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Television

'The Riches' examines the American Dream, Gypsy style

Hal Boedeker
The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)

In the risk-taking world of FX dramas, "The Riches" is better than "Dirt." Faint praise, eh?

Here's more perspective: "The Riches" is not as outrageous as "Nip/Tuck," as wrenching as "Rescue Me" or as tough as "The Shield," which returns April 3.

With time, though, "The Riches" could match them all. The first three episodes suggest this series has the knack for offbeat characters, sharp observations and unsettling situations.

FX gives you a family of grifters. Don't be surprised if you don't mind being taken. Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver set a tantalizing trap with complex performances as the parents.

The time slot could help, too. "The Riches" plays at 10 p.m. EDT Mondays, starting tonight. Several dramas, notably NBC's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," have failed there. But anyone looking for an alternative to CBS' "CSI: Miami" should welcome the Riches, who are actually the Malloys.

Mom Dahlia Malloy (Driver) leaves jail after two years and makes a rocky re-entry into the world. Papa Wayne (Izzard) puts family first, even if he has his clan living in a battered RV and embroiled in scams.

They put their three kids through amazing scrapes. Dahlia's unsteady behavior annoys daughter Dehliah (Shannon Woodward), who is 16. Son Cael (Noel Fisher), 17, seems smart, although his love life could trip up the family. Sam (Aidan Mitchell), who is 10, could be the best con artist in the bunch.

The Malloys mark mom's release by celebrating with her sprawling Gypsy Traveller family. The series ushers you into an energetic, seedy world at the Traveller camp in Louisiana. Dale Malloy (Todd Stashwick), Dahlia's unhinged cousin, struggles to lead the Travellers, but he clashes with Wayne with life-altering consequences.

Wayne puts his family back on the road, and they take an unexpected detour into suburbia. They move into a lavish house and adopt the identities of the Riches. Can they pull off a gigantic scam, fooling everyone around them?

"The American Dream - we're going to steal it," Wayne says.

In a top-notch cast, Izzard stands out as the father. This role allows the standup comedian to play the showman, from charming the attendees at a high-school reunion to stunning neighbors on the golf course.

Wayne's new neighbors include Nina Burns (Margo Martindale), who pops pills to make it through the day, and Hugh Panetta (Gregg Henry), an overbearing businessman.

The series keeps returning to the American Dream and how pursuing it shapes people. Characters see the limits of the good life, but they keep grasping for it.

"The Riches" was created by Dmitry Lipkin, a Russian who moved to Louisiana at age 10. That sense of an outsider looking in is crucial to the series' appeal.

"It is still the most upwardly and the most downwardly mobile country in the world," Lipkin says of the United States. "I think the show is kind of the extreme example of that."

Two performers from Britain, Izzard and Driver, tackle these unconventional spouses with zest. Why do we never hear about the British Dream?

"It's a nightmare, that's why," Driver says.

"The American Dream - it was the place where people came from monarchy systems and aristocracy systems to go and make a lot of money or to practice religion and be really weird," Izzard says. "It's become slightly unlevel again ... a money aristocracy."

So this is how they see us? "The Riches" has the makings of a bracing, provocative series.

Dysfunctional families - from "All in the Family" to "Everybody Loves Raymond" to "The Sopranos" - never go out of style. They have always been far more interesting than the seemingly perfect clans, a point "The Riches" reinforces with verve.

___

THE RICHES

Cast: Eddie Izzard, Minnie Driver, Shannon Woodward, Noel Fisher, Aidan Mitchell.

Where and when: The FX drama debuts at 10 EDT tonight, its regular slot.

Parents' guide: Violence, sexual situations and themes, drug use, coarse language.

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