At first glance, The Riches would appear to be another show that fell by the wayside at the hands of the infamous writers' strike of 2007-08. After a first season (before the strike) which garnered the show Emmy and Golden Globe consideration for one of its stars, Minnie Driver (Grosse Pointe Blank), the show went from a thirteen episode run in Season One to a post-strike paltry (and incomplete) seven episodes in Season Two. The show was cancelled shortly after completion of the second season, and we the viewers are left to consume the remaining entertainment morsels.
For those not familiar with the story, Driver and Eddie Izzard (Ocean's Thirteen) portray Dahlia and Wayne Malloy, two con artists who swindle innocent people of their money and move, almost like gypsies, from location to location. After stealing a bunch of money from their fellow "travelers," they accidentally kill Doug and Cherien Rich, and rather than go back to the camp where the travelers are, they assume the identity of the Riches. The Malloys feel as if it's their chance to get something that they'd normally neither have the right nor the credentials to achieve, so why not ride the free ride as much as possible? The show follows their adventures along the way of them and their children. The oldest is Carl (Noel Fisher, Agent Cody Banks), who loves the grift and pulls whatever tricks he can, despite the slightly disapproving stance of his parents. The middle child is Delilah (Shannon Marie Woodward, The Comebacks), whose arranged marriage in the travelers was the reason why the Malloys left the camp in the first place, and she's adjusting to life in school. The youngest child is Sam, who has a thing for cross-dressing. Weird, since Izzard is a cross-dressing comic, but purely coincidental to the show's flow.
Not having seen the first season, both the briefing I received from my wife, as well as the "previously on" segments that ran before each episode, thankfully I didn't need to ask a lot of questions. Wayne/Doug is trying to keep the family's cover while being a confidant of the law firm's boss, an abrasive southerner named Hugh (Gregg Henry, United 93). His main protagonist in this regard is Dale (Todd Stashwick, You, Me and Dupree) who knows the Malloys from the camps and threatens to expose them in exchange for the large chunk of money Wayne is about to acquire (he is, after all, Wayne's brother). In many regards, some of twists and turns similar to another show featuring crime in a white-collar neighborhood, Showtime's excellent Weeds. That said, the compelling character to watch in The Riches is Dahlia/Cherien. Driver's character suffered from drug addiction and was in prison for a couple of years, and this life without any real identity is tough for her to grasp. She tries to keep Carl away from making the same mistakes she did, and she also has trouble with the measures Wayne takes to keep the family safe. Unlike Weeds' Nancy Botwin, Dahlia has real problems adjusting to this life and she fears whatever actions she may take might have consequence. She feels a tremendous sense of guilt and conflict over what happens around her in Season Two, and I can see why Driver was nominated for her work, it's compelling to watch.
There are times however where things felt a little too forced. Driver's southern drawl (and Izzard's lack of one, for that matter) is on the hammish side of things, and three kids in the family was a little too much time away from the Wayne and Dahlia struggles of daily life. But the show manages to combine the right about of tension with a dash of clever humor every so often (an episode late in the season with a friend of Dahlia's and her gay husband celebrating his birthday is joyous and fun, until, well, it's not). And unlike Weeds, the tension surrounding the protagonists is palpable and real for the viewer. It's a shame that showrunner Dmitry Lupkin didn't get to realize closure, as something tells me there could have been some tragic circumstances met to one of the show's more recognizable characters.
The second season of The Riches arrives in 1.78:1 widescreen, replicating the original broadcast format. There was some pixelation in the blacks and some edge enhancement in some of the brighter sequences, but the episodes are pretty well-preserved from their broadcast and those issues aren't a distraction to the overall picture.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack doesn't do too much, as most of the action is focused around the dialogue, but it does some subtle environmental stuff which surprises. For instance, the scenes where Dahlia is in her apartment, you can hear music from other rooms seeping in through the walls, and other effects designed for an enveloping experience. Dialogue wavers a little bit but it's clear and requires little user compensation, and overall I liked what was done here.
The only thing here is an interview with Izzard entitled "Eddie Izzard: Revealed," and at just over six minutes Eddie basically talks about the show and a couple of the characters, with footage of Season One interspersed in there. Boring. Oh yeah, for a seven-episode run, why do we get two flipper discs? Considering that they hype the recycled packaging here, a seven-ep, two disc effort would seem to run counterproductive to the green effort that Fox is making.
The Riches is fun and unfortunate, sometimes concurrently, in the way the characters tell the story. It's kind of tragic that they had to leave the show in an incomplete manner without resolution, but alas there might be hope. Co-star Eddie Izzard has indicated that he would like to bring the show's conclusion in a movie of some sort, which is admirable. But I've got to say to Mr. Izzard, please, PLEASE don't make it like the Dead Like Me conclusion. As it stands, the second season of The Riches is worth perusing for Izzard and Driver.