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TV Review: The Riches – Season Two

Everyone has their price. So argues Wayne Malloy (Eddie Izzard) at the outset of the second season of the FX show, The Riches. As the audience quickly finds out, that "everyone" includes Wayne himself.

The Riches follows the Malloy family – Wayne, Dahlia (Minnie Driver), Di Di (Shannon Marie Woodward), Cael (Noel Fisher), and Sam (Aidan Mitchell) – a group of Irish Travellers who have taken over the lives of the recently deceased Doug and Cherien Rich and their nonexistent children. As season one progressed, the Malloys found it harder and harder to maintain the ruse, and at the close of the season they were forced to try and run.

The second season picks up right where the first one left off, with the Malloys about to make their escape from Eden Falls and the lives of the Riches. However, after successfully disappearing, Wayne convinces the family they need to return. If the family can keep the con running just a little bit longer, Wayne, working as Doug at a real estate development company, stands to make 13 million dollars in a huge deal. The money is more than he can possibly ever pass up. As Driver explained on a recent conference call:

…it's a really Machiavellian idea, it’s the first time you’ve seen… Wayne operating outside of the unit. He’s doing something for the good of the family, but it’s not a familial decision. It’s something that he’s decided. I think that is a huge turning point. I think it says a lot that we go along with it… It’s setting up the season, because you’re basically going to see that spiritual and moral compunction unit come under even more fire, or you’re going to see kind of the true expression of who these people are I think this season, and I think it begins with that $13 million.

The Malloys, as a family of con artists, are not above taking money from people, but that 13 million is, as Izzard said "just more than he’s [Wayne] ever fathomed." He's willing to do whatever it takes to get that cash and then get away, and he's willing to sacrifice his family in the present in order to get the cash with the hopes of piecing them back together later.

Unlike the recently returned FX series, Dirt, which lightened up in tone for the second season, The Riches seems to have gone darker. Though the Malloys ran into a lot of trouble during the first season, the con, more often than not, seemed like fun to them. That sense is completely gone. Izzard explains the tone shift in this way:

I think the tone is more locked down…. I think we ended up at the end of the [first] season with this tone. It’s somewhat darker. Some of the episodes in the first season were slightly funnier, and they’re not [anymore], the funny comes out at very dry and bizarre circumstances in this season. It’s a drama with some quirky things going on in it. It’s just very sure and it’s dark and compelling, and it’s a train ride.

One of the things that has remained consistent from the first season to the second is the stellar acting. Both Izzard and Driver are truly compelling in their roles, and, very importantly, all of the younger actors (Fisher, Mitchell, and Woodward) are as well. Though the show revolves around a con that the Malloys are trying to pull, it is, very much, a family-centered drama. It's not family viewing material necessarily, but the show's best moments, its most intense moments, are all centered on how one of the Malloys' actions affect the rest of the unit.

That being said, the added darkness this season is something of a disappointment. One of the reasons the show worked so well last season is that there were moments of truly dark and disturbing things that were tempered by lighter riffs. Though some funny material does seep in this year, and the second episode of this season is a perfect example of that, the general lack of humor does bog down the series. There are however still numerous wonderful moments and scenes in this second season (at least the four episodes of it that I've watched), such as Dahlia's struggle with her own personal demons, and Cael's upset at returning to Eden Falls and the lives of the Riches, but it's all even more difficult to accept this season.

The basic problem with the "everyone has their price" notion in this context is that it feels like little more than a ploy on the part of the producers to have the audience accept the Malloys remaining in Eden Falls. Last season there was no compelling reason for them to stay when the going got tough, but there's something about the ploy this year that doesn't quite ring true. Thirteen million dollars is certainly a lot of money, but the hoops that Wayne and his family have to jump through to get the cash make it seem too hard.

If Izzard, Driver, and the rest of the cast didn't have the chemistry that they so clearly do, the plot by itself would not be enough of a reason to tune in. It was during The Riches' first season, but this year it's starting to feel a little stale. The Malloys are a family of Travellers, and they ought to do just that. And, failing that (which I'll grant is difficult if the show wants to keep calling itself The Riches), perhaps they shouldn't be so quick to abandon the moments of levity that helped make season one so much fun.

The Riches premieres March 18 at 10 p.m. on FX.

About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.

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