Alternative families are in vogue right now, but FX's latest -- a blend of "The Grifters," the CW's already-axed "Runaway" and HBO's secrets-behind-closed-doors "Big Love" -- doesn't possess the requisite magic to steal our hearts.
Alternative families are in vogue right now, but FX’s latest — a blend of “The Grifters,” the CW’s already-axed “Runaway” and HBO’s secrets-behind-closed-doors “Big Love” — doesn’t possess the requisite magic to steal our hearts. Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver lend star power to this tale regarding a family of Gypsy Travelers, which absconds with a stash of loot and seeks to pass as a respectable brood, the Riches, within the confines of a gated community. Although not the mess that “Dirt” is, the series is conceptually problematic, and seemingly ill-equipped to go the episodic distance.
We meet Wayne Malloy (Izzard) at someone else’s high-school reunion, which he and his kids have crashed, robbing the attendees blind. Putting the petty larceny in parenting, the Malloys operate under the theory that a family that steals together, stays together.
As for mom Dahlia (Driver), she’s just being released following a two-year prison stint that’s left her with a nasty drug habit. Once liberated, she admiringly tells her horny husband he can “con the hair off a dog.”
After a run-in with Dahlia’s extended clan prompts Wayne to pilfer their loot, the family takes off in an RV, leading to an accident that provides access to a palatial Louisiana home in the aptly named community Edenfalls. Suddenly, the Malloys have a shot at stealing — or more accurately, faking their way through — the American dream by becoming the Riches.
Written by series creator/ playwright Dmitry Lipkin, the premiere establishes this premise, while the second episode dives into the central question of whether Wayne and the gang can behave like “buffers” — their disparaging term for TV-watching drones who lead conventional lives. In the third hour, Wayne attempts to con his way through a full-time job as a corporate attorney, having impressed the firm’s snotty, eccentric boss (Gregg Henry) on the golf course.
It is, ultimately, another glimpse of domesticity through alien eyes. Channeling these strangers to suburbia, we get to see a world where the genial neighbor-lady (Margo Martindale) supplies mind-numbing pills and Wayne can B.S. his way through a rally-the-employees speech at work on nothing but platitudes, as if he were “Being There’s” Chauncey Gardiner.
A multifaceted actor and comic, Izzard feels somewhat shackled by the role, while Driver is more exotic as the wild, almost-feral Dahlia, who was weaned on a culture of crime.
The problem is that unless the audience proves willing to completely suspend disbelief, it’s difficult to fathom how “the Riches” can sustain this charade, inhabiting the identities of a couple who surely must have some family and friends. And while the threat of Dahlia’s crazy cousin Dale (Todd Stashwick) lingers in serialized fashion to create flickers of suspense, there’s nothing here — be it drama, humor or wit — approaching a full-blown spark. (Speaking of charades, while the pilot was shot in New Orleans, production then shifted to Southern California.)
FX has thrived by reinventing traditional genres with a jaundiced streak in “Nip/Tuck,” “Rescue Me” and “The Shield,” but its recent run of “Thief,” “Dirt” and now “The Riches” highlights the difficulty in creating provocative concepts that don’t feel forced or farfetched.
Despite moments of interest, then, odds are I’ll keep a buffer between myself and future episodes.