Making the world a better place, one show at a time.

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I guess you would like to know a little bit about the person making all these proclamations upon good taste and horrid characters. I'm Andrea and when I was 15 I fell in love. An hour after meeting "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" I was forever altered in the way only love can, and I never questioned for one minute afterwards that television offered me an amazing chance to experience lives and moments that I could never imagine. So now, when I'm not getting distracted by my real life, I write about TV. I also read, am finishing a Master's degree in English Literature, travel, am attempting to learn vegan cooking, am the 5th of 6 children, and drive my roommate nuts by constantly cleaning our already clean apartment. Now that we're old friends, time for you to take my opinions as the be all and end all.

Monday, March 10, 2008

My Weekend Fling: The Riches (8)

I do not quite know where to begin in reviewing this show. I can say that after watching the entire first season over the weekend (it is only 13 episodes, so not even a challenge) I am excited for the new season to start on March 18th. The season finale was a perfect mix of cliffhanger and resolution. I want to know what happens next to the Malloys but I do not feel like I am being unjustly propelled into another season of a show that will only disappoint me. (I will use an example to illustrate what I am talking about. I watched a couple seasons of a show called MI-5. Most of the episodes, around 90%, were tedious and impossible to figure out what happened. The characters were flat and the romantic storylines were ludicrous. But the season finales were unbelievable. The stories were exciting, the characters vivid, the performances impressive, and when the finale ended I had the immense desire to watch the next season, despite the fact that I knew already that the next season would be boring and arduous. At the end of Season Three I broke the cycle of manipulation and parted ways with this show. I have not regretted my choice, and I use this show as a personal cautionary tale to remind myself that one episode does not redeem a whole show.) The fate of Wayne, Dahlia, and children is uncertain, but minor storylines were wrapped up so they could move forward.

But let me move backwards. The Malloys are: the father Wayne (Eddie Izzard), the mother Dahlia (Minnie Driver), the oldest son Cael (Noel Fisher), the daughter Di Di (Shannon Marie Woodward) and youngest son who dresses as a girl Sam (Aidan Mitchell). They call themselves “Travelers” but I am fairly sure ordinary society would like to stick to the traditional “Gypsies,” but I am splitting hairs. They live out of an RV, run scams to make money, do not have social security numbers, do not pay taxes, and are part of a large (but rather inbreed) family that has a base camp in some forest in the South. Dahlia is released from a two-year stint in jail, where she developed a drug addiction, in the series premier. It is obvious from the get go that Wayne and the larger family are experiencing some difficulties, the details of which take up a nice chunk of the first episode, so before long they are out on the road again, and an altercation with one of the camp members (in a Ben-Hur type race, only in RVs) results in a luxury sedan crashing off the road. The Malloys try to rescue the victims, performing CPR and attempting to help. But the couple, Doug and Cherien Rich, die and the Malloys assume their identities in the Riches new home: Eden Falls (ha ha, get the joke). Hilarity ensues. Okay, well, sort of.

The premise of The Riches did not do much for me when I first heard about it. In fact, it seemed kind of creepy, and well, it kind of is. But the characters realize that what they are doing is kind of creepy. They talk about losing their souls by moving into “the dead guy’s” house. And they think that the real Doug and Cherien may have lost their souls because the Malloys have taken over their lives. But the premise is a vehicle to explore some of the fundamental complexities of human existence: how does a marriage survive when trust is broken; when does a lie become the truth and the truth become a lie; how do parents respond as their children grow up; if there a division between who you are on the inside and who you present to the world, how do you draw that line; is family all we really have; can we make any substantial change to who we are, or are our changes just accidental (superficial); when is giving-up prudence not cowardice; do we have a right to a certain type of life?

While the themes, the questions raised and addressed, are quite serious, the show does not take itself seriously. The Riches reminds me of Ben Jonson’s plays; there are so many ridiculous things happening, and it is incredibly funny, but the ridiculous propels real stories about the ambiguities of moral judgment. The neighbor in Eden Falls, Nina (Margo Martindale) makes ostentatious phallic pottery in her garage (and the viewer eventually finds out why). The neighborhood shrew Hartley Underwood (Kaitlin Olson) got her arm bitten off by a crocodile, but she is also a kleptomaniac. The man who may prove the Malloy’s undoing is as sniveling an excuse for a human being that modern therapy is capable of producing. And the Malloy’s schemes and plots are priceless. My personal favorite is when they impersonate missionaries to get social security cards for the children.

The Riches is infernal comedy; it is hard to say that any of the adult characters (I will address the children in a moment) are “good” people because everyone is fallen and impure. The show utilizes contrast; the evil of one is always in comparison to the evil of another. They discover that the real Riches were selfish and unloving, so Wayne and Dahlia are doing more good with the available means than those to whom it rightfully belongs. Dale Malloy (Todd Stashwich), Wayne’s nemesis whom happens to be in love with Dahlia and is trying to gain control of the family from his dying father, is one of the nastiest people on TV. This is a dude that even when he has recently shaven still has a two-o’clock shadow. On Homer Simpson it is funny, on real people it is kind of my definition of icky. I fully support anything anyone does to thwart and frustrate this man. The concept of comparison is used for more than the characters. The Traveler camp is filled with RVs, and the RVs are filled to bursting: trinket, clothing, memories, the sum of which represents a traditional way of life and a communal heritage. The homes of Eden Falls are decorated with objects that serve no purpose and only highlight the sterility and artificiality of the lives lived inside. To fit in with his new neighbors Wayne rents a silver Mercedes, to embrace her new role Dahlia buys a red Mustang.

The Malloys lie, cheat, and steal, but within their cosmos they are attempting to be the best people possible. You might not want to like them, but (fairly quickly) you do. One reason that the viewer (or at least me) likes them is the children. Sam says the least of any of the characters, but I think I love him the best. Sam is an artist. He changes the trials of his life into a sweeping mural, he wants the world to be painted with beauty, and he actively draws others into his vision, especially ones who could potentially be left behind. Sam is not a cliché; he is a respectfully rendered character with an aesthetic soul. Di Di accepted the female lead in her family while her mother was in prison, but now that Dahlia is back, Di Di is confused as to whether she is child or an adult. Even when she is being a bit of a brat, you wonder in what other way should she react given her circumstances. Her desire for a “normal” life stands in opposition to Cael’s desire to return to their old one (again the contrasting). Cael is not a caricature of a lazy teenager who has no desire to better himself. Rather Cael sees the difference between being a liar and being a hypocrite, and sees the only “honest” life is that of a liar. My hope is that Cael never quits smoking. (I think it would make me sad in a similar way as when Ryan never smoked again after the Pilot episode of The O.C.) I want Cael to keep smoking because it functions as an indication of his attitude towards a situation. He lights up when a family dinner has turned disastrous because from his perspective there is no way to make the situation worse. (Dale also smokes, but he uses the time of lighting a cigarette to try to intimidate people. Dale is an evil smoker, Cael is an awesome smoker. Do not be brainwashed by liberal propaganda; smoking is unhealthy, but there are good smokers and bad smokers. But I digress.)

There are a few assumptions The Riches makes that are distracting; capitalism is inherently corrupt, Christians are homophobic. These examples are almost incidental within the scope of the show, and things that are just culturally unquestioned, so I should not be a harpy about them, but for a show that exists outside the box it is vexing to see such pedestrian material employed.

By the way, the cast performances are fantastic. Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver are playing pretty far from type, and they are phenomenal to watch.

The TV Girl

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