Half a millennium separates the Tudors (England’s royal house from 1485 to 1603) from the Riches (the name adopted by a family of Travellers from the South who assume an alternate identity). And let’s not forget that the Tudors were real and the Riches are pure fiction.
Even so, Showtime’s “The Tudors” and FX’s “The Riches” have much in common.
Both, for example, have conflicted patriarchs at their centers: Doug Rich (formerly known as Wayne Malloy), played by Eddie Izzard, and Henry VIII, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
Both shows also feature complicated female leads, with Minnie Driver as the pill-popping Cherien Rich (Dahlia Malloy in her previous life) and Maria Doyle Kennedy and Natalie Dormer as the first two of Henry’s six wives, the dour Katherine of Aragon and the scheming Anne Boleyn.
“It’s all about people’s lives and how they relate to each other,” says Morgan O’Sullivan, executive producer of “The Tudors.” He cites American soap operas as an inspiration for the series, which was created and written by executive producer Michael Hirst.
“Katherine of Aragon makes Henry’s shirts, and this drives Anne Boleyn crazy, and that says more about them all than anything else,” O’Sullivan adds. “It’s the little things that really cause the fallings out, and Michael uses that to give you insights into people.”
Dmitry Lipkin, creator of “The Riches,” says familial issues form the foundation of his series as well. “It’s a show about a family and how it functions or dysfunctions,” he says, “and that’s the one immutable thing about the show.”
Among the producers’ challenges are the myriad options family life presents — an issue magnified when characters lead double lives, as the Riches do.
“Part of our problem is not getting a little schizophrenic,” Lipkin says, “making sure we spend enough time with each facet of the show in a patient way. There are so many dramatic and narrative possibilities.”
O’Sullivan wouldn’t have it any other way. “When you look at life,” he says, “it’s about relationships — whether it’s a family or a country. What TV does even better than cinema is look at things that way. I just hope we haven’t brought it down to the lowest common denominator.”
“The Riches”/Dmitry Lipkin:
Best episode: “I’m partial to the pilot, because it’s the premise, and I did get to spend a lot more time on it.”
Underappreciated character: “It’s a hard one, but I would say Cael, the elder son. Noel Fisher, who plays Cael, is such a good actor, but he’s not showy. He really roots the family in such an important way.”
Best line: “At the end of the ‘Cinderella’ episode, a guest actor looks at a clock in the Riches’ house and says, ‘It’s almost midnight.’ Then Dahlia looks at the clock and says, ‘That clock is busted. It’s always 11:59 around here.’ ”
“The Tudors”/Morgan O’Sullivan:
“I suppose the best episode is No. 5. I think the characters are in great flow … they’re all preening their feathers to perfection.”
“Because I love him so much as an actor, I’d say John Kavanagh, who has the relatively minor role of Cardinal Campeggio, who represents the pope. I love the little bits of business that (he) does as an actor.”
“Thomas Boleyn and Henry are playing chess, and Henry asks Boleyn, ‘Are (King Francis’) calves as great as my calves?’ And Boleyn responds, ‘Your majesty, no one has calves like you.’ It’s a terrific scene.”