FX's "The Riches" stars, clockwise from top, Minnie Driver, Shannon Woodard, Noel Fisher, Eddie Izzard and Aidan Mitchell.
FX, once unassailable, has stumbled of late, following in the same missteps of its pay cable inspiration, HBO.
When: 10 tonight, FX.
Starring: Minnie Driver, Eddie Izzard.
"Dirt" premiered to largely negative reviews on FX in January, and although the Courteney Cox tabloid drama has shown marked improvement in recent episodes, it's by no means a slam dunk for renewal.
FX's next drama, "The Riches" (10 tonight), is a better show, particularly in episodes that follow tonight's ho-hum pilot. Whether viewers cotton to it will depend on how comfortable they are watching a protagonist in jeopardy.
Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard star as a married couple of "travelers," Southern gypsies, who, after a road rage RV accident, assume the identities of a wealthy couple and move their three children into the couple's purchased-over-the-Internet new home.
"We're gonna live the American dream," dad Wayne Malloy (Izzard) declares. "Like buffers!"
("Buffers" is how these grifters refer to the rest of us.)
As the pilot begins, mom Dahlia is just out of prison after doing time for a crime Wayne actually committed. Wayne steals money from the "family" bank, and soon the Malloys are on the run with their three children in tow.
After setting up in the home of now-deceased Doug and Cherien Rich, the Malloys must undertake a 24/7 deception as they try to con their children into an expensive private school.
Thematically, "The Riches" shares much in common with HBO's "Big Love," which is also about a family that spends a lot of time and energy trying to pass as "normal" (in "Big Love," it's a polygamous family).
While "Big Love" quickly established its characters' motivations, "The Riches" allows questions to linger: Why does youngest son Sam (Aidan Mitchell) insist on dressing up as a girl? When we first meet him, his dad is shaking down attendees at a high school reunion, so a disguise for the kid makes sense. Only later is it clear that the boy likes to wear girls' clothing, but the first three episodes sent for review don't really dig any deeper into his character.
Even after the Malloys have moved into their mansion, the theft of money from back in the travelers' camp continues to haunt them as nasty Dale (Todd Stashwick) tries to track the family down. Executive producers Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin previously worked on HBO's "Carnivale," so they bring an understanding of Dust Bowl carny culture, which seems to be pretty complementary to this particular gypsy clan.
Created by playwright Dmitry Lipkin, "The Riches" found strong, capable leads in Driver and Izzard. Nevermind that Driver is impossibly beautiful to be playing a Southern bumpkin, she makes Dahlia believable, even when saddled with a tired drug addiction story.
Izzard is the most impressive find. His Wayne Malloy is a most likable sneak. Viewers who are drawn in won't be able to help feeling nervous for Wayne when he tries to fake his way through a job as in-house counsel in an upcoming episode. Viewers will have to decide if watching Wayne perform this high-wire act is entertaining or anxious-making.
"The Riches" certainly has some rich elements -- there's even a little dark humor, just not enough of it -- but in early episodes, the show remains wobbly as it tries to find its footing.