necessary to make them relatable to the audience. Duran as the struggling daughter is a believable presence while Rheon doesn't get a huge amount to sink his teeth into which is disappointing. Whether it's in Misfits or Thrones he has shown what he's capable of as both a hero and a villain but here Adam is quite middling for the majority and feels a waste of Iwan's talents. Christos is probably the most intriguing of the Clios family offspring and Leonidas deals well with the ups and downs of his character and he's quite easy to dislike.
The drama doesn't all focus on the Clios family however with numerous familiar faces popping up as pawns in this artistic game. Adrian Lester, probably best known for Hustle, is enjoyable as Georgina's friend Robert Carver, another art dealer who falls slightly on the wrong side of the line but proves to be very helpful in her investigations into Constantine's suspicious activity. Veteran Phil Davis (Quadrophenia, Vera Drake and Sherlock) also appears, lending his talents to the role of Jukes, an Interpol investigator looking into art fraud. He makes for a worth adversary to those in the French Riviera and you get the feeling that if anyone can get to the bottom of the case it's him.
There's just enough twists and turns and tension to keep Riviera interesting to the end. Many may remember Stiles from her teen film phase but she was fantastic in the fifth season of Dexter in a much more serious role, and here she delivers another top notch television performance. Her role here as Georgina may not be quite as complex as Lumen in Dexter but it's still one worthy of her talents. Riviera may not be the most memorable of shows but as a ten part drama you can binge watch over a few nights or a weekend, it's an enjoyable enough distraction. In parts it feels like a high class soap and in others a detective show and arguably it'd be more successful in picking one avenue and sticking to it. It's also a shame that talents such as LaPaglia and Rheon are quite underutilised but what they do they do well. The highlights are probably Stiles and Lester working together and any time Lena Olin speaks. Riviera is a good distraction while you wait for something better to come along, but won't be at the top of anyone's lists by the end of the year.
EXTRAS: Nothing at all.