Returning for a strike-abbreviated second season, “The Riches” has become a bit of a high-wire act, mostly for the better. Built around a family of Gypsy Travellers that pilfered a dead couple’s identity to “steal the American dream,” this new batch of episodes finds the central family struggling to maintain that charade, facing the constant threat of exposure and grappling with moral choices regarding how far they’ll go. On the down side, the writing isn’t as strong as it should be to sustain this sort of delicate exercise, which doesn’t completely detract from the program’s modest charms.
Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver bring an adroit mix of black comedy and drama to their roles as Wayne and Dahlia Malloy, who’ve been tenuously clinging to their respectable life inside a gated community (aptly named Eden Falls) since a suspicious friend of the real Riches arrived last season. The problem is they have come to enjoy aspects of the life they’ve appropriated — so much so that pulling off even a simple scam now seems somehow beyond them, as if those skills have atrophied.
Throw in an unhappy neighbor (poignantly played by Margo Martindale) and Wayne’s beyond-eccentric boss (Gregg Henry), and there’s ample quirkiness to go around, as well as the introduction of a sinister new Traveller, Eamon Quinn (Jared Harris), whose intersection with the Malloys, four episodes in, still remains hazy.
The major downside here is that at times the twisty narrative risks toppling from social satire — a not-so-subtle commentary on suburbia as seen through the jaded eyes of the Malloys and their equally larcenous kids — into absurdity, including a protracted gag involving a dead body that’s a little too “Weekend at Bernie’s”-ish.
Seven episodes are in the can, and because they don’t offer closure, FX could face its own tough choice: Renew “The Riches” for a third go-round, or leave the modest fan base with an unsatisfying exit from Eden.
Granted, the premise always seemed to come armed with a built-in expiration date, though watching Izzard and Driver offers fair compensation so long as the audience doesn’t over-think the situations. Because while the Malloys are thus far getting by with their seat-of-the-pants shenanigans, TV shows tend to suffer when they appear to be making things up as they go along.