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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Riches: "The Last Temptation Of Wayne"

Illustration for article titled The Riches: "The Last Temptation Of Wayne"
Illustration for article titled The Riches: "The Last Temptation Of Wayne"

Last year FX added a show about grifters trying to maintain their confidence lifestyle in a suburban McMansion to their lineup of crooked cops, alcoholic firemen, and oversexed plastic surgeons. The Riches had its ups and downs, but when it worked, it was because of the thrill of watching high-stakes improvisation, as performed by the magnetic Eddie Izzard and the harrowing Minnie Driver. (There's also the thrill of wondering when their accents will crack, which is something I find it hard to get beyond when the actors' real voices are so familiar to me.)

When last we left our fake lawyer, his heroin-chic wife, her invalid mother, and their three children, they had fled the Riches' house after being discovered by the best friend of the man who's supposed to be living there. But a jealous fellow Traveler who'd been watching them for some time, trying to figure out their angle, interrogates the drugged best friend and now knows all about the man Wayne is pretending to be.

It's a cavalcade of bloodstains, hammers, kitchen knives, bodies in trunks, and serious injury as Wayne sends his family off toward Mexico while he stays to clean up the mess with Pete, Doug Rich's best friend. Meanwhile Dahlia and the family pick up an unexpected passenger: neighbor Nina, who has learned their secret and craves their freedom.

Beyond the edgy plotlines and charismatic performances, the appeal of The Riches is the proliferation of metaphors for a life of lies. As Season Two begins, the lesson is that it's the little things that trip you up. There's a dead Pete hidden in the trunk and a drunk man with a gun in the house, but the security guard that comes by in the early hours of the morning is drawn by Hugh's SUV, which he foolishly left parked with two wheels up on the lawn. "We can't have this," tsks the rent-a-cop, with his back to a dead body a few feet away.

The American dream comes with lots of baggage, The Riches asserts, and freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. Except if you decide you like your house, you end up trying to scrub blood out of the carpet so you can keep it. Meanwhile, Nina leaves her credit cards and money behind when she leaves her old life behind, because, in her words, "I thought it'd be more fun … you know, kinda live off the earth."

"The Last Temptation Of Wayne" is mostly about setting up the pieces for this season, in which Wayne goes for one last score from his real estate lawyer job before lighting out for the territories. As such, it's a bit of a dramatic muddle; so many different crises that need to be set up and band-aided over, only to reappear in even more critical form in a few episodes. But that closing montage of plot points to come has me salivating for some more big-presentation boardroom saber dancing, my favorite parts of the show. I'll be back to see Eddie lie his way through another season.

Grade: B

Stray observations:

- The writers had a field day with the dialogue to kick off Season Two. Wayne's attempts to distract the security guard from the many felonies occurring on his property were especially creative. "Is that an owl?" he wonders, as dead Pete's cell phone rings from inside the trunk. "That sounded like a loud cough," he improvises after Hugh's gun goes off in the house.

- Nothing beats the security guard's unfeigned concern for public safety after noticing Wayne's broken taillight (smashed when he plowed into Hugh while trying to make a getaway). "You can't drive around like that," the guard murmurs in bewilderment, as if he can't believe that he's patrolling a neighborhood with such lurking dangers.

- One more line, this one from Dahlia: "What are you, the word police? Shut your piehole."